Getting a job in today’s market is challenging no matter what field you’re going into, but getting a job in politics is its own special kind of beast. Whether you have always wanted to go into politics, you decided later in life that politics was your calling, or you are trying to go into politics now that you are retired and have more time on your hands, getting a start in the field can be intimidating. Politics is largely about who you know, not what you know, making it somewhat unique in terms of job searching and ambition. However, with the right information, getting a job in politics is not as scary as it may seem at first glance. Knowing where to start and what to pursue is half of the battle.
Because so much of politics is based on who you know and what they have taught you, politics has less defined educational requirements than many other fields. Much of the educational requirements depend upon what type of work you hope to do. More traditional positions, such as Congressional Staffers and Field Organizers, tend to have backgrounds in politics, including a Political Science degree. However, political work also includes staffers from a variety of fields, including IT, creative writing, media, and film. The best thing to do is to figure out what in politics you would like to do. From there, figure out if you are better off pursuing a degree that is relevant to politics as a whole, or your specialty within politics. If you are unsure what job you want, but simply wish to pursue the field and see where it takes you, then a Political Science degree is certainly your best bet. If you have already completed school and have a degree that isn’t in Political Science, don’t despair. Look for a few training courses in politics and research what positions exist that revolve around the education you do have. There are so many career options available that there is bound to be something within your skill set, or something that you are interested in enough to seek out some training on.
Many organizations offer political trainings. Not only do these trainings beef up your skills and education sections on your resume, they are often run by people already working in the political field, and filled with people looking to make it just like you. This makes them prime networking opportunities. Not only will you get to meet and learn from someone already in the field, you will make connections for up-and-coming candidates in the field that will continue to benefit you throughout your career.
All resume design is tricky, but since politics is so much about image, it is even trickier. If you have less than 10 years of work experience, you should keep your resume to one page only. I you have over 10 years of experience, your resume can be two pages, but no resume should ever exceed the two page limit. Your name and contact information should always be at the top. This information should include your current address, your phone number, and your email address. Always make sure to have a professional looking email address. After this information, your political work experience, both paid and volunteer, should be listed. If you have any other professional experience, this should be listed under the political experience, with your education following that. The very bottom should include a list of any skills or activities that are professionally relevant. Do not include activities that do not show some sort of skill or dedication to the political field or the position you are applying to. Be sure to use quantitative information whenever possible. Specify how many volunteers you recruited. If you were canvassing, specify how many houses you went to and how well you did in that area. When listing skills, exclude the basics. Everyone knows how to use Microsoft Office, and you aren’t going to be hired because you put it on your resume and another person didn’t. For that reason, it is taking up space that could be used for more valuable information. This list should be tangible skills such as knowing how to use certain programs or knowing computer codes. Skills such as research skills and organizational skills, which are referring to broader and less specific abilities, should be listed in an introductory paragraph at the top of the resume or in the cover letter. While it is never good to lie, it is worse to lie in politics than it is in most fields. Never lie. Political professionals, as you have learned, have extensive networks, and they thoroughly fact check. You will be caught if you lie. When saving your resume, always save it as “Your Name Resume.” On your computer, there is one resume, and it makes sense to give it a name like “resume.” However, the person you are sending it to receives hundreds of resumes in a day, most of which are probably titled “resume.” Make yourself easy to find and easy to come back to if they want a second look. Be conscious that Microsoft Word often changes formatting if a document is opened in a different version of the program than it was created in. This means that you may have rearranged the paragraphs so that they fit neatly on the pages on your end, but the reader now sees blank sections in the middle of their pages. Sending a PDF is the best way to ensure that the viewer sees exactly what you see.
Volunteering for a campaign is a great way to amp up your experience. If you want to start in a campaign rather than having to start your career at a smaller level first, this is an especially helpful road to take. It’s also a good option if you have your heart set on working for a particular campaign. Call them. If they aren’t hiring at the moment, or if they say that your skill set doesn’t quite match what they are hiring for, ask if they’re taking volunteers. This will help you build your skill set so that the next time you apply, whether it be at the same campaign or another, you will be better equipped. It will also help with networking. The people you meet in the campaign may be able to put in a good word for you down the road. They might also hire you later on. If a position opens up and you’ve proved yourself to be a reliable and skilled volunteer, you may be first in line for a paid position. Be sure to go above and beyond. Even if you aren’t getting paid in cash, you are getting paid in experience, and making yourself impressive and invaluable is what is going to land you a job the next time one opens up in that campaign. One good place to look for a volunteer position is at your local representative’s office. You can find your representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.
If you don’t have a campaign in mind that you’re dying to work on, you can still volunteer. Do some research about campaigns going on in your area, and choose a couple that interest you. Put calls into them asking if they are hiring or, if you have absolutely no experience and know you’d be better off offering your services for free from the get-go, ask if they take volunteers. One plus of volunteering is that the schedule is often flexible, making it a great way to gain experience while you are in school. Some colleges will even set up programs where volunteering can count towards an internship credit, so if you’re working towards a degree of any sort, but especially one that is related to politics, be sure to ask your advisor if this is an option for you.
Knowing where to look for a job is almost as important as knowing how to apply for one. There are a wide range of job posting sites out there, both for careers and for internship opportunities in politics. The American Political Science Association has a job search section of their website at http://www.apsanet.org/CAREERS/Careers-In-Political-Science. They list jobs in a wide range of political fields, as well as listings for professional development courses and events. Politicaljobs.net offers listings for jobs in parties, public affairs, parliaments, and senates worldwide. Many more traditional career sites also have sections for political jobs.
Another option to look into is a resume-posting site. Some employers will browse sites that have applicant’s resumes on them rather than putting out an ad to bring in resumes. If you don’t have your resume on the site they use, you don’t stand a chance. Other companies use a combination of these strategies, but if your resume shows up in both places there’s a better chance they’ll look at you at least one of the two times. Take a look at the sites that you’ve found jobs that interest you and see if they have a resume posting option.
Networking is one of those things that everyone tells you that you absolutely need to be doing, but very few people actually understand how to do. The first trick is to start with who you know. Do you know anyone already in politics? Do you have a professor or family member who has a connection? Start with your first degree connections. Call anyone that you personally know who is connected to politics and ask if you can have coffee. Make sure they know that you are looking for a job in politics. Tell them what experience you have, what you are hoping to do in the field, and any requirements you have for a job. This is important because the last thing you want is to offend a connection by having them pull strings for you only to find out that the position isn’t one that is suitable for you. Next, try to find second-degree connections. If anyone you know has a connection in politics, as them to introduce you and put in a good word for you. Make sure your go-between knows about your experience and skill level, as well as what you are looking for. Next, look into any events or groups that may help you find new connections. Join political groups, go to rallies, small fundraisers, and participate in online political forums such as blogs and social networking groups. Talk to political influencers on LinkedIn.
If you are in school, see if your school has any politically active groups and start going to their meetings. If you find groups such as these early on in your educational career they can be especially helpful. Holding offices in a college political group can give you experience to add to your resume as well as the opportunity to volunteer for a wide range of political functions, including campaigns. Many politicians enjoy speaking at college functions, and being on the e-board of a group that is organizing an event like this will give you a chance to work one-on-one with political figures. Likewise, keep an eye out for groups doing politically-based fundraisers on campus. These groups often have connections with the groups they raise money for. Offering to help with their efforts could just land you a meeting with a member of such a group. Another less-liked but still effective way of networking is to reach out to people already in the positions that you hope to one day achieve. Contact them and ask if they would be willing to have coffee with you and tell you a bit about the field.
If a connection does help you into any sort of position-whether it be volunteering, an internship, or an actual career, make sure that you think long and hard about the position before accepting it. Taking a position that someone has helped you get and then deciding to leave shortly after starting not only looks unprofessional, but probably cuts tie with your hard-earned contact as well. If you take a job through someone in your network, make sure you’re willing to stick it out at least for a while.
Know What You’ll Get
It is incredibly important to be aware of the requirements and payouts of your various job options before pursuing a career in politics. The field requires a degree of sacrifice, and you need to know exactly what you will have to do to get where you’d like to be, as well as what your reward will be once you’re there, before beginning. Knowing your end goal will also help you pick and choose what courses to look into, what types of volunteering to do, who to network with, and what to pursue as your first job. Politics is such a wide field with a large range of job options. Below is a list of the more commonly pursued jobs in politics and what each position entails. When applying, it is important to know approximately how much you will make, and whether or not this salary will be sustainable for you. Know what your schedule will be. Will it interfere with your family life and, if so, are you ok with that? Will you have enough time off to be happy? Also be aware that if you plan to make a career out of higher-level politics, there is a chance you will have to relocate. Make a list of cities you would be willing to live in or near before you begin applying, so that you can narrow down your options and not pursue opportunities that you will eventually not be willing to accept or regret accepting.
Know Your Job Options
- Campaign Manager: A campaign manager is responsible for ensuring that a campaign runs smoothly. They write press releases, locate speech venues, conduct polls, prepare candidates for interviews, and manage campaign staff.
- Field Organizer: Working as a field organizer for any type of campaign includes a good deal of responsibility and fast-paced work. You will be on the frontlines, talking with voters and recruiting volunteers. Field organizers build the base for each campaign’s person-person contacts. Some responsibilities of the position are recruiting, scheduling, and supervising volunteers and helping train and support volunteers.
- Political Staffer: Political Staffers work to ensure a political office runs smoothly. This includes making sure that the politician is aware of meetings, upcoming votes, and the concerns and interests of his constituents. Congressmen often have staff at various offices, both in their home districts and in Washington D.C. Being a political staffer includes working rigorous hours, with many political staffers working over 60 or 70 hours a week, and campaign staffers working as much as 100 hours a week.
- Communications Director: Communications directors serve as a channel of communication between the Congressional office and the public. They also manage the flow of information to both the public and the press through interviews, press releases, and events.
- Speechwriter: Speechwriting is one of the best-paid jobs in the political industry. However, it is also one of the hardest jobs to find full-time work for. Full-time speechwriting jobs only exist as part of presidential campaigns or campaigns for senior public officials. However, working part-time as a speechwriter still pays well, and gains you the experience you need to move up in politics.
- Lobbyist: Lobbyists take causes to the higher-ups to help make the deals the public is seeking happen. They need to be excellent networkers and persuasive speakers. Lobbyists represent specific causes, industries or groups and present their arguments to decision makers.
- Public Relations Manager: Public Relations Managers generally work on smaller campaigns and are great for newcomers seeking experience in the field. It is great for people with degrees in Communications or who has experience with debate.
- Policy Analyst: Policy Analysts collect data and review government policies in order to suggest changes and new approaches. Policy Analysts tend to have jobs within the government rather than on campaigns. Larger campaigns, however, whill often have advisors who are experts in policy analysis.
These are by no means the only jobs in the political field. They are simply some of the more sought-after, best-paid, and most well-known positions available in politics.
While everyone wants to jump right into a career, politics is a field where you really need to start small before you’ll be able to get anywhere substantial. Generally, this means that you’ll start off as a canvasser or field organizer (not everyone has to start here, this is just the most common first step for many politicians). One advantage of politics is that careers build quickly. Starting small doesn’t mean your career won’t get big very quickly. However, especially if you are switching to politics from another field, it is important to know that you shouldn’t expect to land a job at the top off the bat. Your first few jobs in politics will be more about making connections than anything. For the most part, your college GPA or your skills outside of the political realm mean very little, and the experience you gain and the contacts you build through your first small jobs are what will make or break your political career. It is also important not to limit yourself. Many people want to jump right into working on campaigns when they begin in politics. However, this isn’t the only way to get your start. Working for a campaign is a fantastic way to get your start, but if you are struggling to land a position like that there are plenty of other options out there. Unions, advocacy groups, consultants & firms, smaller campaigns, 527s, party committees, also offer job opportunities that will provide you with networking and the experience you need to land a campaign position or a bigger job later on.
As is the case with all careers, politics requires persistence. While careers grow quickly once you have started them, landing that first job or gaining some momentum at it can take time. Especially in today’s job market, it is important to keep working towards your goals even if you don’t see immediate results. Send out applications, and while you’re waiting for responses continue networking, see if there is another volunteer opportunity that fits into your schedule, take another training course, or have someone look over your resume for you. Looking for a job can be frustrating, but it is a good opportunity to make sure you have done everything possible to sell yourself. Continue making calls, sending emails, and applying like crazy, and eventually the responses will start coming in.
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