Political consulting firm interview: what to expect?
December 5, 2007 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I have an interview tomorrow (yikes) with a political consulting firm. Problem: I don't actually know what this means. What exactly do political consultants do? What kind of questions should I expect to be asked? What kind of questions should I ask them? Help!

My background: I'm 23, have a BA in government, interned for a campaign, and have spent the last year in an entry-level government job. It didn't really occur to me to pursue consulting, but I'm starting to get antsy in my current job and a friend hooked me up with this interview, so I thought I'd check it out. At the very least I'll learn something and get some interview practice.
I was feeling pretty calm about it until just now - I realized I have no idea what I'm doing and really would like to make a good impression, in case I decide this is something I'm interested in after all. I hope I'm not in completely over my head here.
I know there have been previous consulting threads and I've read those and they've been somewhat helpful, but most of them seem more oriented toward than politics. The firm I'm interviewing for works with the Democratic Party, individual campaigns, and nonprofits.

Thanks!
posted by naoko to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
According to Wikipedia, Political Consulting consists of advising campaigns on virtually all activities, from research to field strategy. check out the links at the bottom, they should provide you with more context.
posted by barrakuda at 12:24 PM on December 5, 2007


Political consultants usually help plan and execute campaigns (although the sometimes do more policy related tasks). Different first offer different packages of services but a general idea would be that they:

+ do polling (legit and quasi-legi, usually)
+ assist in crafting messages and
+ do creative work in designing advertising
+ often supervise or direct field staff
+ assist in finding ways to try to make the candidates message cut through the clutter and
+ help ensure election laws are complied with.

Have you volunteered for a campaign? What do you know about the kinds of clients they represent? (Most firms are either liberal or conservative). What do you know about political polling? Have you worked on a ballot initiative? Have you ever done phone banking?

What about politics interests you? Can you describe some of the positions that the candidates for, say, president have outlined and explain how they differ from one another?

Are you interested in being a politician yourself? Why or why not? Are you registered to vote? Do you vote?

What issues interest you? Since this is Democratic leaning firm -- are you interested in the environment? Gay rights? Women's rights? Minority rights? Immigration issues?

You should ask: what are the hours? Am I salaried or hourly? Will there be benefits? Will I be expected to 'volunteer' when not being paid to work? What is the level of work I'll be asked to do? Do you consider this a position that you use and then discard or something with a future? Will I have the chance to learn skills beyond folding and stuffing? (Ask with more charm, but ask.)
posted by driley at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Second driley.

The only other advice I have is visit their website if they have one. That will give you a feel for their mission statement and the type of image that want to present to the outside world. If they don't have a website, at least try googling their name to see if there is any press about them.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:39 PM on December 5, 2007


Response by poster: Oops, that should have read "more oriented toward business than politics."

Thanks for the responses so far, very helpful.
posted by naoko at 12:54 PM on December 5, 2007


From my personal experience, so I don't want to sound all sour grapes over here, but my first job was right out of college and billed as a "political consulting firm" and I was hired as a consultant/marketing coordinator.

My job responsibilities were, as follows:
Canvassing.
Begging for money.
Hiring more people to canvass and beg for money.

Check out their website/info before the interview and be cautious if they're a brand-new firm with no past clients.
posted by banannafish at 1:03 PM on December 5, 2007


Political Consulting is really broad. You are young, you will not be an adviser and you will not be paid to 'consult'. This is just a title to confuse your parents with when you go home for Christmas. I second Banannafish. It's unlikely you will be doing anything campaign-worthy until you reach a certain earning-taking in threshold, probably $100,000.
posted by parmanparman at 1:14 PM on December 5, 2007


know how to track legislation on your state's bill-tracking system and on the federal level. know which committees do what, and who chairs them. know who is going to be termed out & who is moving into a powerful position in next session. does your governor get along with the leaders of your state's legislature? if not, what do they spar over? which of those issues are important to this firm's clients?

know what resources are available for looking up legislative information - state archives, state library, state library's research office, state printing plant's archives, hopefully online, and the legislature's own archives if they don't farm that out to another agency.

start reading the weekly capitol-news magazine & etc.

learn what the biggest lobbying firms are about - who are their biggest clients, specialties, principals.
posted by luriete at 1:32 PM on December 5, 2007


It really depends a lot on what kind of consulting firm it is. I'm a research consultant (or I was before I took off to work on a presidential campaign). We handled opposition and vulnerability reports for Democratic candidates. Other consultants do polling, or fundraising or TV ad production, or direct mail, or just general advice and consultation or any combination of the above. Generally a firm works for either Democrats or Republicans.

Expect to be asked about your political experience, what you did on the campaign, who you worked with etc. If you get the job, you can expect to be overworked and underpaid. If you interned on a campaign, you know what this is like. You should definitely ask if they are hiring for a permanent position or if you will be laid off after the campaign cycle ends in 2008. Many firms staff up for the election and then radically reduce after it's over.

I disagree with Parmanparman about how much responsibility you could have. I know that at my firm our mid-level staffers do quite a bit of consultation with clients (typically Congressional campaigns) and have quite a lot of responsibility for managing our role in the process. And they don't make anything near $100,000.

My e-mail is in my profile. If you have any other questions, I would be happy to answer them. My experience is all on the Democratic side of the fence, but I'd be happy to give you my thoughts even if you're on the other side. Good luck!
posted by fancypants at 7:09 PM on December 5, 2007


Response by poster: Thanks all for the answers. I didn't think I did all that well, but then he said he was interested in possibly interviewing me again with some more of the senior staff there, so I guess that means I didn't completely flub it. It's definitely a long-term position, and they seem to really care about their employees. I'm still not entirely sure if I want to keep pursuing it because a) the firm is pretty much just focused on fundraising, which I'm not sure if I'm all that interested in and b) it's an administrative-type position, which is sort of what I'm doing now and was thinking I wanted to get away from (and toward more policy-oriented work), BUT it is a step up from what I'm doing now, and practically speaking I do need a new job, since my current one is beginning to look like a bit of a dead end. Things to think about...
Once again, thanks for all the advice.
posted by naoko at 9:00 AM on December 6, 2007


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