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Friday, February 27, 2015

Don't Use Questions to Delay Doing Work

When you receive a task or a project, get started right away. One thing that some try to do, and perhaps they're not even aware of it, but they try to stall for time by asking questions. This feels like mild insubordination to a superior, and creates a feeling that you're not willing to get going. Now, often, you will have legitimate questions. And the right thing to do is to limit yourself to one set of questions, a single set of clarifications, before you get started. Take one bite at the apple before you get started, and then just get started. It's usually not hard to figure out what your superior wants from a task. But by endlessly asking questions and wanting clarification, you don't look smart and thorough, you look lazy and hopeless.

Stay focused, stay disciplined, and remember that your advancement usually relies on your reputation as someone who gets things done.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Basic Timesheet, for invoicing an organization

If you're working for a campaign or organization that wants you to "turn in your time" as a timesheet, it can seem like a chore. But keeping a timesheet is a great way to stay organized, focused, and disciplined. It's the daily chore of many attorneys, and a great skill to stay an A-player.

But a timesheet isn't just a total of how many hours you worked. And there are several ways to get specific in your timesheet. Attorneys, for example, often track 3-6 minute increments during their day, explaining what they worked on at every moment of the day. You don't need to be that specific, but it would be wise to keep your time in at least 30 minute increments. Meaning that if you worked for 8 hours, you would have at least 16 entries each day to specify what you worked on.

What the timesheet is revealing is what took up your time, how you prioritized your day, and what you accomplished. A timesheet is a reflection of the work you provided to the company that day, and it's easy to get paid for a day where you produced nothing of value, which is a form of stealing from a company. Keep focused on your main projects and do those first.

A timesheet should be a spreadsheet with rows, where each row has:
1) Date
2) Actual time, i.e. 3:30-4:00pm
3) Total time spent, i.e. 30 minutes
4) Name of project
5) Description

Sending in a timesheet with wild generalities is never good. Sending one in where your descriptions are so vague as to be meaningless is also bad. Putting in unrealistic time on a project is also bad.

And what will happen is that those reviewing the timesheet will rarely confront you about the poor use of your time, or the white lies on your timesheet, but you will lose opportunities, you will get passed over for other projects, you will suffer unseen consequences because you become known for sloppy or untrue timesheets.

If you want to be a winner, keep track of your time and use it to stay focused and disciplined. And avoid fudging time to prevent getting a bad reputation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Treat Your First Work Assignment Like another Interview

For an interview, you should be always showing up early, well-dressed, and focused. You are prepared for oddball questions, you are engaged, witty, friendly, funny. You are firing on all cylinders. You are conscientious and thoughtful.

And because you're valuable, because you're great, they make you an offer. You line up a start date, you start, and... now what.

Many jobs don't have work for you on the first day, or even in the first week. But eventually someone notices you, and gives you an assignment. It might be a big deal, it might be getting coffee and running drycleaning back and forth.

Whatever it is, treat it like the most important thing in the world because it's another form of an interview.

In most states, all employees are "at-will" meaning you can be fired at any time for any reason. You can get fired your first day. It's easy to feel like you're past the hard part, the interview, and now it's time to settle into the job. You can feel as though your B.A. degree means that you will be running things soon, you can feel overconfident that your academic and theoretical knowledge will show up the rubes you're working around.

And you would be wrong.

Every office has a tempo and a certain pace. Some are fast-moving and intense. Some are slow and deliberate. Every office is different. You want to fit into that culture, and the people you work with generally want you to fit in as well.

And the way they'll figure you out is by giving you your first assignment. They'll present an opportunity to you, large or small, and see how you handle it.

This might seem obvious, but it's not to many who work at these places. They overlook the simplest things, and if you prove yourself untrustworthy in small things, you will never be trusted for large things.

When you're new it's easy to overthink a project, or ask tons of questions about how to do it, or to bother people around you for answers. The right thing to do, however, is to do the assigned task successfully and without creating drama. Superiors are hiring you to save them time, and they don't want to spend an hour explaining something to you that they could do in 15 minutes. 

Something as trivial as coffee might be a way for someone to see whether you are meticulous about the picky ways some people want their morning Joe. Something as demoralizing as grabbing someone's drycleaning might be a way to determine whether you're a team player and will do whatever it takes to help the office.

One of my first jobs had no work for the first day, so I started cleaning the microwave. It was grimy and disgusting, but I wanted to signal that I was willing to do anything, and that I 'knew my place' to the older people at the office. There were several people for whom I am quite sure I did know more and could do their jobs better, but I never made that argument because they were well ensconced within that office's culture. And I ran afoul of one mid-level manager who just didn't like me and tried, on my first week, to get me fired because he saw that I knew more about a project than he did. I was careful not to offend him, but he was offended nevertheless.

Those office dynamics are very tricky and filled with minefields. It's very easy to offend people when you're starting out because of the lasting power of first impressions. You make an excellent first impression by taking your first few assignments in the office seriously.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Not to Apply for a Job

So, can you identify the things wrong with this email, that accompanied a recent application?



My name is John Doe.  I am a 48 year old professional.  I  just left an internet start-up here in Springfield.  It is Generic Company Name and they are re-organizing and I disagreed with their diminishing compensation package for the sales team.  
I also have experience with Second Company here in Springfield and Third Company in Seattle, WA.  I graduated from Local State University, went to work for Fourth Company as an Advertised Position Title and have worked for Hilton hotels and several [Related Businesses] in Ireland.
I have open availability with the exception of Thanksgiving (folks in town).
I can be reached via e-mail or on my cell 555 867-5309

I look forward to hearing from you. 


John Doe


General Thoughts:

1. Obviously your age is an issue, you know it's an issue, and you're putting it up front to try and get it out there. So there's either a lack of confidence or a large issue regarding your age. Perhaps at the previous company you felt out of touch and out of date?
2. The third sentence is about you leaving a local start-up company.
3. Your fourth sentence is about your salary disagreements, so you're likely very salary-focused.
4. The wide variety of places you've worked looks like you're a gypsy or transient. 
5. Listing out other irrelevant jobs with well-known companies makes it seem like you couldn't handle corporate life, but you want to trade on the brands of those major companies. You probably worked there 20 years ago and it's irrelevant.
6. It's normal to be unavailable on major holidays, but you had to qualify it by explaining why? It's just odd, it sounds like you're making an excuse.
7. You don't even take the time to write out "Regards" - you probably cut a lot of corners.

How you could have made this better:
1. Keep it very short and succinct. Basically say, "I am interested in this job. I have the experiences and qualifications to do it well and start strong, as evidenced by my attached resume. I am available to meet at your convenience and look forward to hearing from you." -- That's all you need to say. That's all someone wants to read. They don't want a synopsis of your resume. If you had one really strong thing to say, put that in the first sentence. If you don't have something strong to say, keep it simple and to the point.
2. Don't abbreviate or use shorthand in these kind of communications. The old rule was to even avoid contractions.
3. Never talk bad about previous employers.
4. Never mention that you left because of a money dispute.
5. After 5 years working, your education is frankly irrelevant. 
6. Never list your age, don't make it an issue.
7. Try not to list irrelevant prior employers.
8. Remember to try and tailor the information you're giving to a potential employer to look useful, relevant and valuable to the employer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Refine a Mediocre Resume: 5 Quick Tips

I've recently been tasked with hiring dozens of entry-level positions for a campaign and two organizations. It has caused me to see a whole new batch of political resumes and I've seen some odd patterns that aren't discussed in the book, but have been negative for their chances to get an interview. Some of the things I've seen, as well, aren't violations of common resume tips. So even though I did a recent post on making an at-least mediocre resume, it seems useful to list out some of the new oddities I've noticed which aren't discussed on most common resume advice sites:

1. Always capitalize your name and use normal capitalization. This seems to be more prominent among women, but not capitalizing first names and creative capitalization schemes just looks unprofessional. It might reflect a part of your personality that is meek or humble or whatever, but it just looks like you're trying too hard to be edgy and creative. It's the opposite of what you're trying to project, in trying not to stand out so much you're standing out in very bad ways. Always use proper capitalization.

