Tackling Your First Political Job Hunt

by Elena Veatch

job hunt

Tips to Make Your First Political Job Search as Painless As It Can Be

If job hunting at any stage in life is a daunting process, searching for your first ever political job as a young person can be soul-crushing. While you may not be able to avoid all the headaches and meltdowns that accompany your transition into the Real World, these tips for your first political job hunt will at least help you breathe more easily (and maybe even sleep at night) as you navigate.

1. Know When to Start Applying

When it comes to landing your first political job, the timing can be frustratingly unclear. I spent my entire last semester of college applying for D.C. jobs, only to realize that most of those positions required an immediate start date. If you send out applications too early, you can expect radio silence and/or rejections, not to mention plenty of wasted time and effort. With campaign or Hill jobs, it’s not out of the ordinary to apply for, interview for, and start a job within a time frame as short as a week or two. While the hiring timeline differs with every organization (I interviewed for months on end at some think tanks), know what you’re getting yourself into by asking questions and being honest about your own timeline for starting your first political job.

2. Clean up Your Resume in Advance

Before you embark on your political job hunt, make sure your resume is ready to go—updated, clean, and concise. Always keep it to one page by tailoring if necessary. If you have lots of experience to tout, include only what’s most relevant to the position you’re applying for (but keep a longer master copy of your resume to draw from for each application). Be sure always to save and send your resume as a PDF (not a Word document). This way, you can avoid any formatting nightmares that might arise if your prospective employer opens your attachment with a different version of Word. A sea of resume clutter might take even the most qualified candidate out of the running for a job.

3. Talk to Anyone and Everyone 

Networking used to sound like a dirty word when people preached its importance to me—but all it means is talking to people you find interesting. It’s never too early to start, and there are lots of ways to go about it. I used to browse through the LinkedIn profiles of alums from my college and reach out to those whose jobs sounded awesome, asking to pick their brain sometime. If your friend’s parent, uncle, cousin, etc. works in politics or advocacy, chat about it with them over coffee. Go to lectures and roundtables with questions. Don’t be afraid to ask someone how they got to where they are in their career—most people remember all too well what it’s like to be starting out. If you express interest in someone’s work, the worst-case scenario is that they’ll be too busy to chat. More often than not, they’ll be excited to share some insight. Plus, they might keep you in mind if they hear of political job openings in the future.

4. Value Your Gut 

In figuring out what to apply for during your first political job hunt, keep an open mind, but use your time and efforts wisely. It never hurts to put some feelers out in unexpected places during your search, but don’t spend hours applying for jobs that you know you’ll never want to do. If you’re not a numbers person and have no interest in changing that, don’t waste your time applying for data-heavy jobs. If you think you could be a data person if given the chance to learn, and the prospect of doing so excites you, take a chance and apply. And finally, if a political job sounds perfect on paper but turns out not to be what you’re looking for, don’t force yourself to want it. If something doesn’t feel like a good fit after an interview, it’s often because it’s not.

5. Don’t Rule Out Short-Term Gigs

Don’t be afraid to apply for short-term gigs, like election cycle positions. You’ll learn a ton about the path in politics you’re trying out, and you’ll learn just as much about yourself and what kind of work is satisfying to you. If you don’t love your short-term political job, you won’t be obligated to stick around anyway. If you do love it and you make that clear to senior staff, there’s always a chance the gig could turn into a longer-term run. Either way, don’t avoid applying for a political job or turn down an offer just because the opportunity has an expiration date. Every experience, no matter the duration, will help you grow and put you in a better spot to plot your next move when it’s time to move on.

6. Tackle Every Interview with a Game Plan

While you never want to recite robotic talking points from a piece of paper during any interview, have a few things prepared that you want to emphasize about yourself. Figure out which of your strengths will be most relevant to the political job at hand, and have examples of how those traits/skills have helped you excel in previous roles. Mastering the art of articulating exactly why you’ll make a great hire is crucial in any context.  

7. Give it Time

Don’t expect your first political job hunt to be without bumps along the way. If you learn productively from your mistakes as your search goes on, things will eventually fall into place, and you’ll land that first job—just give it time.

Some great job boards for political jobs in DC include: