Ask anyone what they think a job in politics means and they will probably say, “Oh, you want to be a politician.” Yes, politicians do work in the political world, but they are by far NOT the only job you can get in politics. In fact, very few people working in politics are politicians.
It takes a lot to run a campaign, change legislature, and effect real political change. Devoted people from all diverse backgrounds can find rewarding work in politics without ever holding an elected office. Unfortunately, most people don’t know about these jobs because they are often behind the scenes. But just because they aren’t in the public eye doesn’t mean they aren’t important. These jobs are what allow politicians to do what they do.
Here you can learn more about political careers and see which would be the best for you.
Different Areas of Political Careers
The first thing that you should know is which area of politics you would like to work in most. You don’t have to stay in that political field your entire career. Many people tend to move back and forth between the different areas, so they always have a job and become more valuable wherever they work. Let’s look at the three different areas you can have careers in politics.
You can choose to work for an advocacy group and work to effect change for specific people or areas. If you pick a job in Advocacy politics, you will most likely be working on policy. These groups have members and pool their time, resources, and finances together to help change things. Think of groups like the ACLU or union groups. You will most likely work directly with politicians who support your cause, so they can help change laws or create new legislation that works in your favor.
If you are someone that wants to get right into the thick of politics, then the legislative branch might be the best way to go. People who work in legislative politics usually work for a member of Congress but don’t hold an office. Many started as interns and worked their way up to different roles such as administrative or working directly on campaigns and with the voters. There are a lot of different jobs in the legislative area, but you do have to put in a lot of time and effort. It can take time to climb the ranks and get to the spot you want, but you gain valuable experience along the way.
This area is where a lot of people who are in politics or even have a career as a politician got their start. Electoral politics is working on a campaign and helping someone get into office. Many jobs in the electoral field are volunteer positions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move up to a paid spot at some point.
The best thing about electoral politics is that is a varied field and you can take advantage of that variety. You could work in communications, finance, out in public, or even just in the scheduling arena. It helps to work on a few different campaigns and try different roles if possible, so you can see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Again, working on a campaign will give you a lot of knowledge and political experience. It will also help jumpstart your political career.
Careers in Politics
Once you decide which area of politics you would like to work in most, you need to decide which job suits you best. There are tons of political jobs and while some of them might take time to work up to, many you can start right away. Here are some of the most accessible political careers.
Intern or Volunteer
If you want to get started on your political career immediately, intern or volunteer in any way. You can volunteer for a local campaign in your area, call up advocacy groups near you and see what they need, or even contact your local legislator and see if they have any volunteer opportunities.
Just because you are working for free doesn’t mean the work will be easy though. Many interns and volunteers put in a lot of long hours doing the work that most people don’t want to do. But it is an excellent way to pay your dues and see the inner workings of politics. This job is a good start for college students interested in a political career or anyone that wants to be more involved with their local government.
If you have one specific goal or political agenda you would like to work on or advance, consider being a legislative aide. You can work directly with a legislator that supports your goals and ideals. Often, you will handle one aspect of that legislator’s agenda, such as reform on healthcare or gun control. You might need to do research on those issues, write paper’s and proposals, or know every aspect of the law when it comes to that topic.
Legislative aides can also handle things like communications and administrative duties. These aspects might include things like answering phones, responding to emails, scheduling events, and coordinating travel. There are a lot of different things you can do as a legislative aide, and you can find a role that fits your political strengths.
Perhaps you don’t want to work directly on a campaign or even on The Hill but still have a passion for politics and policy. You might want to consider a career as a political analyst. To be a political analyst, you need to understand the ins and outs of existing or proposed laws. Your job will include enacting new legislature and programs, so you need to have your research and information down pat.
Political analysts can work on campaigns or in the legislative arena, but they can also work for the government at large. You might have one area of expertise or keep updated on several different legislative programs. This is an advantageous position for people that like to learn, understand how to research, and have strong writing skills.
People who like to make things work as efficiently and effectively as possible might enjoy careers as pollsters. A pollster looks at how effective a campaign is and what the voters think about the issues and a particular candidate. They do this by collecting all various kinds of data and then analyzing the results.
People who have a passion for statistics and data along with a good understanding of politics might do well in a career as a pollster. The wonderful thing about working as a pollster is that you can work on a freelance basis, you don’t have to align with just one person or party. It might take some time to work up to freelance status, and you really have to know your stuff, but once you get to that point, you will have a lot more freedom.
If you are further along in your political career and want to make a move to a different role, you might be able to consider being a political consultant. Politicians who run for office need someone that knows everything there is to know about a campaign and winning an election. Political consultants can help them in that area.
As a political consultant, you can help a politician with planning, strategy, fundraising, and other areas of running a campaign. You do need to have a lot of experience in politics and particularly in campaigns to become a political consultant. This isn’t a job you can do right out of college, and most consultants started at the bottom working as an intern. But once you do reach this status, you can work for a ton of different campaigns on the local or national level.
You might have a lot of skill in persuasive speech, and if you have a desire to change or enact policy, you might want to become a lobbyist. These people spend their time contacting elected officials to help advance their political goals or programs.
Lobbyists often work with advocacy groups or law firms, but they can also work for private clients that need legislation to work on their behalf. Be aware that lobbyists often work long and hard hours to try and get the results they want. If you feel passionate about any one policy or organization and you want to help them see real change, lobbying might be the right path for you.
There are so many more careers in politics, and this list only touches the surface. There really are so many things you can do in politics other than become a politician. If you’re looking to earn a politician’s salary right from the start, you might be a little disappointed. Take your time, start from the bottom, work hard, and soon you will rise in the ranks and could have a flourishing political career.