There's a fundamental disconnect in many resumes I've seen where people are trying too hard to stand out. If you were to take hours obsessing over a resume, you can look like the wrong person for a job, sometimes any job.

2. Overly fancy resumes make you look high-maintenance. As someone who loves graphic design, it pains me to say this, because I have seen some truly creative and innovative one-page resumes. But these resumes aren't a good fit for the job posted, which are often entry-level. Most jobs, sadly, don't need creativity as much as they need basic competence and punctuality. Most employers complain about their employee's work ethic, not their creative prowess. That doesn't mean those jobs don't need your creative heft, but it means that you want a resume that projects you as the best person for the job offered. The super creative resume makes one think, "this person is going to get bored with the kind of tasks I'll give them, and will slowly turn into a disgruntled employee." Again, this is totally unfair, but it's a natural conclusion.

3. Irrelevant jobs make you look like a chump. I've had a series of jobs that weren't well-connected to one another. It's tough to make things look like a natural connection. You want your resume to look like you had a career journey where you naturally came upon this perfect job. So, for a political fundraiser, maybe that's first some volunteer experience, some experience working within an organization, some responsibility where you were given fundraising tasks, and now you're a full-time fundraiser. The progression makes sense. Even for entry-level jobs there is a way to structure your resume so that it fits this natural progression. If you're looking to work as a writer, show all the jobs that gave you a variety of experience as a writer. If you're applying to be a general campaign worker, show your progression into full-time politics. Make your resume make sense. This is also where internships and volunteer experiences can help explain why you're applying for a job. Now I realize that most of the time, you're applying for a job because you're unemployed and hungry and worried about rent. The actual concerns a normal person has are worlds apart from those of a hiring manager. But you want to speak their language, you want to make it seem like you aren't desperate for any job, even if you are. You want to make it seem like you have been choosing this career and that this is the best natural next step for you. So when you list irrelevant jobs, it confuses that storyline. Just leave those jobs off. Leave off any job that doesn't make sense for the job you are applying for, that doesn't explain why you're trying to get this particular job.

4. Your only goal with a resume is to get an interview. That's so important to remember because it's clear people take their resumes as a way to showcase their personality, but this isn't your Facebook page. Some people use their resume as a way to justify every working moment they've spent in the last decade, but this isn't a background search. Some people use their resume to list off every hobby they have, but this isn't a dating service to match interests. A resume is only trying to get you an interview. The resume is not about getting a job offer, because that's the role for the interview. The resume leads to the interview. Thus you want to project 1) competence for the job at hand, 2) reliability and a work ethic, 3) no/low drama.

5. Put your education at the bottom. No matter who is potentially hiring you, they don't want to know which classes or coursework you've done, they want to know whether you'll show up to work and do the work assigned to you. I hate to name names here, but the worst offenders are the people from top 50 or top 100 colleges, who think that their college degree matters. It doesn't. Unless you went to Harvard or Yale, no one cares. Brown? Whatever. Dartmouth? Doesn't matter. And even if you went to Harvard, you should still put your education experience at the bottom. People want to see the kind of work you can do. Let me restate that to be extra emphasis: your resume is about showing the kind of work you can do, not the kind of classes you sat through. I suspect that a lot of this comes from the college marketing departments that call themselves "The Harvard on the Trinity River" or "The Harvard of the Rockies" or "The Harvard of Topeka" or whatever. The students start thinking "wow, yea, everyone knows about DePauw or DePaul or DeCollegeIGoTo and they'll know it was exclusive." They don't, they won't, and it doesn't matter. Put the education stuff at the bottom. Even if it's a grad degree. Even if you were cum laude. Even if you were valedictorian, put it at the bottom. No one cares. Make your work experience look significant and that you recognize that your college experience is likely completely inapplicable to your potential job.

So to recap: 1) always capitalize your name, 2) A good resume looks like something you wrote in 20 minutes and spent 20 minutes correcting and refining. If it took you hours or days to make a perfectly polished one, it might be great for niche jobs, but as a tool to apply to most entry-level jobs, it looks like overkill. It hurts your chances. 3) take off any irrelevant jobs, 4) focus your resume on making it look like your past experiences lead you to this particular job, 5) put your education at the bottom.

Take an average resume, and make it great. You'd be amazed at how few resumes come in with just these simple and basic rules applied, where the candidate looks solid, put together, and ready to work.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Types of Recent Grads: 5 General Archetypes

If I were to generalize about the types of recent grads I see, they fall into the following five categories. I've separated the two categories as ones who are usually hired, and ones who usually aren't. Now, some groups are so desperate that they hire anyone. So, it's always possible to get a job. But you won't stay long if you act like the people who aren't usually hired. You don't want to work somewhere where they're desperate to have you, you want to work at a place that you feel lucky to be at, well-compensated and well-respected. By trying hard to be like a Hire-me Harry or a Pete the Project, you can get into a good workplace.


Hire-me Harry - sociable, high-talent, able to work within a team and perform well. won't require a lot of hand-holding. won't require a lot of training and oversight.
-Dresses Professionally
-Uses correct grammar and spelling
-Understands the business/campaign/candidate/organization, always wants to learn more
-Doesn't mind being critiqued and improving himself

Pete the Project - this guy has talent, and I can see that he's a little rough around the edges but there's potential there. I'm willing to take a bit of a risk on this guy because I can see that he's going to get better.
-Wild ideas, somewhat eccentric
-Not always presentable/ready for primetime
-Can say embarrassing/inappropriate things from time to time


Sketchy Steve - has talent, has potential, too sketchy to hire. Just not sure of how professional he is, whether he'd steal from the office, whether he'd be hitting on the interns all the time, if he'd ever show up on time, and if he showed up, he'd be too high to answer the phone.
-Doesn't just use drugs, everyone knows he uses and likely deals
-Often has run-ins with law enforcement
-Might be presentable generally, but never seems professional

Homeschooled Homer - has intelligence but no social skills. Can tell you incredible statistical details of past elections, but can't answer the phone correctly. Gets into 5 hour long arguments in the office about the pros and cons of the capital gains tax. Has incredibly severe opinions about the most esoteric political topics.
-Can't focus his attention to get a task done
-Intelligence smart, but not People smart
-Loves to quote the rules, workplace handbooks, employment contracts

Apathetic Andy - probably intelligent, totally doesn't apply himself. generally interested about what's going on, but always seems half-awake. No one really knows what motivates him or why he's doing the work, except to earn a paycheck.
-Leaves immediately at 5:00pm
-Never contributes to group discussion or proposes an idea, volunteers for a new project
-Occasionally caught sleeping on the job

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Get a nice headshot to use for your profiles

When you start the job search process, realize that half of the places you apply will immediately google your name to see what you look like.

Is that ethical? Probably not. But they're going to do it anyway.

So it's up to you to put your best foot forward. It's up to you to avoid tons of bad photos showing up on your facebook profiles and twitter profiles and so on.

If your profile photo looks super awkward like this guy on the right, you won't be getting an interview.

So let's recap on what makes for a good profile photo:

1) Taken on a decent camera (over 7 megapixels)
2) In natural light
3) Without any weird shadows on your face
4) Where you're wearing formal business attire, or maybe business casual
5) With no one else in the picture with you
6) Where you're smiling
7) Where the background is out of focus/in the distance

If you don't have money for a professional photographer to do the work, then ask a friend with a nice camera to do it for you and just go to a park with some nice green vegetation in the background. It will make people think that you're the only person in politics who occasionally ventures outside.

A good headshot can make a solid impression. Like a resume, it shows there are no obvious red flags if they were to give you an interview and give you a chance by offering you a job.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Don't Write Plans for Free

In real estate there's a term called "bird-dogging" where you use someone else to do all the advance work for you. Unscrupulous people will use other people as their bird-dogs and then profit from their work and provide no compensation.

