Political campaigns are tough work environments. Some people rise to the challenge and live for the pressure, while others find the work is simply not for them.
Still, even a job that starts out appealing can become unbearable. That’s because circumstances can change rapidly on a campaign. What might look like a competitive race at the beginning of the cycle can quickly evaporate following, say, a candidate gaffe, or even just a weak financial quarter. You wouldn’t be the first operative to question if there’s something better out there midway through a campaign.
But know what you’re getting into before you make the decision to jump ship. Here are four steps to take before you leave a campaign mid-cycle.
1. Be clear ahead of time that you are leaving.
If staying isn’t an option, there are a few steps to ensure you’re leaving the campaign, and yourself, with the best possible options going forward. Be clear ahead of time that you’re leaving. The two-week standard hardly applies to campaigns. Rarely is there a qualified replacement readily available to move in to fill your position within two weeks. Moreover, every day of lost productivity on a campaign is critical to the final outcome. So just be sure to offer your employer enough time to adequately post and possibly fill your position before you begin counting down your last days.
2. Offer a detailed exit memo that outlines your current responsibilities.
Exit memos offer a guideline of your job’s processes. Inheriting work is a given on a campaign: Rarely will a campaign have the time available to change direction with a new hire. Your work, if you’re present or not, will carry on. Offering a detailed exit memo, developed in good faith, that outlines key day-to-day aspects of the position you’re vacating is critical to ensuring not only the success of your successor, but also your ability to leave on the best terms possible.
3. Make a clean break.
You’ve made the decision to leave the campaign. You’ve offered an adequate amount of time to your supervisor and provided a detailed exit memo that includes your daily activities and outstanding projects. Now, break it off.
Working on a campaign is an all-consuming experience and the drastic change that follows an early exit can be shocking to many former employees. You might maintain relationships with former coworkers, but be sure these friendships don’t become your way of prying into the daily workings of the organization. Making a clean break will allow both you and the campaign to move forward.
4. Thoroughly consider not leaving.
Loyalty is one of the most admirable traits in this industry. Difficult times and frustrations typically accompany working on a campaign. Those challenges are made even harder when you’re working on a losing effort. But the kudos you gain from seeing a campaign through to Election Day will far outweigh the limited credit you’ll receive by jumping onto a potentially winning effort as a late addition to the team. Leaving a campaign also has the potential to follow you.
The professional networks of operatives are incredibly small, and operatives talk to one another about the past performances of a potential hire. Leaving a campaign before the votes are counted can be a glaring red flag. If you do it, be prepared to answer questions about why you made the choice to leave that one campaign in interviews well into the future.
JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Media, and a veteran campaign operative. Follow JR on twitter @JustinRyanS