First Steps

Putting Together Your Application

This section covers the basics of getting your application in the door: identifying the right positions for you, writing a strong cover letter and resume, and making sure they get in front of the right people.

What should I apply for?

Here’s the first thing you should know about progressive analytics: titles are meaningless. A "Junior Analyst" somewhere might be an “Associate” elsewhere. A “Data Scientist” at one organization will be a “Senior Analyst” somewhere else and might be a “Targeting Director” at another organization. Don’t be seduced by fancy-sounding titles: whether you stay in this industry or move to another industry, your skill and responsibilities will always be more important than your title.
Another thing to keep in mind: people are generally bad at writing job descriptions (in this industry or otherwise). As long as you have over 30% of the technical skills that are listed as required and feel like you could pick up the rest within six months, throw your hat in the ring.

Writing a Strong Resume and Cover Letter

Your resume should be a one-page summary of your skills and experience. You will not typically need to change your resume within a given industry, but you may need to tailor your resume across industries. Broadly speaking, your resume should demonstrate your fit for the role. It should include the following information (though not necessarily in this order):
  • Basic Information: Full name, current location, e-mail address, phone number, and (if you have them) personal website or GitHub account.
  • Education: Institution and date of degree. If you are less than four years out of school or this is your first job in the field, you may also want to include relevant coursework (not every course you've ever taken on American politics).
  • Work Experience: Any jobs that you’ve held. Typically, jobs are listed in reverse-chronological order, but I actually prefer jobs to be listed in order of relevance (as long as they were within, say, 5-7 years). List key duties, projects, and tools used. Jobs that are less relevant should be heavily summarized or excluded entirely.
  • Campaign Experience: Any campaign experience will be useful for breaking into this industry, even if all you did was volunteer to register voters at your college campus. If you don’t have campaign experience, volunteer on one to do literally anything.
  • Technical Skills: List languages that you know in order of relevance and comfort, e.g., statistical packages first, and list those in the order in which you’re most comfortable. Also list tools or software that you know in order of relevance and comfort.
For more advice on writing a resume, you can read Kass DeVorsey's Medium article.
If you have the opportunity to write a cover letter, take advantage of it. A cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate your interest in this field and your desire to fulfill the specific role in question. Typically, the hiring manager will read your resume first and then address any remaining questions in the cover letter. You need to make sure that the cover letter addresses why you want this job and why the company should want you:
  • Clearly demonstrate your fit for the role. Read the job description, and find examples of your work that fulfill the job description. If you are barely changing the cover letter across different organizations, you are doing something wrong.
  • Research the organization and mention them, by name, in the cover letter. They will probably have some sort of mission statement. Understand it, internalize it, and succinctly describe why you are passionate about it. If you are not passionate about it, or some other component of the job, do you really want to work this job?
  • Demonstrate your interest in progressive politics. You need to be explicit about the fact that you want to work in this field. If you’ve worked on campaigns before, mention it. If there are issues that animate you, describe them. If you had an epiphany about what you’re doing with your life, describe it.
Your cover letter should typically be no more than one page long, and make sure that you proofread it. After all, if you can’t get a cover letter right, how do we know you’ll get the analysis right?

Getting Your Application Read

...also known as "hustling."
People are busy in this field, and although they might seem brusque or rude, they don’t generally mean to be. But it does mean that if you don’t have connections to this industry or if your resume isn’t an obvious fit, you want to work extra-hard to make sure that your resume gets read:
  • Do you know someone where you are applying? Have them forward your email to the hiring manager, HR department, or to someone with hiring. This can help get it to the top of piles of resumes and that someone internally has recommended you.
  • Do you know someone who knows somewhere where you are applying? Dig deep in your networks: your professors, your college classmates, your roommates may all know someone in this field. Get them to help you (and pay it forward later).
  • Do NOT call the organization, campaign, or company or any members of the hiring team outside of the normal hiring process. That’s pretty weird and will be viewed negatively.
  • Networking events can be really helpful. Examples include any happy hours sponsored by data & analytics organizations (although, be warned, most of these take place in DC), RootsCamp or other events by Wellstone, Netroots Nation, or SXSW. That said, you're not obligated to go to any of these, and plenty of people get jobs without ever attending these events.