In politics, this also happens all the time. I hate to say that I've fallen victim to this little light scam repeatedly.

If you are somewhat creative, and you're a decent writer, chances are that someone will ask you to write their campaign plan, with the hollow promise that you'll be their consultant or campaign manager. "After all, you wrote the plan we'll be using!"

They'll tell you to write a campaign plan for an organization and lie to you and say you'll be able to run it.

They'll ask for a project written out in detail and lie lie lie about you being able to run the project.

When you're asked to do things like this, when you're asked to do any kind of work, never do it for free. Remember the Joker's line from The Dark Knight, "if you're good at something, never do it for free."


And the problem is, everyone wants your free work. They all want you to create a winning campaign plan for free. They all want your creative ideas and not compensate you for it.

No one likes work and no one likes paying bills. And no one wants to pay for a plan they can get for free. If you offer to write a plan, then, you need to immediately clarify and demand your compensation for it, and you need to be paid in advance.

Let me say that again because it's incredibly important: if you're asked to write a plan, charge them a fair rate for the writing, and get paid in advance.

The most basic plan should be charged $100 for three pages or more of anything. A longer campaign plan, let's say a 400 page U.S. Senate race that takes two weeks to write, should be charged no less than $1,000.

If they won't pay you to write it, they won't take your advice anyway and you just saved yourself the wasted time. If they promise they'll pay you later, more likely or not, they're liars. If you're uncomfortable asking them to pay you for your time, you're in an abusive relationship where you're probably being taken advantage of and it's better not to do the work.

You have bills, and it's reasonable for you to be paid for your time working on a plan. I've had several serious and significant ones stolen from me, and I'll be honest my pride hurt the worst, but I also lost days and weeks of work that I'll never be compensated for, and that hurts in a very direct and measurable way.

Don't let people bamboozle you with false promises of future compensation or opportunities, if they ask you to do work today, insist on being paid a reasonable rate today. If you're good at something, never do it for free. And for any type of campaign plan, insist on being paid for the work from the start and then give them an excellent product.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Change Your Plans for an Interview

When a potential employer contacts you for an interview it means several things:

1) They likely have an opening for you.
2) They liked your resume/contact email/referral enough to spend time out of their day to talk to you.
3) This is the time that is convenient for them.

What I have noticed quite often recently, is people who are unemployed from their resume giving very precise and specific times that they are available, and no other. Now, I'm aware that this may be due to family constraints, not having a car and needing a ride and so forth, but those are still unacceptable excuses for when a hiring manager gives a time that they're free.

It's so hard to get noticed and break through the white noise of a thousand other applicants for a job, why would you risk your interview time? Walk there if necessary. Change your plans. Reorient your day to accomodate the interview, because often it's just a formality to getting a job offer.

It's always tough to work around competing schedules, but for an interview and a first impression there is a high premium on being punctual, professional, and accommodating.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Make at least a mediocre resume - 8 easy resume rules

I was recently hiring from a pool of people for a political job, and the quality of resumes submitted were horrible. I would say 50% didn't have a resume, and 30% had horrible ones. 10% had mediocre ones and 10% had good but not great ones. Of 300+ applicants, I may have seen one or two really great resumes.

This means that by 1) having a resume, and it being 2) at least mediocre, you're in the top 20% of most applicants to jobs like this. By having a very good resume, you're likely in the top 5% of applicants and this is regardless of the content of your resume. This is just the structure, the wording, the presentation of the resume that makes the difference.

I've been lucky to know some very smart and talented people in my life. Some have been Fulbright scholars, attended Ivy league colleges, and some went on to prominent jobs. Even among that pool, I saw resumes that you wouldn't have hired them under any circumstances. It's a shame because this is a situation of 'judging a book by its cover' and many employers lose great employees because they make certain judgments about the applicant from their resume. What this means for you is, that if you have a bad resume or don't have one at all, you are seriously shooting yourself in the foot.

Here are 10 easy resume rules:

1) Always keep it one page. Don't list every job/volunteer job you've had, list the relevant ones. If you've been out of school for more than 5 years, don't list details about the school. So if you're 25, don't list your high school activities. If you're 10 years out of undergrad, you shouldn't be listing your extra activities in college or your GPA. Avoid listing jobs that lasted less than 3 months and don't list your hobbies. Three bullet points under each job max.

2) Make it easy to read. Simple formatting can go a long way. Center your name and contact information at the top. Separate your employment experience in a clear way. Bold or underline your job title. Keep your description of your workplace responsibilities to simple bullet points. Invest in the style and formatting of your resume.

3) Use a plain email address. It should just be your first name and your last name at a common email provider. bob.smith@gmail or jane.doe@yahoo or rogers.bill@hotmail

4) To fill space, list references. Some people will say you should never list references unless asked, and there's some merit to that, of which I discuss in the book. The best references to list are former employers/bosses/colleagues, because it shows you weren't fired for cause. Generally don't rigidly follow resume rules like no references from other people if it conflicts with your common sense. Put your best foot forward.

5) Never lie on a resume, but don't overshare. For entry-level jobs you are trying to 1) get an interview, 2) show minimum competence. Also understand that some claims, even if true, are too bold to be believed. 500k in sales. records broken every month, etc., if you're applying for a non-manager role at a place, and you have this great experience, it makes them wonder what happened so that your past experience isn't giving you better opportunities.

6) Never speak ill of a former employer on your resume, interview, or at work. It makes you look bad. It makes them think that you're doing the same thing to them behind their back.

7) Fill gaps on your resume. Fill major gaps in your resume with either 'writer' or 'self-employed' or 'consultant' instead of just having a big gap on your resume.

8) Puff up your resume, but don't over-exaggerate. If your title is receptionist, no one expects that you managed a dozen people and brought in record sales, but you can highlight a prominent project you were involved with, or a project of significant responsibility that you handled well. Show that you were given responsibility, but don't try to make out that you were secretly running the whole show, make it reasonably realistic. Try to find the happy middle where you show success, but don't seem like a liar or a braggart.

The hiring process is a tough thing for anyone. It's tough for people who have hired thousands of people and know all the tricks. So for you, don't feel bad if it is frustrating, demoralizing, and dehumanizing. You'll send out hundreds of resumes and never hear back. You'll ask friends to make one phone call and find out later they never did. You'll hit it off with someone and they'll never return your call. The job search is a mess, and it's about endurance and quantity over quality. You will get noticed, you will be given an opportunity, your foot will get in the door, but it takes a lot of patience to survive the denials.

This advice can help you get a head start. It can help you get to the top 5% of those being considered rather than float in the pool of people automatically rejected from consideration.

Good luck!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Tip O'Neill!

Tip O'Neill
December 9, 1912, his 101th birthday.

Speaker of the House from 1977-1987


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Be Wary of Inadvertant Demoralization

When you're on a campaign, it's often fun to tell horror stories from other campaigns, or to commiserate about other stories you've heard.

But when you're working on a campaign you want a simple idea all the time: that your work makes the difference. You want to believe that your hard work will turn the tide and create victory.

When you talk about voter fraud committed by the opposition, about incompetent morons who run campaigns, about endless seas of money spent on consultants and none on grassroots, while all those things might be true: they demoralize the workers, the idealists who are trying to win against the odds.

If you notice a colleague, volunteer, or even a supervisor saying these inadvertently negative, morale-sapping statements, don't loudly correct them. The next time you have a discreet opportunity, take them aside and gently explain that such talk hurts the work ethic of volunteers, and while they might be technically right, there's a better time for that discussion: after election day.

Keep a positive mindset, and project a positive message. Keep the message simple and avoid the horror stories. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coding your data inputs on a campaign

When you're running a phone bank or a grassroots operation, you want easy ways for shorthand notes for people making calls or people knocking on doors.

