Political Careers: Finding Your Path to the Top

by Joe Garecht

Usually on Local Victory, we concentrate on teaching candidates how to get elected (and how to get re-elected).  But I know that many of our readers are engaging in long-term political careers as campaign operatives, legislative staffers, PAC managers, and party committee employees.  Because of that, in this article I want to take a break from talking about how to get elected, and instead focus on how to get ahead if you’re working in politics but not running for office.

If you’re building a political career, I know where you’re coming from.  I spent several years working as a campaign staffer and party committee employee before launching a political consulting firm.  I can tell you first hand that it’s a tough industry, but rewarding (remember… the greatest questions of our day are decided in the political sphere, and elected officials couldn’t win or govern without political career staffs).

So as someone who’s been there, and who has worked with dozens of the top operatives and staffers in the business, here’s my career advice:

1. Have a Plan

Lots of people in politics tell me they “just fell into it.”  They liked a candidate, or needed a job, or volunteered on a winning campaign at it turned into a legislative job.  Many others moved to Washington or to a state capital right out of college to pursue political careers, starting at the bottom and moving their way up.

No matter how you arrived in politics, you’ve got to have a plan.  Trust me when I tell you that most political staffers and campaign operatives don’t… they just move from job to job, content to increase salary and responsibility, but never knowing where they are headed.

Take some time… now… to figure out where you want to end up, then devise a plan to get there.  What experience are you going to need?  What interim positions would be best to take?  Who do you need to meet/know?

2. Network

Political campaigns are, in many ways, a game of networking.  Ditto for political careers.  So much of your success in this business relies on who you know.  It’s time to get out there and increase your network.  Meet people in your industry, at your organization, at your competitor’s organization.

Get to know people inside and outside of government, at think tanks, PACs, campaigns, and news organizations.  Get to know them, and stay in touch with them… both in person and through social networking tools, e-mail, and the like.  Build your rolodex now, before you need it.

3. Don’t Stagnate

Very few political superstars stay at one organization, government agency, or consulting shop for too long.  Most people who build long and successful political careers move around… always moving up, always moving forward.

Don’t make a move just to make a move, and be sure you are moving in the right direction.  But in politics, its easy to stagnate and stay at one place for so long that your connections and opportunities have moved up and on without you.  Don’t stagnate.

4. Think Big!

Shoot high, or you’ll never get there.  Far too many operatives and staffers are timid with their dreams – don’t make that mistake.  The top political superstars didn’t start their political careers at the top, but most of them always knew they’d get there… they set lofty goals, and then put a plan in place to achieve those dreams.  As Donald Trump is fond of saying, “If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you may as well think big!”   (For more inspiration on thinking big in politics, read The Secrets of Being a Political Entrepreneur.)

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