The essence of working on a campaign

March 15, 2011 | By Stephanie Freedman

As we are rolling into a fresh race cycle for 2011, jobs are starting to pop up on the campaign trail. If you are in any way politically inclined there will always be a certain allure to working on a campaign at one point in your career. When I graduated college I had this vision of being staffed full time on a campaign. I was envisioning rallies, debates, and late nights eating pizza sessions while listening to Led Zeppelin. Do not get me wrong, these things did  happen during the campaign (minus the Led Zeppelin tunes, even though we did throw in Journey a few times) but there were many holes in my vision that were quickly filled in once starting my first campaign job. My first job after college was a Congressional campaign, and it was one of the most intense, yet rewarding experiences of my life. But it takes a certain personality to truly enjoy campaign work. It is not for everyone. Before you embark on a search for a campaign job, here are a few things that I observed being campaign staff. This is not a job for the weary of heart.

Be flexible: This job is in no way your structured, 9 to 5 scenario. In fact this might just be the antithesis of your typical job. Campaigners never sleep; there will always be an early morning news article that needs to be read, late night events that need to be hit, and weekends free are just a distant pastime on your life B.C. (Before Campaign).  You may have a schedule planned for the day, and an article may turn up in the local paper that morning that will turn your whole day upside down. A last minute event opportunity may present itself that you cannot ignore. Having structure but being able to roll with the punches is a priceless craft to master on the campaign trail. 

Be open-minded: A campaign job is a job with many hats. While you will be hired for a specific job, be prepared to be doing everything under that job’s spectrum. You will be in a suit one day and jeans and a T shirt the next. You will find yourself dressed up for a gala one night and pounding the pavement going door to door the next morning. You might even find yourself running to put out signs in your professional attire. Anything is possible. Be prepared to have your comfort zone pushed as far as possible.

Assess your stress threshold: Before you embark on the journey to seek out the campaign job, sit down and be honest with yourself about how prepared you are to handle the stress of the campaign thrill ride. People told me that working on a campaign was like working in a pressure cooker and I could not think of a better way to explain it. There will always be more doors to knock on, there will always be another hundred calls to make, there will always be volunteers that need to be recruited, and there will always be media alerts to assess. Everyone wants to say that they handle stress well, but for the sake of your sanity and your potential colleagues’ sanity; if you tend to not react well to stress, this may not be the job for you.

At the end of the day be able to let your hair down: While the stress is high and the tasks are at times arbitrary, the point of campaigning is your ability to connect. This is a job strictly contingent on creating personal relationships. While there are a lot of things on the table, you still need to be able to have fun, and allow yourself to truly enjoy the job opportunity you are experiencing because it is truly one of a kind.

Recognize that once you solidify your position on a campaign, you are surrendering yourself to the ride of your life until November 3rd. The only way to see if you’re truly cut out for the work is to throw yourself into one headfirst. It may be the worst experience you’ve ever had, or the best experience you’ve ever had, but at the end of the day it will be an experience you will never forget.