Political jobs hold attractions for many people. They appeal to policy wonks, would-be power brokers, and idealists, but there are not many positions available. If a political position is your goal, it helps to identify where these jobs are and what skills these employers want.
As you consider your options, please remember that political jobs aren’t all the same. Campaign jobs are hard to get because most positions are filled by volunteers. On the local level, the size of your city or county determines how many people work for the Mayor, City Council, or County Commission. It may be just a handful. Working for a state legislator, you run into the problem of one-person staffs and little money. If you aim for Congress, you’ll find 535 legislative staffs run like 535 small businesses. Senators and Members of Congress are given a budget. They decide how many people they want and how to pay them. In many cases, job descriptions are fluid, depending on the needs of the moment.
Finding one of these jobs takes some finesse. Political jobs are political. It does matter who you know. If you are serious about this career path, you can get noticed by working on campaigns and doing other volunteer work with your local party. You can use this time to develop skills, demonstrate your abilities, and show your loyalty. It may allow you to meet a politician or a chief aide who is influential in hiring.
Do You Have the Right Degree?
There is no single degree that makes you eligible for a political job. This can be both frustrating and liberating. Politicians may not care if you have a college degree. They are much more interested in job skills. In many cases, they prefer a jack of all trades to a single-minded specialist.
A degree in public administration, public relations, marketing, or journalism is often attractive to political employers because these degrees come with defined skill sets. Generally the employer won’t be looking at the degree as much as related work experience.
Among the desired skill sets, computer literacy is at the top of the list. In busy campaigns and/or political offices with little money, top notch computer maintenance skills are valued. More than that, politicians are looking for programmers who can understand the databases used to cross-reference neighborhood data, voting data, polling data, and more. They want computer literate individuals who know how to crunch the numbers and generate the reports which may prove valuable at election time. Another type of computer guru -- the social media expert -- is valued for knowledge of contemporary public relations and networking. Organizational skills are valued as well, since politicians keep busy schedules and handle mounds of paperwork.
With the internet as a resource, you can look up your city, county, township, or other local government entities. In a medium-sized town, you may have more opportunities than in a large city where political machines are harder to penetrate.
The state legislature is another possibility. Looking over the online directory, you may determine how many jobs are available on the state level. Keep in mind most state legislators are part-time. There’s a lower degree of professionalism at this level than you may find in a big city or on the federal level.
Your local Member of Congress generally has a district office and a D.C. office. Your U.S. Senator will have one or more in-state offices and a D.C. office. Hiring is highly personal. These are not federal jobs bound by federal employment rules. On the local level, you’ll find social workers who help constituents with government-related problems. A few lucky employees will represent the Member or Senator at community meetings and other functions. On the national level, employees hold often overlapping roles that are administrative, political, constituent-focused, and policy-focused. Committee work, while political, is often highly specialized.
Strengthening Your ResumeIf you are applying for one of these jobs, your resume will be stronger if you can report marketing skills, computer skills, and political skills. The politician or chief aide will look closely at job and volunteer experience. Be sure to highlight any specific activities which relate back to a politician’s role. For instance, a volunteer position taught you about coordinating fundraisers or working with the unemployed. If possible, highlight experiences that demonstrate an understanding of the community, its leaders, and its people.
A word of caution: be aware of the politician's goals and ideals. An office holder is sure to have views on many subjects. Read everything you can about them. Make sure your resume reflects those values. Most of all, remove anything controversial that could ruin your chances of getting an interview. This is politics, after all.