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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When your hiring manager isn't a pro

You can be very good at getting hired at a generic job... but still be bad at getting a political job.

Politics is not like business, it's not as simple as that. in the workplace, people are trained in how to find good employees. They are trained how to ask probing questions, how to screen for good workers and bad ones.

In politics, you might have someone's unemployed cousin deciding whether you get the job or not.

There are many unqualified people making important decisions, and your fate can depend on a variety of different things, many entirely out of your control.

Political jobs can hinge on very unfair and unforeseeable things. Don't let that discourage you though.

Just don't take rejections personally. And build up marketable skills. Marketable skills will help you add appeal to your resume, in addition to the necessary networking and political maneuvering to get a position. When you meet a hiring manager who has no experience managing people, realize that your normal interview routine might not be the best fit.

Even mid-level campaigns might allow their consultant to hire a staffer, and that consultant may never have really managed people before. Many upstart campaigns are by self-starting attorneys who, as well, may have never managed anyone before. The way they interview you, the way they look at you, is going to be different.

Many don't know what they're really looking for in an employee, so you can get passed over even though you did everything right.

Just as politics is not like business, it's also not like the military. Politics is a beast apart. And its unpredictability is part of the allure.

There are three things you should keep in mind

1) Your connection to the hiring manager
2) Your resume and interviewing skills
3) Your actual skills

The most important thing to get hired is your networking, how well you've gone out and met people, let them know who you are and why you're valuable. Who you know is the best way to get ahead. Second best is how good your resume and interview comes across to the hiring manager. A solid resume and good interviewing skills can go a long way. And third are the actual skills that you have. Most people coming out of college lack actual skills and valuable experience. Hiring managers expect a certain level of fluffery on your  resume. So if you can demonstrate valuable skills and useful prior experience, you will stand out.

Networking will help you the most, having a good resume and interviewing skills will help you the second most, and having a strong skill set will round out your application perfectly.

Even when you run into unprofessional hiring managers, you can still thrive if you follow this advice and focus on the three things that will determine if you get a job: networking, resume and interviewing, and your applicable skills for the position.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

When a new boss takes over your campaign team, how to keep your job

The common advice given to them is to fire everyone and start fresh.

I know that's not what you want to hear.

Many people prefer not to do that because they want the benefit of your past experience, they don't want to spend the time retraining new people. In political positions, though, more often than not people value loyalty over merit. They'd rather have someone who is their man through thick and thin, and the only way to be sure is to start from scratch.

They also prefer to fire everyone because they don't want to hear excuses about how things used to be done. They don't want people loyal to the previous boss, gossiping and spreading rumors about how things are being done under the new boss. Your new boss is in a tough position, empathize with the tensions going on in their head and you can figure out how to keep your job.

New boss' mindset:
-They want the experience... but they don't want to waste time retraining everyone.
-They want loyalty... but they also want someone who can give them honest feedback.
-They want people who will give honest feedback... but they don't want to hear "how it's always been done around here."

If it was as easy as walking in and saying "boss, I'll be completely loyal to you and only you" the first thought through the boss' head is, "I wonder how many times he's said that before, and to how many previous bosses" - you can't verbally win over a new boss. You have to demonstrate it. You have to show that you're going to be a strong and productive worker for them.

Remember, think about it from their perspective: what are they worried about, and what do I bring to the table? You can survive a major transition if you can look like a winner and avoid drama.

Here are seven quick tips to survive the transition:

1. Don't gossip. Don't gossip. Don't gossip.
2. Affirm their decisions, build them up, praise their decisions
3. Don't ever say "well, this is the way we've always done it..."
4. Work long hours, be a high producer
5. Research your new boss and try to predict what they want
6. Give them honest feedback, but always in a respectful and deferential way
7. Make sure they always know that they have the final say

Many people will do this at first, and then get lazy after the first week. They'll start going home early. They'll gossip. They'll fall into their old patterns. When that happens, watch out, a potential workplace massacre is coming in the form of firings and separations. But if you can stay disciplined and follow this advice, you have a better than even shot of surviving.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Be careful and cautious in criticizing

Recently I wrote an internal review of another organization's programs.

I was asked to help them with a presentation, and then also give an evaluation of their participants.

I had to find someone who illustrated the problems in the organization, and so I found that person and wrote some very tough things about the person and the things they were doing wrong. Let's call him Jim.

