- If you’re interested in getting more involved in politics, it can be hard to know where to start.
- Whether you want to become more involved in local government, or you’re looking to become a staffer on Capitol Hill, there are many ways you can go about pursuing a political career.
- Business Insider spoke with career advisors and political experts to develop this comprehensive guide for anyone curious about the field.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The 2020 election is right around the corner — and it may have you wondering how you can land a job in politics.
There are several paths you can take to find employment with an elected official or run for office yourself. You might choose to work in politics if you’re interested in government work, passionate about a social cause, or want to become more involved in your community.
The majority of politicians start off in a few select industries before working their way into politics. More than 70% of US Congress members come from the law, finance, banking, real estate, and medical fields, according to a 2019 analysis by The New York Times. About 20% of them served in the armed forces, and less than 5% worked in blue-collar jobs.
But you shouldn’t feel limited by your career choice. Successful lawmakers can come from a variety of backgrounds. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, worked as a bartender and political organizer before becoming the youngest woman to serve in the US House of Representatives.
If you do want to pursue a career in politics, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of getting a job.
Business Insider created a guide for anyone curious about a career track in politics.
The realm of public service is more expansive than you might realize. You don’t have to run for president or mayor to pursue a career in politics; there are a variety of roles well suited for people from different backgrounds and skill sets.
Elizabeth Schill, manager of employer relations and government industry advisor at Georgetown University, reminds her students to think across the three branches of government — legislative, judicial, and executive — and keep an open mind to how their skills might fit into a variety of roles, from nonprofit organizations to civil service.
Beyond the three branches of government, Schill said that students might also want to consider a fourth avenue that she calls “political influencing.” It means influencing Capitol Hill indirectly through either corporate lobbying or working for an advocacy group that champions a cause you’re passionate about.
You’ll also want to consider the level of government that you’re most interested in working in — some look for work in the federal government, while others are more interested in state and local politics.
“You don’t have to look at DC,” Schill said. “Look right in your own backyard and think, what are issues that you’re passionate about? What’s impacting you or impacting your parents or your family members, and how can you get involved?”
If you’re still unsure about the form of government work you want to get into, following are some options that Schill suggested people new to public service look into.
- Postgraduate volunteering: Many recent grads participate in yearlong programs that provide guided firsthand experience in public service. Consider a fellowship at organizations like Govern for America, Lead for America, or TechCongress.
- Working as a staff assistant on Capitol Hill: Congressional staffers help manage the day-to-day activities of representatives and senators. The entry-level position often serves as a stepping stone for those hoping to work more closely with congressional operations and policy. You can see open jobs in the Senate here and follow @senateplacement on Twitter for updates about jobs and internships. You can learn about open jobs in the House of Representatives here.
- Advocacy and lobbying: Choose a cause you’re passionate about and work closely with an organization aligned with that cause. From The Education Trust to Amnesty International, there’s an organization for just about any cause you might be interested in.
- Civil service: Civil servants handle a variety of roles working under government agencies, and take on roles like teacher, judge, social worker, and police officer. You can work in civil service at any level — municipal, county, state, or federal — to gain a practical on-the-ground understanding of the law and budget constraints.
Get hands-on experience
One of the most common ways to build a political résumé is through volunteering and advocacy work, said Greg Baldwin, president and CEO of VolunteerMatch, the largest volunteer engagement network.
In an interview with Business Insider, he shared that there are nearly 110,000 volunteers needed for politics-related work. VolunteerMatch also saw a surge of election-focused opportunities from organizations like the League of Women Voters and Civic Works, Baldwin said. This work can range from volunteering at voting polls to helping out with a local campaign.
“These nonprofits are directly involved with the upcoming campaigns and the many mechanisms that impact the electoral process,” he said. “It’s really a point of entry for people to better understand the landscape of how democracy works.”
Baldwin recommended that you join a social cause — like healthcare, women’s rights, or animal welfare — and join a group that participates in lobbying efforts and relationship-building with politicians.
Erin Loos Cutraro, founder and CEO of nonpartisan nonprofit She Should Run, told career site Monster that your way into politics often starts at the local level, and you should tag along at rallies to network with people in the field.
“Spend some time with that organization to listen [to] not only what they’re advocating for, but also what else is most important in the community,” she told Monster. “This can help you build out a platform and identify areas where you can bring value and make a difference.”
Politics is notorious for its lack of diversity and its reliance on political connections. This is easily visible from the demographic makeup in Congress, where nearly 8 in 10 lawmakers are white.
Unfortunately, the field is still very much about who you know. Even if you feel underrepresented in government and short on connections, there are ways to begin to build a solid network.
“I didn’t get into politics because I had all these connections or because I was the son of a politician,” Jamarr Brown, director of electoral programs at community-based organization Re:power, told Business Insider.
“I got involved in politics because my grandmother decided to run for school board when I was in the fifth grade and wanted to organize the leadership.”
Brown has worked in politics for a decade organizing federal and local campaigns — including the Obama campaign — and now trains organizers to become engaged in politics. Brown’s most crucial piece of networking advice for people new to politics is to become accustomed to the informational interview.
You can start finding resources and mentors through LinkedIn and inviting them to 15-minute informational interviews. While it might be intimidating to send out a message to someone you haven’t met, professionals on the platform are usually more eager to help than you may realize.
“Those interviews really allow you the opportunity to build connections,” he said, “even if you don’t feel like you have them.”
Be sure to do your research on the person, include a personal touch in the message, and include a few sentences about your own background and why you’re interested in connecting.
Come prepared with questions, such as what they’ve learned over their career and what they would do next if they were in your shoes. These interviews can become the foundation of a meaningful mentorship for your career and professional development. They might also serve as a stepping stone toward your next role.
Schill said that people who are beginning to network should “try not to be too much of a politician” in the stereotypical sense. In other words, they should be sincere.
“Nowadays in politics, authenticity is a big thing,” she said. “Whenever you’re networking, just try to be your authentic self.”