As campaigns begin to staff up for the 2024 election, it’s a great opportunity for someone early in their political career to get involved in a campaign, especially if they have primarily worked in Washington, D.C., or a state capital.
There’s nothing quite like actually going out into the field, working with a candidate, being in the trenches, and handling all the incoming challenges that come your way. However, not knowing the outcome can be a bit scary for someone who wants to have their life planned out and to know where their next paycheck is coming from and where their career is headed.
In this post, I break down the benefits of working on a campaign and explain why I believe it’s a risk that everyone should take at least once in their life.
One Of A Kind Experience
Campaigns are all about learning by doing. No matter how many political science classes you take in college, nothing can prepare you for the reality of a hard deadline on election day, limited resources in terms of money, the intense scrutiny that comes with politics, and all the challenges associated with running a campaign. There’s simply no other experience like it.
So, if you do want to work in politics long-term, whether that’s on Capitol Hill, at a think tank, in a public affairs firm, or even within your own company, you need to have that experience. It’s crucial for understanding how it all works and how it fits together because it all begins with winning at the ballot box.
Understand How Voters Think, Speak, Act, and Feel
Being on a campaign and interacting with volunteers, donors, activists, supporters, and everyday voters provides critical insight that will be applicable to everything else you want to pursue in the field of politics.
Being on a campaign is the best way to understand the challenges of reaching voters and running a campaign. Whatever challenges you aim to tackle, you have to witness them firsthand. You need to comprehend how difficult it is to persuade someone to turn out, acknowledging that voters aren’t always as informed or rational as we’d like them to be. Sometimes, it’s challenging to register to vote and follow those instructions. Moreover, it’s essential to recognize just how difficult it can be to ensure that your side of the story gets heard in a crowded media landscape.
Learn How Tough Choices Must Be Made
Campaigns are constrained by time, budget, personnel, and various other factors. It’s only by being on a campaign and experiencing it firsthand that you truly grasp the challenges and tough choices that must be made. Consequently, when you transition from the campaign to another role, you’ll carry with you a deep empathy for campaign managers and consultants, in a way that others might not. This empathy can be incredibly valuable.
So now, when you work with a campaign, you can comprehend the problems they encounter and the challenges they confront. You can communicate in terms and language that they readily understand, which helps you grasp the issues people face more effectively.
Make Lifelong Friends & Mentors
When you’re in the trenches with someone on a campaign, you forge lifelong bonds and friendships. Personally, I stay in touch with almost everyone I’ve ever worked with on campaigns and consider many of them among my best friends. You’ll also have the opportunity to develop mentorship relationships with individuals who can assist you in your career.
Many of the business relationships I have stem from these campaign opportunities. So, when you’re contemplating working on a campaign, you may be sacrificing some financial stability, but you’re investing in relationships that will continue to yield future dividends throughout your life, and that is truly valuable. Few other jobs or careers provide such opportunities.
Experience A New Region
Many people are concerned about relocating from their hometown or current place of residence. However, it’s worth noting that there’s also an upside—you could discover a new part of the country that you truly love.
For example, I’m from Texas, but I worked on a number of campaigns in Virginia. I know Virginia really well as a state, and I enjoy exploring all the richness that exists in the Commonwealth. It’s where I decided to live. So, you get to experience a new region in ways that you might not otherwise have, whether it’s the festivals, political traditions, or other cultural aspects. The only way to truly experience these is by getting on the ground and being on the front lines.
Washington Jobs Will Always Be Here
The older you get, the more challenging it becomes to take risks. Moving to a new place is tough when you have a mortgage, and taking a job that may end or involves a pay cut is a challenge when you’re married and have children. So, I remind people that Washington and its jobs will always be here; it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
If you’re concerned about missing out on opportunities, know that you’ll actually level up by working on a campaign, gaining more experience, and gaining a different perspective than those who remain in Washington. The older you get, the more challenging it becomes to walk away.
Hone Transferrable Professional Skills
Campaigns also impart a lot of transferable skills that apply to other industries, not just in politics. Knowing how to operate on a budget, build consensus, and effectively convey a message are all tremendously valuable skills in business, regardless of the field you want to pursue.
If you go on a campaign and discover that you don’t really like it, you don’t have to do it again. However, you will have acquired a multitude of skills that you can carry into other industries and career paths. This will set you apart from other candidates and can give you a significant advantage.
If you’re interested in a career in politics, government, or public affairs, working on a campaign is the single best way to advance your career. In many ways, it’s like taking a shortcut, akin to pursuing a graduate-level education, and it offers a one-of-a-kind experience.
Reach out to your contacts who are working on campaigns. Get in touch with them, let them know that you’re interested, willing to relocate, and ready to get your hands dirty. I promise it’s not something you’ll regret.