Take it from a woman who barely escaped from the Liberty Movement in one piece - young, political staff whom are motivated by something other than money are hugely vulnerable. When I took up a position in a DC-based organization I was unaware of just how vulnerable I actually was. I have drawn this list from my own personal experiences by thinking about what I wish I known before I took a position in within the Liberty Movement. I hope that by passing it on to you that it can make you a less vulnerable individual and a better employee.
Record Your Output
Keep a very careful log of your output. Not only does this give you something to ask for a raise with, or to show to a potential future employer, it also protects you. Don’t just assume that your line manager is paying close attention to your output because the chances are they’re not. Whenever you complete a task, email your line manager and let them know so you have documentation in your outbox. I strongly recommend bcc’ing your personal email address into these emails too for two reasons – you still have a record of this when you leave the job and no longer have access to your work email and this can protect you in a legal context too. Don’t be afraid to shout about what you have achieved.
Get it in writing
If it’s not in writing, it does not count. Whatever it is - the promise of a raise, a promotion, a visa or an IOU – it doesn’t exist until it is in writing. If you get it in an email forward it to your personal account. Make sure your job description is a solid document and not a ‘work in progress.’ Before taking a job, make sure it is crystal clear what the job description entails. Do not allow your employers to add duties you’re not comfortable with once you’re there. Be certain about on what terms you undertaking that position. If you think it’s permanent but your employers think it temporary that’s a problem. If you’re on a trial period make sure you have it in writing. Good employers will do this but, alas, not all employers are good and if they hesitate to give you what you need in writing consider walking away from the offer.
Once you graduate – don’t work for free
Don’t do it. Just don’t. Unpaid internships are fine before you graduate but not after. Don’t debase yourself for working for no bread – no matter how great or good the project or cause.
Constantly improve and expand your skills
If, like me, you have a social science degree and you’re seeking a position in the administrative side of this movement rather than the scholarly side, you need more skills. A social science degree is just not enough. Whilst this movement is rich in scholarly intellect, the competency of departments involved in marketing and communications, human resources and technological services vary wildly between organizations. Sure up your skills and you’ll be indispensable. There is a wealth of free webinars and free eBooks on the web for you to take advantage of.
Watch the Clock
The Liberty Movement is a long-term game. If you’re in a junior position, spending extra hours in the office, to the detriment of other areas of your life, when there are no imminent deadlines, matters very little when it comes to advancing the long-term goals of the organization you work for. If you’ve arrived at 8:45am, go home 5:30pm. You get neither extra pay nor extra recognition for staying longer. Chances are your line manager won’t be paying attention. No matter what Tom Palmer says…
You don’t have to be Suzie-high-school, in fact, I’d prefer it if you weren’t. But socializing and networking can bring you more than just better career opportunities. Those relationships sustain you when you are just going through the motions in your career. I met my roommates and one of my closest confidents through an internship I had done a year before I moved to DC fulltime. Had I not invested time getting to know those people I would have had nowhere to live when I finally got a full time position. I even met someone incredibly special and important to me at an AFF event. Had I not had these relationships, I would have been in a much worse position in every aspect of my wellbeing. I most likely would have thrown in the towel after three months instead of sticking it out for six. The job of advancing Liberty is why I came to the movement; the people in it are why I stay.
Hobbies and Participation
For a lot of people in this movement, Liberty starts off as a hobby and their main ‘job’ is being a student. Suddenly you’ve graduated, got a job in an organization and now your hobby and your job are one and the same. Now that Liberty is your 9-5, I strongly recommend getting another hobby to fill its place. Make an effort, spend some money – it will be worth it. If you can’t spend the money on an expensive hobby consider participating within other areas of this movement or another. I found volunteering for other organizations in the Liberty Movement to be a hugely enriching experience. It reminded me why I love the movement and that it wasn’t just work.
Don’t be afraid to walk away
When I first read this article by Talent Market’s Claire Kittle my emotions ranged from disbelief to mild-offence. She writes as though my generation are some bunch of pampered, spoilt brats. In my experience this is very far from the truth. Most are conscientious and committed; trying to contribute in every way that they can. Very few jump from one job to another without good reason. If you find yourself in a job that you are terribly ill suited for do not stay in that job for years because you think you’ll look like a flake. Any HR professional worth their salt won’t hold it against you. In the end, it’s not a good idea to commit to a mistake and stick with that mistake for years. Cut your losses as thin as you can. You wouldn’t stay with a boyfriend or girlfriend who makes you devastatingly miserable for years just to like you’re the person who stays in relationships and the same should be true for work. If you’re miserable, look for other offers. If you’re being paid so little that your parents have to subsidize your rent/car/food – walk away. If you’re offered a better job – walk away. Save money especially so you can walk away if the scene turns bad. A slight change of management could make your working life very different overnight.
The Private Sector should always be an option
For some reason, organizations in this movement seem to discriminate against the people already working for them. People don’t get promoted as much as they should and most organizations I’m familiar with suffer from a ‘thin middle,’ meaning there simply aren’t many jobs to get promoted too. Many don’t let writers put their own names on their work (at least not unaccompanied by the name of a more senior scholar no matter how much input they actually had). If you’re dream is to be leading an institution but there seems to be no way to get off the bottom rung – get yourself into the private sector and re-enter the movement professionally in a few years time. In all probability you will end up enter higher than you would have had you stuck around.
Don’t get mad – get a lawyer
If you have legitimate complaint against your employer don’t get mad – get a lawyer. My biggest mistake was being too vocal about my grievances against my former employer. I should have just sued. Instead I agonized about suing an institution within this movement wondering if it was right to take that type of action against ‘my own.’ Forget angry emails and don’t bitch on Facebook and at Happy Hours. Don’t repeat my mistakes; just sue. You have rights as an employee first and if these rights are being disregarded you cannot do your job and you certainly cannot contribute to this movement in a meaningful way. Senior management and the Board of Directors of any organization have every incentive to protect their own and all too little incentive to treat the people on the bottom rung, their underpaid and therefore transient junior staff, properly. You owe it to the people who come after you to not let the poor treatment of staff go unacknowledged. The best way to complain is in the form of a lawsuit. My advice is this – never sue out of vanity, only when you feel an injustice has occurred. Keep your cards close to your chest and know what proper treatment looks like.
This piece was initially written in 2012.