How to Build a Career in Politics

So, you want to pursue a career in politics. Maybe you want to run for office yourself, make a difference, and improve things for other women and their families. Maybe you just want to support a candidate or party you believe in. Either way, a career in politics can be a gratifying choice — and as more women pursue political careers, the gender gap in politics will eventually close.

You can begin preparing for a political career with an educational background in policy, law, economics, business, or political science. You’ll then need to gain experience by volunteering with political campaigns and applying for internships. As you become more involved in politics, build your network of contacts. Finally, you may want to run for office yourself.

Get the Right Education
A thorough education in policy, law, economics, business, or political science makes a solid foundation on which to build a political career. Start by earning a bachelor’s degree in political science, with extracurricular classes in history, international relations, rhetoric, communications, and English. For a good next step, get an MA in Policy Studies or another field related to politics, like law, business, or economics. Your education will give you an intimate understanding of the political process, which is something you’ll need to succeed in politics.

In addition to an advanced degree in a field related to politics, you’ll also need to develop the communication, research, and computer skills that will help you develop and promote your policies and agendas. Hone your written and spoken communication skills with writing and rhetoric courses. Join a public speaking club like Toastmasters to work on your oration skills. Learn basic computer, Internet, and social media skills; these days, computer skills are a must-have for any professional, especially a politician.

Gain Experience
You can start getting some experience in politics by volunteering to work on a political campaign. It doesn’t need to be a high-profile candidate running for national office; any campaign, even one for the local city council or school board, needs volunteers to staff the phones and get out the vote. Choose a candidate you support and volunteer your services. You’ll have to start on the more mundane tasks, but if you show yourself to be a good worker, you’ll be given more responsibilities.

Once you’ve gained some experience working on smaller campaigns, apply for more advanced positions or internships working with state or federal politicians. You may need to relocate to your state capital or even to Washington D.C. in order to pursue these opportunities.

You’ll probably identify more with one political party than the other, but don’t let political affiliation stop you from taking an internship with a particular administration. You can learn a lot about the office of the governor or the duties of a senator as an intern, even if the official you’re interning under doesn’t belong to the party you’d ultimately like to support.

Build Your Network of Contacts
In politics, perhaps more than in any other profession, knowing the right people is the key to success. When you meet someone who also works in politics or who has a lot of political influence, get their contact info and include some notes to help you remember who they are and why they’re important. An electronic address book can help you keep this information handy.

Stay in touch by regularly sending your entire contact list a short, professional email in order to keep them up to date on your political activities. Send these emails no more often than twice a month, although once a month or quarterly updates are fine. If you become involved with or otherwise contribute to issues important to one or more of your contacts, send an email to let them know.

Run for Office Yourself
Of course, you can have a successful career in politics without running for office. You may be satisfied to work as a campaign staffer, a legislative aide, a legislative correspondent, a field representative, or another paid position. However, many women entering politics do aspire to one day hold elected office themselves.

Use your network of contacts to begin getting the word out about your candidacy and to collect funding support. You can also use your network to get the support of local influencers, like businesspeople or civic and religious leaders. Build your campaign team from among your network of contacts. Get out the vote and make your political presence known. Even if you don’t win your first election, the campaign can be an opportunity to build a reputation and establish yourself as a serious political player.

A career in politics is one of the best ways to make a lasting difference. Your educational background, volunteer efforts, and networking expertise can all add up to a successful political career. Whether you’re interested in mainly local politics or aspire to a place on the national stage, you can leave a lasting legacy that will be remembered for generations.

Photo by Bikerider London | Shutterstock


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