I was mean. I was brutal. I was honest, but I was perhaps a little more thorough in my critique of Jim than was necessary.

After I had sent my evaluation, but before they had time to read it, I received word from this organization that my presentation was fabulous, and that one of the students in particular was raving about how effective and great the presentation was... and as you can probably guess, that person was Jim.

There's a fine line between tolerating mediocrity in others and being courteous. A proper care and service to another person isn't to let them continue making mistakes. In that sense, my evaluation of Jim was spot on. But there's another tendency in politics, and perhaps in society at large, to treat people as mere cogs in a machine, as though they're disposable. If someone is flawed, we throw him to the curb like a broken television. And that's wrong, that's where I failed Jim.

You should strive to be honest, I try to do so but am often overly blunt in my assessments. I could use a bit more tact, more finesse, more grace in lieu of bluntness. As I say, it's a fine line. But when giving assessments, advice or even just gossiping about others, it's common that it can come back to haunt you.

In a moment of frustration I once said a particular student was 'as dumb as a box of rocks' and, of course, it got back to him. He was understandably hurt by the comment. You can be blunt and direct and forthright, without being mean. It's a grace and talent that I haven't mastered, but I share with you because it's difficult. You should criticize, but as the cliche goes, make it 'constructive criticism' and not just tough.

Politics is a long game, and people have extended memories. You'll be seeing the same faces over and over again, so don't be mean if you don't have to.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Don't write out important things on napkins

When you're at a bar, you have a great idea while talking with someone else, and you want to take some notes. Normal people don't bring extra sheets of paper to a bar, so you end up writing out a great idea on a napkin.

Famously, the "Laffer Curve" was explained over a napkin. It's a great anecdote, but it's also probably one of the few times that's worked. Because when you write something on a grocery store receipt, it's tough to take it seriously.

You are going to great lengths in your political career to come across as sharp and sophisticated. So don't let yourself look like a slob when you write out a great idea on a receipt tag from the cleaners.

Keep a set of business cards in your purse or wallet, write out ideas on your business card. It's classy and seems cool. It's miles away better than writing it on old crumpled paper, trash you had in your pocket.

Important things seem trivial and unimportant when written out on pocket trash.

Also, if something is really important and confidential, make sure you don't leave any paper trails lying around. Take all receipt copies, invoices, faxes, papers, and shred them yourself. You don't want someone walking off with something important. Don't leave anything to chance or 'coincidences' - make sure you've cleared away any possibility that a rogue piece of paper might hurt your campaign or candidate.

If you have a great idea, if you're making a serious plan, don't relegate it to whatever piece of pocket trash you have handy in a wallet or purse. Keep it classy and write it on one of your spare business cards that you should have with you at all times.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cleaning up a campaign PC or laptop

When you leave a campaign or an organization, you will inadvertantly leave behind personal files, photos, things that you shouldn't have at work, but ended up there anyway. Files on your computer can become something of a liability. Perhaps you left behind an offer contract to your next job, or you left some personal emails that are embarrassing. It's easy to let your personal life slip into your professional one, and difficult to keep the discipline necessary to separate the two.

So, if you have notice that you're about to leave a job, what are your options for cleaning off your computer so that you don't leave those electronic files behind?

Over at Slashdot, they give some good general advice, for many different platforms. The tech geeks over there seem to repeatedly recommend this program to delete any files that may have been on your machine, D-Ban.

Make sure you make a backup of all your files. And make sure you make a disc of all of the campaign's documents and data for them to have before you do this. You don't have the right to destroy files that they'll need later. But to make sure that your other information is safe and secure, to make sure that your personal files are completely off that machine, use DBan and get rid of those files before you leave the workplace.

Delete your personal files, give your employer a disc with all of the company files on them. Don't leave your personal files on a computer when you leave the organization.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Election tricks are all danger, no reward

It's tempting to think that tricks like this can get you out of an election. 

Put a friend's name on the ballot, make sure they get the primary, coast into office without serious opposition. Sounds great!

But when you act like a crook, expect the authorities to come after you. In this instance, the Michigan state officials are looking for a way to find this illegal. God help the guy if the feds get involved.

Don't try to use backhanded and clever tricks in an election. You can win with hard work. You can win by being honest. You never need to risk your career for stupid stunts like this. If you win, it'll come out eventually and you'll hurt your reputation. If it gets exposed, you'll lose and still hurt your reputation.

Don't use tricks like this, you'll only end up hurting your own career.