Do you perk up when you hear that there will be another presidential debate on TV? Do you think you might be able to make a difference in the world? Do you aspire to run the city, the state, the country some day? Then you might want a job in politics.
Getting a job on a campaign — or with any other political organization — can be an overwhelming process. You may feel over qualified, not qualified enough - or oddly, some combination of the two.
The first rule of thumb is to manage your expectations. Regardless of how highly skilled you were at your last job, if you’ve never worked in politics, you really need to be willing to start at the ground level. Most of the time, that means going out into the field as a canvasser or field organizer.
Working in a campaign or any political organization is simply unlike anything else you have ever done. It requires a basic understanding of how campaigns run, and that only comes from actually doing the work. No matter how many campaigns you have volunteered for, it’s just not the same as being on staff.
Working as a field organizer isn’t the only way to get started, it’s just the most common. You can also sign-on to be a communications assistant, finance assistant or operations assistant, among other jobs. Normally, you will start as an assistant, although more local campaigns can often allow you to have more responsibility with less experience. Again, this work isn’t necessarily rocket science, but if you’ve never done it before, you need to learn the basic skills by working under someone who has. If you can afford to volunteer than you will probably get your foot in the door a lot quicker, but if you need a paycheck, here are some places to look:
Elected officials often have both policy staff and personal staff located in their districts and in Sacramento or Washington, DC. Duties can vary accordingly. Here are some sample entry-level job titles and links to job postings.
Legislative aides can be assigned a number of specific issues and are responsible for “covering” these issues. “Covering” an issue means meeting with constituents, lobbyists, and other interested parties; tracking legislation and drafting statements; and writing responses to constituent letters and memos.
Field representatives are the elected officials’ personal staff housed in the district offices. They act as grassroots representatives, organizing events and monitoring district meetings, and acting as liaison to city, county and district officials and other persons or groups.
Legislative correspondents work for the communications director or press secretary who provides media/public relations support and counsel to the elected official. Communications include news releases, feature stories, op-eds, executive speeches, press pitch letters, brochures, newsletters, and scripts. Legislative Correspondents work closely with national, regional, and local media outlets.
Campaign staffers are involved in the day-to-day management of campaigns. They write speeches, coach candidates for debates, conduct research, and implement media strategies. They are also supervise the team of volunteers. Many major candidates hire political consulting firms to manage their campaigns and these firms may hire political assistants to help.
Other Opportunities in Politics.
There are many opportunities to be involved in the field beyond working for elected officials or political candidates. Both the Democratic and the Republican parties have national committees as well as state and local offices where job seekers interested in working for a political party may find opportunities.
Public policy is also a part of the picture and there are many ways to do policy work. Advocacy organizations, labor unions and lobbyists work to influence and change policy. Think tanks conduct research and analysis on policy issues.
There is no clear-cut path into a career in politics. To sustain your interest during the long hours of work (often un- or ill-paid), it’s crucial to have the right motivation. If you end up in elected office, that’s great. But starting out, it’s important to think about how you would improve the community around you, what issues are important to you, and how you might influence change in that direction- oh, and create jobs for the masses!
Candice Reed is the co-author of Thank You for Firing Me! How to Catch the Next Wave of Success After You lose Your Job.