Here's a quick and easy list of shorthand for those purposes, that should work for both phones and doors:

B# = bad number
NH = not home
LB = language barrier
VM = voicemail
MV = moved
CB = call back
R = refused
O = opposed to truth
S = supporter
U = unsure
NA = not accessible

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rare skills: Canvassing

Recently I was working with a student in politics who asked for help to become more effective in general. Her question brought to light quite a bit of what I discuss in the book: 1) what do you want to do, 2) what are you actually naturally good at, 3) where is the need for you, 4) what skills do you have, and what skills can you learn, to be useful, 5) how to find the right organization to match your desires, skills and passions with a good work environment.

This student, a great college student from a school in the South, is very intelligent and very aware of political issues. But she knew that there was a big deficit missing. And she was right: she didn't know how to canvass, how to interact, how to connect with people.

Many groups and campaigns talk about canvassing, but very few actually engage in it. Everyone does 'field work' but often that work looks like it's increasingly done from a cubicle.

Politics is about engaging people in our democratic system to engage and participate in the process. It's about channeling issues, using persuasive skills, and motivating people to action. That persuasion is too often used solely to motivate people to donate money, or a small amount of time. Yet that's not what our democracy is supposed to be about: we the people rule ourselves. Yet very few groups give an effective answer to that question.

The connection to canvassing is that it is the starting point for a major deviation in thought away from traditional politics. Beltway groups engage in major media buys, in direct mail by the tens of thousands. But canvassing gives you the power to engage your fellow citizens to act differently, to vote differently, to live their lives in a new way.

Most groups don't know how to canvass and never do. It's not a hard skill to learn, but it requires forcing yourself to go out and recruit for an issue, for an action.

So what this young student and I did was go out and recruit for fake groups at a few local colleges. It's a small step, a baby step, toward a more important realization that politics isn't like the movies: it's not palace intrigue and big donors and big media. It's often the person you talk to for a moment on the street, it's the small bit of human interaction you rarely find on important political issues outside of your social circle.

How often have you engaged your neighbors and local citizens on the important issues of the day? On abortion, immigration, taxes, regulations, health care, foreign policy, and the like? If you're like me, probably very rarely.

Canvassing is a skill in itself, and many campaigns use it effectively to build better voter files, and for a wide variety of related campaign goals. But a job applicant, and a political employee, who is comfortable canvassing is one who thinks about politics in an important way, one who realizes how important it is to be effective, persuasive, and compelling.

Canvassing is a rare skill but an important one, and one that you can get quite easily to set yourself apart from others. Engage your other citizens and set yourself apart.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Always Confirm your Absence in Writing

Sometimes you have events, family obligations, or things you need to take a day off from the campaign to do. Obviously you should do this very rarely, especially as major deadlines like primary day, election day, and various filing deadlines come up. But when you leave the office for any extended period like that, make sure that you confirm your absence in writing.

It's easy for a previous agreement for you to take a day or two off to get lost in the mix. If you decide to take time off, and don't show up, your boss may think that you're just skipping out on work. And managers and people above your boss will have a zero tolerance for not showing up to work. Their perspective is that you are completely disposable when a transgression like this arises.

So it's always important to confirm your absence in writing. Confirm the exact dates that you'll be gone, and make sure you clarify when you'll be available by phone in case something comes up. When you work on a campaign or in a political organization, you're always on call because crazy things come up all the time.

Always confirm your absence in writing. A quick email can remind a distracted boss that they agreed to let you miss a few days, and can save you huge office politics headaches.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Infographic: The Most Common ?'s in an Interview

I don't necessarily agree with this entire list. For example, in number 4, when asked what your biggest weakness, it seems very insincere and shallow to focus on something that's a hidden strength. The exchange they're setting up goes like this:

Q: What's your biggest weakness?
A: I'm just so hard working that people have to tell me to stop, I mean, I just can't stop being productive and value-added for the company I'm with!

It's just ridiculous. A better way to handle it is to reframe the word "weakness" - instead of interpreting that question to mean "fatal workplace characteristic" (which everyone has a quirk or handicap of some sort), turn it into a different form of weakness. Think of a skill that you're currently trying to learn. When they ask "what's your biggest weakness" you're thinking of that big red flag that might cause you not to get hired and are tempted to blurt it out. But relax, be Mr. Cool, and think about the one workplace skill you'd like to get better at. Let's say you have a background in political organizing and volunteer work, but you don't have much experience in fundraising. What if your answer looked, instead, like this:

Q: What's your biggest weakness?
A: Well I've spent a lot of time focusing on working with people one-on-one with my organizing background and as a volunteer coordinator, but I've never asked for money before. I've read about it, but it's a valuable skill and I know I need to be better at it. It's something that I hope I can learn with your campaign/organization. 

That kind of answer makes you look: 1) self-motivated, 2) honest, 3) honest about yourself, 4) introspective. In short, it makes you sound awesome. Trying to game the answer to secretly slide in a positive trait doesn't work, it's so shameless and transparent that it's counterproductive to do it.

That's a long digression on one question on this infographic, which is in itself a handy chart to help calm your interviewing fears. But think through the questions and give solid answers. Often the best answers aren't canned ones and aren't predictable.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jobs Where you can Stand Out

I was recently talking with a friend who is a hiring manager for a group, and a hiring consultant to several other groups. He was asking my opinion on a group of recent applicants for a political job opening in the Northeast. He was trying to distinguish between the resumes because, in his words, "none of them stand out."

And it caused me to reflect for a moment on the miscommunication between employee and hiring managers. Let's consider a few frustrating things about political hiring in turn:

1) A hiring manager looks down on applicants with certain job titles or job categories. Even though in this economy it's often wise to take anything that's offered, they still have this presumption that talented people don't take certain positions, that they always land in leadership positions. Thus it can be hard to transition from a support role to an admin role because of this prejudice.
2) Many entry-level jobs are glorified secretarial positions where you're doing the work directly assigned to you, and you aren't given the freedom, authority or resources to stand out. Yet a hiring manager is still going to look for flair on a resume. They want leaders but they're hiring from a pool where people weren't given any leadership opportunities.
3) They somewhat implicitly punish those who are honest in their resumes, and reward those who puff up their accomplishments and stretch the truth on their accomplishments. People are often wise enough not to lie on a resume, but there are many things they can creatively take credit for that are very undeserved.

Most entry-level jobs in politics are ill-suited for 'standing out' on their own and so, when you're ready to move between organizations, it can be very difficult to let your real talents and skills shine through.

One important take-away from this is that if you're just treading water and collecting a paycheck, find a volunteer opportunity that will look good. Helping out on a campaign, or helping a friend run a local campaign, is a great way to stand out and take that opportunity.

As well, you can 'stand out' even without a major budget. Shine through your hard work and effort. Everyone is always impressed with fundraising. Sitting down and raising cash through a phonebank and tracking your success is a good thing to add to a resume. As well, even as a volunteer, ask for a job title. Even if you're just the deputy volunteer coordinator, it shows a certain amount of leadership that many hiring managers find desirable.

In practice, it's worth noting, many of these hiring managers don't want independent thinkers. They're searching for 'leaders' but are upset when they actually find them. Often they want people who will simply do what's told, and don't want anyone to challenge them or their assumptions. There's a frustrating irony in that fact, but it's still one you have to overcome if you want to be able to pick a job and not have a job pick you. You need to exhibit leadership traits on your resume to get noticed, but you also want to show that you're the proverbial 'team player' and can take direction. Few bosses or campaign managers enjoy being challenged.

Also, focus on opportunities that come up that give you the opportunity to stand out. One of my favorite past political jobs was one that no one wanted, mainly because no one saw the potential in it. I wanted the job so bad that I overplayed my hand and wasn't their first, or even their second, choice for the job. But when I got it, I broke all previous records with ease. It was easy to stand out, because the position was scalable, I knew the predecessors were half-assing their work, the work was critical to a much larger organization, and the leadership of the organization had very low expectations for the output of that position. It was a golden opportunity, because with little effort I could get widely noticed. There were other positions in the same department that had none of the same characteristics, some that were paid better than this one. Thus it would have been foolish to accept another position, better title, or other opportunity in the organization because this one was the best for me and my career. It's hard to have that analysis from outside the organization, but it's often easy to spot these opportunities if you regularly talk to those who work in such groups. Befriend them, go to lunch and dinner with them, and ask them about work. Figure out and really understand the places you're applying to, what they have to offer you, and where you can really thrive in a specific position.

