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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Job Interview: always ask for the job

When you send out resumes, and do all sorts of job interview prep, and try hard to get on with a campaign or an organization, so many little details can get lost in the mix of a thousand pieces of advice about job-hunting.

But when you hear that you need to 'ask for the job' - make sure you do it.

People in politics are used to being direct, blunt and to the point. These are people who fund million dollar campaigns and organizations by asking for thousand dollar checks after all. Your resume gets you an interview, but in your interview you need to ask for the job, directly.

The interview is part of a sales process where you're selling yourself. Your argument is that this is a win-win for you and the outfit: this job will benefit you greatly and you will benefit the organization greatly. You have read "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" so you know that you have specific, politics-relevant skills to offer and you're highlighting those.

But as you sell yourself, and this opportunity, don't forget to finish by literally asking for the job.

"I want this job, can I have this job?"

It sounds awkward, and it will come across somewhat awkwardly, but make sure you do it. People respond to external stimuli, and hiring managers are no different.

If you want the job and have gone through this much trouble to get here,  make sure you ask this question. Then be quiet and wait for them to say they'll let you know. Follow-up to that by asking when you can find out, when you can call them and follow-up at the right time. A week, two weeks?

They shouldn't keep you in a holding pattern for more than two weeks. As well, by looking at their face you can often tell how well you did. If they're excited, it's good. If they seem like they'll "let you know" by emailing you to tell you to look elsewhere, well it's good to know that now.

The interview comes to a bad close when you forget to ask for the job at the end. If you've done a good job selling yourself, this will work seamlessly even if the question seems awkward in the moment.

Show some drive and ambition, and seal the deal by asking for the job at the end of any job interview.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Expressiveness of Rick Perry

It's easy to like Rick Perry. He has a certain flamboyant style that makes you want to like him. He tries to have the personable parts of George Bush's demeanor without so much of the baggage.

And part of his personality is definitely, at least in person, his wild gestures. Perry flails and waves all around. You get the impression that he's got quite a bit of southern preacher in him.

But this isn't a good style for most candidates. In fact, it can make you look quite crazy. It can make you look desperate.

Those who speak quickly, are insecure and unsure of their words. Confident people talk slowly because they're not in a rush and every word counts.

You want to project calm, confidence, security, patience, maturity.

You also want to make it seem like you know how to speak in front of a large group.

Now, many people will likely say at this point, "but I like his wild style, it makes him seem authentic." Which is true if it really works. If it fits within your personal style.

But more likely than not, it comes off much worse than you think. And for every person who says "I love your crazy style" there are a dozen people who quietly are saying "boy I would never vote for that guy with a crazy style."

You don't want to be eccentric, you want to be a leader. You don't want to be a gadfly, you want to be mainstream and normal. Instead of wild gestures, you want your gestures to accentuate your speech and its content, so that people are talking about your ideas later, and not mundane details like this.

In short, you want people's memory to be focused on either how great you are, or how great your words were, not how crazy you seemed.

As I said in a previous blog post, I suspect that Perry, like his primary opponent Mitt Romney, are likely surrounded by handlers who are too young and inexperienced to give them the wise counsel and critique needed to be better candidates. This is a function of their personalities. A good national candidate would have these sorts of things ironed out by now. And that's a separate lesson, that often you can have a candidate with major problems who dismisses your criticisms that they are their own personal style, but that's a topic for another day.

Here, it should hopefully be clear that Perry's wild gestures aren't helping him look like a serious candidate.

A candidate this wild is also likely to give the press photographers ample opportunities to take embarassing photos, which you also want to avoid.

Discretion is the better part of valor, as Shakespeare said. And when it comes to expressions, less can often be more.
"I don't know about you, Miss Kitty, but I feel so much yummier."

If you're still unconvinced, take note of the Rick Perry "Catwoman" pose I was able to snap. Don't let your candidate end up like this.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Setting roles, responsibilities and expectations from day one

Campaigns are similar to a start-up company, you have no money, new people, and a vague goal. Additionally, you're unlikely to have experienced people come in and explain where everything goes and what everyone should be doing.

It falls to you to orient yourself to be effective and efficient with your campaign work.

To do that, you should try to set your role, responsibilities and expectations from the start. Put them in writing, even just an email. Clarify your role and title, what niche you are filling in the campaign. Then explain what responsibilities you have, the things you're required to take care of and the authorities you need to do those things. If you're in charge of making sure there are enough office supplies, you need to make sure you have a budget to order those supplies. If you're in charge of the website, you need to make sure everyone understands that you need to approve what goes on there and control access.

