For campaign staffers, 6 to-dos in the off-season

When the liberal organizations Democratic GAIN and Atlas Project partnered earlier this year, one of the goals was to cut down on the number of out-of-work organizers flooding D.C. after Election Day.

In that effort, GAIN has hosted some 35 re-employment assistance workshops in more than two dozen states, and earlier this week held a national Post-Election GAIN Plan event Wednesday afternoon.

“No one has asked to sleep on my couch yet, which is a change from 2008,” says Ashley Spillane, executive director of Democratic GAIN and The Atlas Project.  

At Wednesday’s event, a panel of experts weighed in on what staffers looking to get back on the campaign trail should be doing in the off-year. Included on the panel: Jessica Post, DLCC national field and political director; Susan Markham, NDI director of women’s political participation; Mike Masserman, an executive director with the U.S. Department of Commerce; Julie Greene, AFL-CIO deputy political director; Laura Burton Capps, managing director of Common Purpose Project; Jen Pihlaja, cofounder of McKenna|Pihlaja; and moderator Alix Dejean, senior associate at Dewey Square Group.

Here are some general takeaways:

1. Set your goal at the state level. Staffers with significant experience on state-level campaigns are going to be more valued in the national campaign marketplace come next cycle. So think local and look for campaigns where you might have the ability to actually control the strategic direction.  Some of the biggest political fights over the next few years are likely to occur at the state level, so if you want to do politics, the best move is heading to a place where you can have control of the budget and get real experience.   

2. Understand the job search takes time. With Congress in the middle of the fiscal cliff debate, it’s a tough time to get offices on the Hill to seriously focus on hiring. Realistically, the real hiring isn’t going to happen until early January 2013. In the meantime, look toward trade associations, NGOs and think tanks.  

3. Build relationships wherever you go. They might just land you your next gig. The old adage that the person under you might wind up your boss is perhaps more true in the political realm than anywhere else, and it might only take a cycle to happen.

4. Follow up. Even if you’re not thrilled with the job prospect, take the face-to-face interview whenever it’s offered. You don’t have to work in the White House to help move an agenda forward you believe in. And even if you don’t have a referral, reach out to political appointees within government agencies that interest you. More often than not, you can at least land a cup of coffee with someone.

5. Learn a new skill in the off-year. 2013 should be about what skill you’re going to learn and what organization teaches it. If you accept the fact that you may have to make a lateral career move, you could end up with much more experience in outreach, fundraising or general campaigning. And that experience  might just help you get a much better position on a congressional or Senate race in 2014.

6. D.C. isn’t everything. The job market may very well be better in your home state, particularly if you lack the field experience you won’t find in Washington. Staffers looking for work shouldn’t be afraid to leave Washington to get more field experience. Sometimes it’s the best career move you can make. 

Follow @DaveNyczepir

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