When you're starting out, it's hard to get noticed because you likely haven't been given the chance to be noticed. So you need to create your own luck, and you need to think about ways to highlight your skills. You also want to think about your own long-term career plans and jump at positions where you can thrive and get wider notice.

Friday, August 23, 2013

10 Things Losing Candidates Say

When you hear these things from a candidate, sometimes it's just that they're confused about what's really at stake. But often when you hear these things, the right thing to do is to reassess whether this campaign is right for you.

Losers love excuses. This is a great two-part list:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Mistake of Motivating through False Promises

On several political jobs I've witnessed and been exposed to false promises by supervisors, intending to motivate performance. A common false promise on a campaign is the promise of a future job, or of a better title. "Help us get through the primary and I'll make you the campaign manager!" or "When our candidate wins, he'll hire you to the office" and similar long-term promises.

I once sat in a Vice President's office, who at the time was my boss's boss, and he told me that he saw me as a future VP at the organization. I knew this VP hated me, he could barely conceal his contempt, but he fed me this confusing line. And instead of motivating me to work harder, it made me doubly more suspicious of management, it made me wonder what else I was taking for granted in what they were saying.

Most employees and staff aren't looking for vague assurances about their future. They all assume they'll be promoted, that their worth is well-known. So going to them and giving them these kind of false promises either comes off as validating what they otherwise believed, which does little, or it doesn't fit with their expectations and so gives them suspicion.

If you want to dangle a carrot in front of an employee, think about what their real needs and wants are, what they really want.

Most want a bigger discretionary budget to do more things. They want to make it easier to do their jobs. They want to have bigger successes. Motivate them by explaining how their hard work can lead to bigger budgets, more staff, more resources. That's a motivator.

Most people want more vacation time, or to work on flex-time. It makes it easier to do work and easier to work around family and social obligations. Motivate them by saying they can work half-days one day a week from home if they can meet their goals. That's a motivator. An extra day of paid vacation a year is an enormous motivator to most people, and it's a relatively easy management perk to offer.

Simple things like designated parking spaces are a strong motivator. Office acknowledgement of success, making them feel valued to their coworkers, is another strong motivator.

On a campaign all these same issues exist, but on a more compressed timeframe. You need to motivate people with soft rewards instead of false promises. You need to get them to work hard, but you don't always have a lot to offer. Vague promises that seem sketchy to the worker of future promotions is a bad incentive. It seems unrealistic, and it won't motivate them in the ways you want. Not to mention that if two employees find that you've promised them both the same position, you've created serious office drama.

It's much better to offer more immediate and direct rewards that make them want to work harder. Don't make the mistake of trying to motivate workers through false promises.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

When offered multiple interview days, take the first you can

When you're applying to work somewhere, they may offer you a range of possible days to interview.

Always take the first one you can.

The reason is that hiring managers usually hire the first or second person they interview.

They create a baseline in their head. They're worried they won't find anyone they like. So they go through the first two interviews with a lot of trepidation about whom they're interviewing. They're looking for red flags.

But by the second interview, if the candidates look good, and all things being equal, they settle for whomever they interviewed first.

First impressions are the lasting impressions, and the first person to impress competence on them is often who they go for.

Now, for some positions, you might be the favorite from the start. Obviously this doesn't apply as much if you can wow them at the end. But if you're in a queue of other candidates, and as I said everything else is generally equal, strive to be one of the first people interviewed and do really well in the interview.

More often than not they're relieved to have competent applicants and may offer you the job on the spot. Some employers will also cancel future scheduled interviews if they find someone they like early on. So work hard to be first.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Keep Spare Ties Around: red and blue, and other tie rules

Men are, as a general rule, more oblivious to fashion and style than others. It's also harder to appreciate clashing colors and styles for them than for others.

Often, especially as a young man, a tie is a formality of the workplace and not a fashion statement. So the mindset is to use any tie, preferably one that works in most settings.

And true enough, with a dark suit and a white dress shirt, a red or blue tie works just fine in most situations.

But there are times when the tie will clash with the surroundings, or you will run into people who are wearing the same suit and same tie. Though not common, it's not rare to have a tie-clash with either the event, other people or general situation.

One example: if your candidate is a man and shows up wearing a similar suit and a similar tie, you don't want to look like a 'mini-me' version of the candidate. You want to quickly change out your tie.

Some quick tie rules:
1) Keep at least two different color ties in your trunk: ideally a red one and a blue one
2) Buy nice ties. A Hermes tie is expensive but lasts a long time. A more expensive tie will look the part you want to project: high-class.
3) Throw away/donate any tie that gets a stain on it.
4) Never wear a novelty tie.
5) Never wear a tie that has the American flag as a pattern.
6) Never wear a bow tie.
7) Learn three different knots for ties. Use the right one for your type of dress shirt, and for your neck size.
8) Never tuck in your tie to your pants.
9) Never ever use a clip-on tie.
10) Don't take your tie off in front of other people. Do it in the restroom or after the event.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Don't be Disagreeable: 6 common mistakes

There are a variety of ways in which one can be disagreeable.

Many of them are inadvertent. It's easy to brush up against people's egos and expectations.

Here are some common ones:

1) Mismatching - when someone says it's cold outside, do you instinctively say "oh well it's warm to me" or "well it's warm compared to where I came from last week!" or some other oppositional phrase? It's very natural to try and mismatch with any statement from another person. Instead, try agreeing with them, embrace their opinion rather than trying to force out your own.
2) Correcting errors - when someone uses incorrect grammar, do you correct them right away? When they make a simple mistake about a date or election, do you rush to correct them? When you do this, you act like the overeager kid in middle school who rushed to correct their fellow students and even the teacher. You're obnoxious. You think you're being helpful by providing the right answer, but you come off as an ass. Don't correct people.
3) Correcting errors in front of other people - another fault when correcting someone is doing it publicly. The quick interjection that something they said isn't quite right. Doing this in front of someone's boss or colleagues is almost unforgivable. But when you're used to being Johnny-know-it-all, it's easy to do. Also, when you lose respect for your boss or colleagues, it's so much easier to correct them without thinking, just to show them that you're smarter than them. This is an enormous mistake, and makes you look bad not only to your victim, but to everyone else witnessing it. They don't think you're the smartest person in the room, they wonder when you'll turn on them and start acting in such a childish way towards them.
4) Philosophy - often in political jobs people don't get their fill of political philosophy. Often, their family members either aren't political enough, or well-read enough, to compete with them. So they want to engage in spirited political discussions every day, they want to find the one minor thing they disagree with you on and constantly harp on that small division. Whereas in college, many find these kind of debating exercises enjoyable, and a good way to spend a weeknight at the pizza joint, in the workplace it's uncouth and unprofessional. Looking to find the one item of political philosophy that someone disagrees upon, or castigating coworkers for not reading enough of your particular favorite philosopher, is commonplace and supremely obnoxious. Many people have not read great works of philosophy, and can't separate Hume from Holmes, or Rawls from Heidegger, or Kirk from Burke. Don't drag the workplace into such conversations, and if you catch yourself doing it, find a gentle way to exit the conversation. If you witness others doing it, encourage them to get back to work and find things to agree upon.
5) Finding the one thing you disagree about - similar to the previous paragraph about philosophy, is the uniqueness of new people in politics trying to figure out the one thing they disagree about. You quickly go through political issues, candidates, to see where you diverge politically. I've seen this, and unfortunately engaged in it, on the most inane and irrelevant issues. People prefer to focus on what divides them rather than what unites them. Don't tell people what you disagree with them on, and don't go through the search and race to figure out where you diverge. Assume people agree with you on most things, and be positive and supportive of their positions, not dismissive and contrarian. 
6) Gossiping - it's never a good thing, and never productive. Wondering who is dating whom, who is interested in whom, always leads to friction and awkward situations. If you gossip ten times in the workplace, it's almost a guarantee that one of those times the subject you're gossiping about will either overhear, walk into the room mid-sentence, or otherwise find out what you've said. It always leads to problems. Keep focused on the job, and try to separate your personal life from your work life. If you have to gossip, gossip about celebrities or reality TV, don't gossip about your coworkers.

