Office politics exist in virtually every workplace, so what better training for a young professional's career than to spend some time working on a political campaign? No matter what your political persuasion, the 2008 election is a perfect opportunity to jump into the fray. To find volunteer opportunities, check out the website of your favorite candidate or party, and remember to check out the local and state levels, too. You're likely to get more responsibility if you work on a smaller campaign.
GOTV or "Get Out the Vote" is one of the jobs to which a new volunteer will likely be assigned. What does this entail? Calling registered voters and reminding them to go to the polls on Election Day and knocking door-to-door. GOTV requires little experience, but lots of enthusiasm. This is a particularly good option for Generation Y volunteers -- candidates and their staff members will love your youthful energy and your connection to other young voters.
In addition to getting out the vote, you may have the opportunity to gain specific skills that will enhance your resume. This can be especially helpful for entry-level job candidates without a lot of professional experience, or for career changers who need to learn new skills. On a campaign you can gain experience in fundraising, negotiating, direct marketing, event planning, cold calling, graphic design, database management, public relations and more. Staffers will give you as much responsibility as you are willing to handle, so don't be shy about asking for a specific role or raising your hand for more work.
What can you do if you end up stuffing envelopes day and night and you don't seem to be contributing much to the campaign or to your own career development? Show some initiative! If you notice that a particular staffer is overworked, you can volunteer to answer her calls or organizer her files. If an event seems to be low on RSVPs, you can get on the phone or the web and persuade more people to attend. In the chaos of a political campaign, everyone loves--and notices--a problem solver.
Another career benefit of working on a political campaign is that it will build your knowledge of current affairs. You're sure to impress your colleagues or a potential employer if you can talk intelligently about the economy, foreign policy, labor issues, procurement opportunities, taxes or any other issues relevant to your industry or community.
Last but not least, volunteering for a political campaign provides phenomenal networking opportunities. As a political volunteer, you can meet and interact with a huge variety of people. Plus, simply observing politicians is a great way to see how networking happens. Politicians are masters of communication, mutual opportunity, compromise and -- let's be honest -- schmoozing. You may not like the style of every politician, but you can use the opportunity of working on a political campaign to observe how deals get done, and how political operatives persuade people to vote for the candidates and issues they support.
Good luck, and see you on the campaign trail...