Often you'll have a responsibility and lack the authority to make it happen. It's the improper delegation of work and decision-rights. You often run into this when you call a company's customer support department. They have the responsibility to take your call and mollify your concerns, but often lack the authority to fix your problem. If you call with a problem about your bill, often they can't waive that provision.

They have responsibilities without authority. You'll find the same problem on campaigns where you're expected to write press releases but don't have the authority to write quotes for the candidate. Or where you're expected to recruit college students but they won't let you leave the office during the day. You can be expected to run a phone bank but lack the authority to sign a contract for phone service.

Responsibilities without authority is a recipe for disaster. Get it straight from the start.

As well, many political campaigns and non-profits can have entirely unreasonable expectations for their staff. They think that since they pay you, they own every waking hour you have. They project their enormous and unlimited needs upon your finite time and energy. You will get overworked in politics, very quickly.

Control expectations from the start. Argue down unreasonable goals and give them strong but reasonable expectations. Don't be lazy, but don't overpromise and underperform. You can look like a champ if you get 10% more calls made by volunteers one month because you kept expectations reasonable. You can look like a chump if you come in 5% short of the same outgoing-calls goal one month for expectations that were unreasonable.

You should also consider including an organizational chart and clear hierarchy. This will prevent you from being poached from other people, reassigned or in tension with other stakeholders who might want to control your time. You want to identify who your direct superior is, and what your main expectations are to him. The organizational chart will help you understand everyone's roles from the start, and learn how to avoid work from other departments. It will help you focus on the work you have to do.

Control expectations from the start and keep them strong but reasonable.

You want these roles, responsibilities and expectations written out and acknowledged, ideally signed off, by either the campaign manager or candidate. You want the superiors to know what you're responsible for, you'll become a reliable producer of strong results and will be appreciated.

If you don't do this right away from the start, it becomes increasingly difficult to do later. Instead of being a reasonable new hire who is setting reasonable goals, you become the uppity guy who is trying to manage expectations down because they've been slacking off. When you try to engineer this feat later you look bad, you look like you're trying to excuse mediocrity and poor performance by setting low goals for yourself.

It's easy to do when you start, and hard to do later. Be sure to set clear roles, responsibilities and expectations for yourself from the start.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Always get endorsements in writing

I advised a campaign where the primary opponent was claiming endorsements from all sorts of bigshots, people whom the campaign was unable to even get ahold of, and it seemed odd that they would take such a stance in a primary election.

Turns out, it was surprising to them too.

The opponent was going up to people and telling them he was running for office and asking their advice. When they replied positively and said good luck, that they wished him well, and would occasionally pose for a photo, the opponent took this as their endorsement of his campaign.

He was putting these photos up on his website. When these people were alerted as to what happened, the campaign refused to take them down. It became an issue not so much in the media, but among the primary voters, that this guy was a bit crazy and loopy.

He was foolish to do so, but many politicians are known to play both sides of the equation. Some might have told him they were lending their endorsement only to retract it later when they realized it was a contested primary.

If you're running or starting your own campaign, get all these things in writing. An email is quick and easy, just a quick confirmation that they are endorsing the campaign or cause, and willing to lend their name to the effort.

One quick email means that when people say they weren't real endorsements, you have the proof.

But the best option is to avoid that predicament altogether, by making your endorsers know in advance what they're committing to. By the time you find out that this rumor is going around, you've already taken a serious hit. Perception becomes reality and your reputation as a loose cannon and maybe a bit crazy starts taking hold.

People are often paranoid in politics because small perceptions and rumors can easily spiral out of control. Doing damage control is often impossible, especially when the charge is salacious. Avoid the situation in the first place and you'll be fine, do a little extra legwork to get those endorsements and you'll be happy to have avoided the rumor in the first place.

If you let a rumor like this start with a kernel of truth, you'll run into an old trick that gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson alleged about LBJ:
And his sense of the bizarre knows no bounds, as in this 'ancient and honourable' story of how Lyndon Johnson first got elected to Congress in 1948 when his opponent was a wealthy and politically favoured pig farmer: 'Lyndon was running about 10 points behind, with only nine days to go... He was sunk in despair. He was desperate... he called his equally depressed campaign manager and instructed him to call a press conference at two or two-thirty ( just after lunch on a slow news day) and accuse his high-riding opponent (the pig farmer) of having routine carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows, despite the pleas of his wife and children... His campaign manager was shocked. 'We can't say that, Lyndon,' he said. 'It's not true.' 'Of course it's not,' Johnson barked at him, 'but let's make the bastard deny it.'