Those are six quick ways to be less disagreeable in political jobs. These tips can not only help you build better relationships with coworkers, but those friends who now dislike you less, can end up being great sources of strength for your career. Many people will refuse to help you because they carry a petty grudge, or remember some small mistake you made years ago. Being less disagreeable is a surefire way to have a stronger political career.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Qualifying People too Quickly

When you're meeting new people, it's almost cliche to ask "what do you do" in order to quickly qualify them.

You want to know why they're relevant to you. You want to know how they can fit into the plan for your campaign, and you're interested to compare them to yourself and to others you know.

You want to place them in the proper political caste.

Even though many or most do this, try to avoid doing it. It's uncouth to reduce people in this way, to 'objectify' them in such a way that makes their worth solely what they can do for you.

Develop your skills at smalltalk. Ask why people are involved. Ask what they're passionate about. Ask them for funny stories, for jokes, for the interesting news of the day. Have a normal conversation instead of being a politico sociopath. The proverbial "what do you do" question can say a lot about you, and that statement can be bad. Learn how to connect with people in ways that doesn't involve benefiting your job/campaign/workplace.

By qualifying people too quickly, you lose the opportunity to really develop a relationship.

Monday, April 22, 2013

On the job: don't re-ask for permission

Sometimes on the job you're given an odd request or odd job, and you need funds or special permission to do something. You go to your boss, you ask politely, and they approve it. Most of the time the approval is pretty general. And when you move the task along, you discover you need something slightly different, or slightly more than what you were given approval for, and there's two ways to proceed: 1) assume the authority and do it; 2) re-ask for permission and appraise your boss of the change.

More often than not, the right answer is to not re-ask for permission. When your supervisor approves an expense, they also implicitly approve what it takes to get the job done. As well, again more often than not, they approve something expecting the result to be given to them in a reasonable time.

A common mistake is to blow off things your boss asks for, to think that it's not that important, or to think that changes render the boss' request invalid.

When your boss asks for something, deliver it. Don't re-ask for permission because it seems as though you're asking them to reconsider what they've asked for, instead do what it takes to deliver.

One related tip, is to have a set amount that you're allowed to buy on the company account at any one time. This will prevent a lot of problems on the job. It might be $10, $50 or $500, but have a clear understanding of what authority you have to buy necessary items. And once you have that authority, don't ask for permission over and over again. You can become a pest.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Daily Success: Avoid the Daily Tasks

On any campaign and in any organization, there will be little routine tasks that you are asked to do.

On any campaign, for example, a daily media briefing and clippings are often required. These are summaries of any relevant news story, with the full article provided.

When you start on a campaign, it might be tempting to take one of these jobs and try to do it very well so that you can stand out. And if you thought that, you would be wrong.

The reason is that the routine tasks always get taken for granted, no one appreciates things that become routine. And when you accept tasks like this, it sucks up a certain chunk of your day. As a result, you have less time to spend on new projects, to work completing existing projects, and other things that could help you stand out.

The monotonous routine tasks aren't the right way to stand out. If possible, avoid accepting the task. Don't fall into the trap of assuming you can just work harder and longer, because you'll be prone to burn out. Those who go far know the right mix of accepting work that will help them get noticed, but leave enough spare time in their daily schedule to accept emergency tasks. And those last-minute, urgent, tasks are the right way to get noticed, because you become perceived as a life-saver.

If you want to move up fast, and have plenty of time to focus on new projects, avoid accepting the monotonous daily tasks as assignments.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Get Organized!

A very common problem is being unfocused, undisciplined and unorganized.

"Being Organized" sounds like a good idea, but it requires having a focused plan.

For starters, have a day planner of some sort. The Franklin Covey system is well-known and common, but there are many similar products. You want some written way to keep track of your day and tasks.

A written day planner of some sort will help 1) remind you of what you need to do, 2) keep that task list prioritized, 3) stay focused on what needs to get done.

Being organized means not missing important deadlines, and it means keeping all your information in one spot so you don't have a mess of papers.

Once you have a physical day planner, keep track of all the things you do in a list format. Write out all the things you need to get done today. Prioritize them as either A, B, or C tasks. A tasks are ones that are vital to be completed today, they are important and timely. B tasks are important but not urgent timely. C tasks are ones that will grow into B's if you don't get them done.

Once you've ranked all your tasks by putting these letters next to each one, assign each one a number. So for example, you have A1, A2 and A3; and then you have B1, B2, B3. You want to prioritize each item and keep them in order, so that you can work on them in order. Once you've spent 5 minutes doing this, start working on A1, and when finished, work on A2.

Working this way forces you to stay focused on the most important tasks of the day, it prevents distractions. It also shows you how you're using your time and how it can so easily be sapped by chatty coworkers, youtube, facebook and other time-sinks. Stay focused on the most important things and get them done first.

If an unanticipated urgent project comes in, add it to the list. Maybe it becomes A3.5 for the day. More often than not, however, many things aren't truly urgent and you can see that you spend a lot of time reacting to things, and not really working through the tasks at your job so that you're ahead of the game.

By writing these things out for a few weeks, you'll start to get a better appreciation for things that are truly urgent, and things that can wait. That's a liberating moment because you can then push things down to B's and C's and really get the urgent things done. It also encourages you to assess what you should be doing to advance your career.

Staying organized is a form of healthy living, it prevents crises, and it reduces anxiety and stress. By having all your tasks in front of you, you can take control of your day in a new way.

If you want to succeed in politics, you need to be self-organized. Starting with a day planner, especially for recent grads who are perhaps unaccustomed to one, is an important first step.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Always Show your Work, Keep Reports Short

When you're given work on a campaign or in a political organization, often you won't have enough information to go on, but your supervisor clearly doesn't want to be bothered with more information. It's a frustrating situation.

Many supervisors have the bad attitude "it takes longer to explain than it would for me to just do it myself" mindset. They're hurried so they don't give you the direction you need to do well.

How should you handle this situation, and how should you answer their request? First, keep it simple. Write out the questions they wanted answered and answer them. Make sure that's in your response to them. That will keep you focused, disciplined and your answer short.

Unless the research or project is sensitive, it's usually the right answer to write a detailed email or memo to answer the request.

Always try to keep it to one-page. Most people don't want to read more than one page. Keep it straight and direct, to the point.

I was once asked by a very wealthy fellow to write out a multi-million dollar plan. I wrote a succinct plan that ended up being 30 pages. He was offended that it was that long. He said he was looking for something 3-4 pages long.

People don't want to read a lot. Reports should always be one-page. Big reports should be three-pages. Ten-pages seems way over the top for most people.

What you learn in college, how to write for 8-12 pages with ease, really does you a disservice in these situations. In politics and in organizations, you want to be succinct and to the point, you want to keep your reports short.

And if you're confused at all about what you're supposed to be answering, make sure you understand, write out, and answer the questions your supervisor asked. If you write out your response to them, you will show your work so that your supervisor knows that you took their request seriously and attempted to answer it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

People not used to real work

A friend once said to me that no one got paid to indulge their hobbies. You get paid to work because it's unpleasant, because it takes effort, and because you wouldn't do it otherwise.

On a campaign, many of the paid staff you'll run across are recent college graduates, or in some cases current students.

One common problem with this demographic is that their perception of work is very skewed. Instead of doing literature drops and canvassing a neighborhood, they will try to use 'social media' to win your campaign. Instead of building lists and working turnout, they'll talk about grandiose strategies for victory. You'll ask for logistics, they'll want to talk about abstractions.

Many people aren't used to actual work. And it can be very difficult to motivate them to do actual work.

