With the 2020 election behind us, many political consulting firms are looking to hire new talent and many consultants are looking for a new project now that their campaign has ended. The AAPC caught up with Annie Warren, Director of Human Resources at Targeted Victory and Tammy Phan, Director of Talent at BerlinRosen, to get their insights on the ever more prevalent virtual hiring process.
What tips do you have for companies who have had to switch to a virtual hiring/interview process?
Phan: This is very logistical: Ensure that your video platform works just as well on cell phones or tablets. Many people no longer own a personal computer and may not, rightly so, want to use their company laptop to interview. Hiring should be about inclusion and you never want to exclude people from your interview process who may not have access to certain technology or other resources.
Warren: Targeted Victory has invested in an HR team with a mandate to ensure each candidate, no matter entry-level or Executive Vice President, whether we hire them or not, has a positive experience meeting our team and learning about our company. All of our initial screens are done via video chat. This way I can be sure the candidates are comfortable with joining and meeting virtually before they speak to hiring managers.
Following up with the candidates after the interview is something Targeted Victory has instilled in our HR team. Whether passing on the candidate or waiting for feedback from managers, companies have to put an emphasis on communication. If we meet great candidates who we don’t have a spot for, oftentimes I follow up with a handwritten note thanking them for their time and letting them know we’ll keep them in mind. Just because we aren’t moving forward with an offer, it doesn’t mean the interview experience shouldn’t be pleasant.
Do you believe that virtual hiring/zoom interviews will become more common moving forward?
Phan: Absolutely. In person exchanges will always be valuable, but virtual interviews have so many benefits. They allow non-local candidates to be as competitive as local ones in the interview process. They give companies (which may have budget caps for things like flights or hotels related to interviewing) more leeway in who to interview.
Have you found any unforeseen benefits to virtual hiring that were not as present in traditional in-person interviews?
Warren: Because employed candidates do not have to take time off of work to interview, we are able to interview candidates more quickly and ease scheduling burdens. It also eliminates the need for back-to-back interviews if both parties are at home and more flexible throughout the day. Additionally, the candidate pool has increased drastically because you can speak “face-to-face” with candidates all over the country. As a result of these factors, time to fill is often reduced.
What can a candidate do to make themselves stand out more to hiring firms, especially when the hiring process is mainly virtual?
Warren: Show your enthusiasm! It can be difficult to relay excitement through your computer, but do your best! You don’t have to lose the human connection with virtual interviews. Targeted Victory values transparency, collaboration, and, above all, kindness. Maintaining this culture is extremely important to our partners and staff, so when I am doing screens I try to think about whether the person will be a good fit – in both the culture we’ve adapted to online and the culture we will return to when we can get back in the office.
Work on your web presence. Try video chatting with a friend/family member beforehand. Take a look at how your body language comes across on the screen. Sit up straight, maintain eye contact, and speak clearly and slowly. Close all of your open tabs/programs on your computer. Emails and messages coming through can be distracting, and it’s very obvious when eyes are wandering and not focused on the interview. Closing down programs can also help to avoid the slowdown of your video and audio feed.
Test your technology prior to the meeting! Technical difficulties impact everyone, but do your best to ensure your internet connection is strong, your camera and microphone are working and you’re in a quiet, well-lit area. Technology issues at the beginning of the interview can cause panic on the interviewee’s side, causing them to lose focus and set the wrong tone for the interview. Make sure you know where the mute button is located and how to hit it quickly in case outside noises pop up!
Phan: I’m so thrilled you asked this! I understand the desire to stand out in very unique ways; but make sure they’re the right unique ways. Candidates have mailed things physically when we ask them only to submit things online, or reached out via LinkedIn, email, and also phone, multiple times. Then, I’ll look at their application, and it’s often the case that the cover letter is a form one and may even have typos or is addressed to the wrong company, and the resume is not suited to the role. Instead of spending time trying to get an edge on the interview process, invest instead in making sure that your application materials are thoughtful, clear, and well written.
Based on your experience, where is the best place for a candidate to start when looking to get hired in the political consulting business? Are most hires found online, or through connections?
Warren: Being referred to a company through a mutual connection is helpful for three reasons: 1) Your connection can usually get the resume straight to HR/hiring manager 2) Your connection can provide context around the company, clients, and culture which will give you a leg up going into the interview. 3) Political consulting is a mission-driven industry, and the work requires a great deal of trust, so having personal relationships are key when trying to find new opportunities.
If you’re applying online, LinkedIn is probably your best bet. Become comfortable on the platform and spend enough time there to customize your feed. When you apply for jobs through LinkedIn, follow up with a message. Most of the time you will be able to find the hiring manager’s email address online. I always appreciate it when a candidate applies on our website or LinkedIn and then follows up with an email. Trust me when I say it will help you stand out among the sometimes hundreds of applicants that come through.
Phan: You should 100% leverage your networks and look online. Many employers understand that only hiring people through connections furthers inequities and are eager to find people outside of their existing bubbles.
What are the biggest mistakes that candidates should avoid when looking for a new opportunity in political consulting?
Phan: Know your “why” for doing this work and know how to communicate that “why” in a clear, succinct, and authentic way. Not enough people can. Politics is personal and political consulting can be incredibly hard work. Employers want to know that when things get really tough, you still have a reason to be present, passionate, and give it your all.