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Quality v. Quantity in fundraising calls

Fundraising, like politics, is a trade where everyone's an expert because they think they've experienced it. Because people have gotten fundraising calls, they think they know how to solicit for money. Because people have been involved with campaigns, they think they know how to finance them.

They don't. They don't know things outside their experience.

Fundraising is a long, hard, grueling process. It's building an organization from scratch and trying to persuade people to fund an untested idea: your campaign. You have to be organized, well-staffed, experienced and disciplined to pull it off. The best fundraising consultants are also enormously influential, hence why they charge so much.

But if you're starting out, you don't have the money to pay a consultant. You don't know where to start. You probably have a years-old spreadsheet of potential donors and old phone numbers. It's daunting.

You start calling through the list and you hear objection after objection. Every caller has an idea for what you should do before they'll start donating. Scores of people say they will only donate once or have already made their one donation for the year.

Because in politics the field team and the candidate feel like they want to get every vote, it can be easy to overemphasize the importance of single donors or people whom you call. You end up worrying that Mr. Smith's objections were right, and you need to overhaul all your yard signs before you call even one more person for donations.

The mistake you're making is to look at potential donors in terms of quality instead of quantity.

The objections and problems will never end, and they're usually not worth dealing with. When you call through a list, called "prospecting", you should note people's individual concerns, but don't lose sight of the fact that this is all a game of quantity and not quality. You want to make all the calls you can and don't get distracted or discouraged by one bad phone call.

Look at the stats, are you getting donations from a list of prospects? Your ratio of conversations to donations might be 10:1 or 20:1, and so getting through the 10-20 to get the one donation is horrible. As well, sometimes you'll get 5 donations in a row and then end up with 100 calls where you get nothing.

It's very frustrating because it's so tempting to take the individual calls so seriously. It's tempting to believe  that you did something right for the five in a row and something wrong for the rest.

It's all a numbers game. Keep making calls. Don't be discouraged. Keep plowing through the list. Remember that it's rare for prospective donors to pledge money to you over the phone. You can't get every person to pledge, but you can get 5-10% to pledge.

Other than consistent, pointed complaints, don't sweat the things people tell you when calling them. Develop a thick skin. And keep making the calls. You'll win if you can just keep making calls.

Quantity over quality is what works for fundraising from prospective donors.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Interview: Poll Watching and Voter Fraud

1- How does one become a poll watcher

You can volunteer for your favorite political party, candidate, or depending on the state you live in, as a private "concerned citizen". 

Most of the time you can reach out to your state party and ask them to do it, and they'd love to have you. It's usually very hard to recruit people to do this often thankless job.

2- What does a poll watcher do?

Watches the polls. 

More specifically monitors the people who are working at the polling location and the voters to ensure that everything is done correctly, legally, and "above board". These are people who stand all day during the election and make sure that things are done properly and according to the rules.

3- Can you describe the process of 'watching' a poll?

Each state is slightly different, but by in large poll workers stand behind the table where voters first go when they enter the polling location.  A poll watcher will generally be looking at the poll book* and ensuring that poll workers are checking the voters I.D. (or substitute) against the poll book correctly.  Poll watchers check to ensure that state laws are being followed properly.  If they find there is questionable activity going on at the polling location - they speak up (aka "Challenge") the activity with the person in charge of the polling location.  Often they are asked to document what they see for future legal challenges depending on the severity of the legal violation they witness.

*The poll book is a binder or excel spreadsheet that lists all the eligible voters in the precinct you are in. (This is a simplified definition)

4- How did you handle problems?

Report them to the person in charge of the polling location (My experience is that 90% of the time the problem will be corrected on the spot - as most people tend to want to avoid conflicts)

If the issue is not resolved - call the political party or candidate which you're volunteering for.  They will be more than happy to make a formal complaint with the appropriate clerk's office.  Document everything you see ASAP.

5- How often did you notice problems?

Quite Often. - However I was being paid to find them.  Most problems were due to poll workers having a poor understanding of state law and not necessarily people with dubious intentions.

Most people experience a very "boring" day at the polls with no problems noticed.
6- For campaigns that are just starting out, should they worry about ballot security?

It depends on the type of election, the district, and how many volunteers the campaign can muster.

For example: If you are a Democrat who is running in an area where 95% of the people in one location of your district are Republicans, then you may want to monitor the polls in that area. (Or vice versa)

If you're running a primary election in an area that is dominated by your political party, you may want to monitor the polls since you can not rely on people from the opposing party caring about voter fraud in your area.