The best way to motivate them is to make your expectations absolutely clear. If you expect a thousand voter cards to get delivered, explain it with the number. If you want 200 doors knocked, make that clear to them. If you want a hundred new people added to your voter file, explain it in those terms.

Make it measurable, realistic and important. And don't accept the response that blogging or word-of-mouth will suffice: make it mandatory to go out and do real campaign work. Keep people focused on numbers in front of them so they can't use abstractions to rationalize inaction.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Working with a Designer

Many low-budget campaigns produce their own campaign material. And this is good because it saves necessary funds. But in time, either at an organization or a higher-level campaign, you'll need to deal with designers who can make your products look sharp.

When you work with a designer, there are a few critical things to know before talking with them:

1) Know the dimensions of what you want. Don't rely on the designer
2) Have a basic idea fleshed out
3) Know the graphics you want to use, what's your idea on pictures and things to emphasize

Having these things in mind will allow a designer to improve upon what you have, instead of having to make things from scratch. It's hard for designers to work from scratch because it's understandably very frustrating to have constant revisions demanded by you when you didn't give them much to work with from the start.

Having a general idea, even a sketch of what you want, will result in a better product because it's so much easier for them to improve upon your general idea than to create one from scratch that you may not like. Even if you just give them a similar thing to base their design off of, you'll be better set.

As well, during the editing process, keep three things in mind:

1) Do a few long-lists of revisions rather than a dozen smaller lists, it's much easier for a designer to work through a long list of 100 things, then to deal with five lists of 15.
2) Limit yourself to four rounds of edits, it's very easy to overdo the editing and try to perfect it, and you end up wasting time and frustrating everyone. Four rounds of editing is plenty.
3) Number all your edits and give all relevant information when you send edits to the designer, even if you have to repeat things from prior discussions or emails. Don't take anything for granted. If the designer is going through your edits at 2am, don't rely on them to remember a discussion from a few weeks ago- restate everything.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Important books relevant to Political Fundraising

There are three types of political fundraising:
1) Direct Mail: stuff that comes to the mailbox
2) Telephones: telemarketers
3) Direct Solicitation: asking people in-person

The skills involved are many. You want to be a good writer for direct mail. You want to be good on the phones. You want many in-person skills for direct solicitation. All depend on skills like persuasion, marketing and salesmanship.

Private industry teaches these skills all the time, and there are a variety of books that are directly relevant and useful for your purposes in raising funds for politics. Here are a few of the better ones:

1) Secrets of Question-Based Selling by Thomas Freese
2) Influence by Robert Cialdini
3) Asking by Jerold Panas
4) Direct Mail by Ben Hart
5) The Artful Journey by William Sturtevant
6) My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
7) Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

If you know of other ones, please email me and I'll add them to the list.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Opposition Research Dumps

If you're running a campaign or organization, you want to make a change in politics one way or the other.

The problem is that you have to decide where to focus your efforts: the culture or in politics.

And if the latter, what do you do? Run always-positive campaigns, where people then complain about "ads that don't say anything" or go negative and have people complain about "mud-slinging"

Many campaigns try to do both by being officially positive, but unofficially negative. They do this because it's effective, and relatively easy to avoid putting the campaign name on outside actions.

Negative information on individual politicians or aspiring politicians is very effective. It's effective because the public knows that they get a steady diet of lies from the candidate of course, and the media and its always-obvious agenda sells a steady diet of lies as well. It's hard to find the truth if you're a voter, even if you're motivated to do so.

There are often people who know these facts, but only keep it within their social circle. People "in the know" are aware of all the negative information, but that is kept from the voters who make decisions because people are often too fearful to put their name on things.

As well, many campaigns are reluctant to do the same because they feel it might track back to them. Many a campaign has lost by a thin margin and then felt regret at not releasing the damaging information they had. Many campaign managers also try to game the system too much by releasing the negative information at key points, such as the Gore campaign's 2000 release of Bush's DWI charge, the Friday before the election. This is very crafty, but you run the risk that people won't discover the information until it's too late. Unless you have a great relationship with the local newsmakers, trying to time it is too difficult and complex. 

Too few people do the obvious: create a negative blog to collect all the negative information on particular candidates. Broadcast all the complaints. Make it very public. Collect everything and enable anonymous tips.

You obviously want to avoid legal issues like defamation, slander and libel, but you can broadcast truthful things, and report responsibly on what people are saying or what are the common rumors going around that otherwise aren't well broadcast.

It's simple, free and easy, and everyone should do it. It's better to create accountability to those in power than to let the upper echelons of elites control such information.

Be careful to be responsible with this and not repeat extremely salacious things that are likely untrue, but report with zeal those things that are true and are facts stubbornly hidden from public review.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Quick and Easy Recruitment for Politics

Recruitment is critical to any new campaign or organization. Recruits are volunteers, future leaders, and the foundation from which all good things happen.

When you need more people and don't have them ready, where are you supposed to find them?

Many people say "social media" is the answer. But the problem is that a million other people are doing the same thing, such that "social media" is often just white noise to many people. How often do you read Facebook messages from groups or people you don't know? How often do you really check Tweets on Twitter?

Old-fashioned recruitment methods pay the best dividends for the least work. Whether you're at a college or in neighborhood, standing in an area of high foot traffic and asking people to sign-up is the best method.

Don't waste paper by trying to give people handouts. All you want are names, emails, and phone numbers from people. This means you need to have a sign-up sheet and a clipboard.

Don't do it for very long, and do it in teams of at least two. Two people out for 45 minutes should be able to get 30 people each, and that's plenty to start.

Ask people walking by a simple one-word question. It provokes a level of confusion that gets them to ask you to say it again, so you have their attention. If you're recruiting for Democrats, ask them "Democrat?" If you're recruiting for pro-lifers, ask "Pro-Life?" And when they say they are, tell them to sign up. Don't ask if they'd 'like to' sign up, make it a non-negotiable. If they try to leave off their email or phone numbers, insist that they put them on. I often make a joke at this point that I need their email to spam them and their phone to sign them up for robocalls at 2am. Most people appreciate the humor and then sign up.

And don't waste time with individual people. This is a game of quantity and not quality. Many people who will waste 30 minutes of your time with their anecdotes, stories or debating you, will never ever act within your group. These people are time-sinks who steal from you, by taking away the precious time to recruit other people.

Many private companies, campuses and the like get very uppity about this kind of recruitment, and will inevitably send someone out to ask you to leave, or even call the cops on you. If this happens, stay cool, play dumb, and move along. It's not worth arguing about the constitution or your rights, it's best to just move on. It's also a good reason not to stay longer than 45 minutes, because they often won't notice that quickly.

You also want a quick in-person meeting after the sign-up, some way to channel their participation. Many will not show up, but some will, and from the ones that do show up you can accomplish great things. If 100 people sign-up, you might expect no more than 10-15 to actually attend the meeting, but that's plenty. And you can use the list you've created in many other ways.

But the point is that it's critical to have an event within 48 hours that they attend, that capitalizes upon their interest. This follow-up meeting is critical. You want it to be short, fun, and it immediately involves them in the group and in the action of your group. You give them a simple assignment. But that's a discussion for another post. The point is that you don't lose the momentum from their recruitment and signature, to a meeting and acting as a part of your campaign or group.

So, to recap the main points:
1) Have a sign-up sheet + clipboard
2) Use single word questions, not taking no for an answer
3) Have two people, 45 min. max in a high-foot-traffic area
4) Have a meeting soon thereafter
5) Don't hassle with handouts, brochures or the like
6) If someone tells you to move on, do it before they call the cops. If you have to deal with the cops, offer to move on and plead ignorance. 

 Common mistakes:
1) Not being aggressive with people who walk by/being passive and 'waiting for them to come up to you'
2) Fumbling with handouts and other materials to give them
3) Not having a meeting to drive them to, letting signatures on a sign-up sheet sit idle for weeks
4) Sending people out one at a time, where they often feel socially pressured to stop recruiting
5) Getting into debates or discussions with people who walk by, losing the opportunity to get more sign-ups

Thursday, March 7, 2013

When to send references for a job opening

Many places ask for three references. In all honesty most places never ever call them.

