The Washington Post

After election, campaign staffers likely to descend on Washington in search of work

For thousands of campaign staffers scattered across the country, the past several months have been a hectic blur of courting donors, registering voters or wooing the media.

Now, with the 2012 election in the history books, many of those workers are out of a job. And if the past is a guide, many of them will descend on Washington in search of positions in politics, advocacy or government.

Given the transferable skills and career networks they have built on the trail, local political staffing professionals say that even amid a gloomy economy, these people are well-equipped to land a job in a town whose epicenter is the government.

“Campaigns are definitely unique pressure cookers that place people from all aspects of politics side by side in the trenches,” said Emily Miller, director of career services at the Leadership Institute, an organization that does recruitment and placement for jobs with conservative leaders and causes.

Many of the opportunities for ex-campaign workers will be born out of the inevitable churn that happens after an election: New members of Congress will need staff and vacancies will be created by the revolving door between government and law or lobby firms. Grass-roots groups and think tanks may also shake up their teams to reflect changing legislative priorities.

Staffing professionals say the influx of job seekers usually comes from both losing and winning campaigns. Placement options are often wider for those who worked with winners, since they may have a fast track to work for the official for whom they campaigned.

But ultimately, campaign staffers’ marketability here may be less about who they worked for and more about the type of work they did.

“Schedulers and fundraisers are always welcome because they have fantastic interpersonal skills and they get politics,” said Chris Jones, president of PoliTemps, a firm that places job candidates from both sides of the aisle.

Jones also said that it’s typically easy for his firm to find jobs for those who have worked on a press team or have strong social media and Web skills.

For organizations such as PoliTemps, the weeks following an election are a busy and important time. To deal with the rush of “campaign refugees,” as Jones calls them, he temporarily brings on an extra staffer and extends his hours.

“You’ve heard of speed dating. It’s sort of speed [career] counseling,” Jones said. “It becomes sort of a crisis hotline mode.”

Democratic Gain, an organization that provides job placement assistance to people who have worked on progressive causes, has workshops planned in close to 30 states to try to help ex-campaign staffers figure out their next steps.

“We’ve been thinking about this all year and planning post-election events to try to educate people about what kind of opportunities are available to them,” said Ashley Spillane, executive director of Democratic Gain.

The Leadership Institute has upped the number of career fairs they’re offering this year as part of an effort to place more job candidates.

And on both ends of the political spectrum, staffing professionals say the job candidates are often stumped by the same challenge.

“It’s often difficult for people to figure out how to translate their experience on a candidate campaign into issue advocacy and legislative work,” Spillane said.

But the staffing experts see a broad range of possibilities: Someone who did opposition research might be a good fit at a think tank, while a canvasser is likely to succeed at an activist organization.

“I think having a very open mind to the types of opportunities that might become available to them is very important,” Miller said.

Still, there can be obstacles to finding a politics or policy job in the wake of an election. There can be something of a supply-demand disconnect: Many polling, direct-mail and consulting firms hire ahead of an election, but go into skeletal staffing mode when it ends. So these employers are not in a position to hire even as as a host of qualified people enter the job market.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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