If your running in a general election for local office and you know the state parties or "top of the ticket" candidates will be watching the polls, then there is very little reason you need to worry about it.

If you have no volunteers to watch the polls, then it's a moot point.  Don't worry about things you can't control. 

7- How serious do you think the issue of voting fraud is, are people unnecessarily worried about it?

It's impossible to say.  Claims from various groups (all with their own self interests) say different things.  Claims range from 0% statistical fraud all the way to claims that elections are decided before election day.

In my experience most of the time voter fraud is accidental (at least from the perspective of the poll workers). 

However, when there is a very close election - then even accidental fraud is put under a microscope which can lead to voters loosing faith in the electoral system. (Think George Bush in 2000 or Al Franken in 2008)

8- What are different ways that voter fraud happens? 

In my experience, the majority of intentional voter fraud happens when voters first enter the polling location.  

Most people are surprised to learn that in most states, you must present far more identification to rent a movie from blockbuster than to vote for president.

One common method of voter fraud is for voters to walk into a polling location, look at the poll book (that may or may not have been intentionally placed where they can see it) to find the name they will use at that polling location and claim to be "Jon Doe, 1234 main street". 

This method requires apathy, ignorance, or fraud (sometimes all three) from the poll worker.  Again, it depends on the district.

Another way voter fraud happens (intentional or not) is that ballots or voting machines are not secured properly.  All states that I'm aware of require some sort of tamper evident tag/sticker placed on the outside of ballot boxes/machines.  If these tags/stickers are not applied, then not only is there a potential for voter fraud, but ironically enough, these votes can NOT be re-counted if it's a close election.  (different states treat this scenario differently)
9- Where is voter fraud most likely to happen? 

Where one political party dominates the area. 
Even accidental voter fraud is more closely watched (and therefore avoided) in areas where different political parties have a vested interest in ensuring everyone "plays by the rules".

10- Do you need any special training to be a poll watcher? 

In most states, No - however if you don't know what the laws in your state are, you will not make an effective poll watcher.  Both major political parties spend quite a bit of time and energy in training poll watchers.  They will be more than happy to train you and send you to a polling location if you volunteer. 

In addition, most state's secretary of state provide information for people who wish to volunteer.  

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Action items for Volunteers

I consult for a few campaigns, and I was recently chiding a campaign manager for giving volunteers things they'll never do: make a complex spreadsheet of neighborhood organizations. His thinking was that this would "weed out" the slackers. Guess what, they're all slackers. But people are busy and distracted, they aren't used to politics. If you give them something complicated, you're right, they probably won't do it.

But that's not politics, that's not democracy. That's what works in business and when you can pay people to show up. In grassroots politics, you should look to maximize and put to work every volunteer who comes through the door and isn't totally crazy.

So, get them active and moving right away. Get new volunteers focused on specific things to do. For what it's worth, the classic Communist organizing tactic which was always smart, was to give new recruits a stack of newspapers to go hand out in the community.

It was a task that:
1- Got them active
2- Was simple
3- Gave them social conditioning to deal with people

It is an effective political tactic because it meant they could use anyone who came through their door.

What are tactics that you can use that do the same thing?

1. You can have new volunteers distribute literature, newspapers or brochures
2. You can have people attend events and write up a report on how many people were there, if they supported your candidate or cause, and also have them distribute campaign literature
3. You can have them call all their friends to find out what's going on in the area, and any public events or meetings the campaign can attend
4. You can have them drop off small stacks of literature in the front office of churches, hairstylists/barbers, schools, libraries and the like
5. You can have them build an 'event calendar' for the area
6. You can have them build a spreadsheet on local contacts for churches, businesses and the like
7. You can have them make detailed maps of places for future volunteers to do lit drops
8. You can send them to their regular church, social club or events with clipboards and sign-up sheets to find other people who are willing to support your campaign or cause

The point is that volunteers are useful, they're valuable, you shouldn't waste them.

You should not be putting them in a phone bank right away, or having them build a boring spreadsheet. You shouldn't take their enthusiasm and ruin it with the mundane. Don't make them do whatever it is that you don't like doing. Too often that becomes the campaign's attitude, giving volunteers all the dirty work.

And then they're surprised when people stop volunteering, leave, and never come back. When they lose by razor thin margins, maybe utilizing that volunteer to pick up 50 more votes with a clipboard and a few calls was a wise investment. Use volunteers smartly and wisely, and you'll win with free labor.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.