Don't waste time saying on your resume that "references are available upon request" because everyone already knows that they are.

You want to send along references after they've looked over your resume and have emailed you though. You don't want to send references prior to that.

The main reason not to just send along references with your resume is that people are always judging you. They are judging the quality of your resume, and they'll judge your references when you send them. Here are a few thoughts they'll have if they recognize the names:

1. If the reference shares a last name: "Oh, a family connection, lame..."
2. If the reference is someone well-known: "How in the world does this guy know that guy?"
3. If the reference is someone well-known: "He probably doesn't really know this guy except in passing, or maybe from being friends with one of their kids."
4. If the reference isn't someone well-known: "Oh, this must be a family friend or an uncle or something."
5. If the reference isn't a former employer: "Oh, he got fired from past jobs."
6. If the reference is a former employer: "This guy might be a brown-noser and suck-up."

In short, there are stupid petty reasons to deflate even good references. But you don't want to expose that part of your resume until you know that they're interested in you. You don't want to tip your hand or seem over-eager by sending along your references.

As well, people know that references always say positive and glowing things, so it often seems pointless to call knowing that you're not going to really learn anything useful about the applicant.

Send references only when they ask, and realize that there's a 10% chance that your references will get called. And don't send them unless you're asked.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to format your resume for political jobs

No one thinks that anything you learned in college has any relevance to campaigns, because most of the time it doesn't.

Structure your resume in such a way where the most important things and most appealing things to a potential political employer are highlighted at the top. Make sure to include relevant past campaigns and volunteer work on your resume.

The advice you hear from a college guidance counselor or a human resources officer is generally useful, but also not directly useful for political jobs.

People in politics get hired because they're trustworthy, because they've been involved in past campaigns and already know people, and lastly because they have relevant skills and talents.

Understand that whomever is hiring you for a campaign likely doesn't care whether you were on the dean's list, or whether you volunteered at a soup kitchen or the various jobs you had during high school or college.

They care that you can be trusted, that you already know who's who, and that you have some useful skills.

When you format your resume, keep this in mind. Ditch the items that aren't immediately relevant. Include volunteering on various campaigns. If you lack any campaign experience whatsoever, include even student government races. Show that you're addicted to politics so that they think you'll do well in the position.

Major mistakes on resumes I've seen for both campaign applicants and political organization applicants:
1) Zero campaign experience
2) Nothing politically-related listed on their resume
3) Highlighting immaturity or inexperience
4) Highlighting nepotism, i.e. "worked at my uncle's pizza business for the summer"
5) Resumes longer than one page
6) Listing your academic research areas that were inapplicable

Your resume should be one page and to the point. It should highlight you as someone who is trustworthy, ready to work, and who already knows the field, geography, race and place. You also want to highlight the skills you have that are relevant to the job.

Also, as a side note, always title your resume computer file like this, "Firstname-Lastname_Resume.doc", that way when your hiring manager is downloading a dozen resumes at a time, he doesn't get lost when sorting through them.

Format your resume for political jobs by changing it to highlight the things that will be noticed and help you get the job. Make sure to include relevant prior campaign work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wrong Life Plans

When applying to a campaign job, does your resume match the job?

I'm sure you've heard this advice from guidance counselors before, adapt your resume to match the job you're applying for.

And while this is sound advice, I realize it's unrealistic to spend the time adjusting your resume for each job. You should at least have a 'political' resume and a 'non-political' resume. I'd even say you should have a 'political: campaigns' resume and a 'political: other' resume.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, make sure your resume doesn't make you look like your real life plans are elsewhere.

I was recently interviewing a candidate for a political position, and asked him what his five year life plan was. His response was that he wanted to be in international affairs with a graduate degree. The job I was interviewing him for was, clearly, his last resort and he'd be jumping ship as soon as he could.

When a job asks you what your five year plan is, your response should always be, "working here, hoping for a promotion, working hard and being a valued member of the team."

It shows that you understand the situation and the real question, it isn't a time to be indulgent. When you make a resume and express your life plans, don't say or even hint that you want to be in international relations in ten years, or that you have a secret path to be a professor.

No one wants to know your real life plans. They want to hear that your life plans matches with their employment needs. That you'll be a stable regular employee for them, that's what they want to hear.

When you give these lofty dreams, you're embracing certain negative stereotypes: flaky college students, being unrealistic, being difficult to work with, etc.

Come across as someone looking to work hard, take direction, and make progress. Come across as someone whose life plans matches the job you're applying for at that moment.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Keep backups of receipts

When you incur expenses for a campaign or organization, always keep copies and a backup of your receipts. There are a few key reasons:

1) The organization might lose their copy and need it again, let's call this the absent-minded boss problem
2) The organization might refuse to reimburse you for a specific item, the confrontational boss
3) The organization might refuse to reimburse you for an item and not tell you, the evil boss.

I've seen and worked for all three. Each one should tell you that keeping a backup of your expenses is critical. Even if you can write-off that one invoice, these reimbursements will add up over time.

Always keep backups of your receipts.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Basic elements of a good campaign website

Campaign websites run the gamut from great to horrible. The websites that you've probably seen most often are the ones that have budgets far beyond the cost of your entire campaign. They're bad comparison points because you'll likely never be able to compete with them.

There are also an endless stream of companies, vendors and 'friends' who will want to build a campaign website for you, and give you the best rate they can give you, usually $1000 or something astronomical. For what you need, and for what you want done, you can easily get by spending $100-200 on a campaign website, with few frills. Don't pay the unemployed recent college grad a thousand dollars for your website, you're not getting anything and they're getting their beer budget donated to them for the summer.

So, decide to do it yourself, and let's go over a quick list of things that should be on your campaign website.

Issues - list out and discuss the top three issues facing your district. Don't get into a policy wonk discussion on each issue, because each extra issue you discuss means you made the pool of potential supporters smaller. You want to be clear, smart, wise and consistent on the main issues of the day.

Gallery - put up at least two dozen nice pictures of your candidate and their family and friends. Keep it plain. You want people to see your candidate in a few different settings, talking to people, at their work, talking to people in the community.

Contact - you don't need a physical campaign office, but you do need a mailbox. Also, it's very easy and simple to set up a Google Voice account so you can at least receive voicemails and respond to people who inquire. Have a separate number for 'media' inquiries, realizing that 95% of those who will call this number will likely be obnoxious bloggers looking for a scoop.

Donate - make sure you have a system set up to accept donations. Paypal is an altogether horrible service for accepting campaign donations. And several campaigns I know have had their entire paypal accounts frozen until after election day, when the released funds did them absolutely no good. There are a variety of donation providers who can process donations for you.

Make sure you can update this site, and that more than one person has access to it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Campaigns and Orgs: Have Effective Ways to Handle New Volunteers

New volunteers are a great source of talent and work. They add new personalities and momentum to a campaign. But many campaigns misuse them and, as a result, they often stop coming in or leave.

Let's go through a few effective things to do with volunteers:

1. Don't give them "bitchwork" - things that no one else around the office wants to do.
2. Don't give them menial tasks - things like letter stuffing
3. Don't test them to see if they'll do hard work, asking them to clean the bathroom
4. Get them involved, make their work seem important
5. Show them why their efforts can make a difference, how their action will get more votes
6. Keep a spirit of idealism, and don't project cynicism
7. Even unpaid people should be treated well, free volunteers aren't worthless, they're priceless
8. Have them learn a valuable skill: teach them basics of fundraising, or how to do graphic design
9. Value their time, with real dollars: keep track of how much time they've invested in the campaign as though each hour were worth at least $10, and treat them as a donor. If someone donates 40 hours, treat them like you would someone who just donated $400.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but many campaigns violate these basic concepts. Treat volunteers well, find opportunities for mutual win, and you'll recruit more people and retain even more.