How to Get a Political Job

by Joe Garecht

After Election Day, with a swell of new office holders preparing to take the reins of government at all levels, the post-campaign ritual begins.  Campaign staff, volunteers, party workers, and political types of all stripes send out resumes, feel out contacts, and look for political work.  While the Local Victory Newsletter normally focuses on how to get elected, this issue focuses on a different type of campaign: how to find a political job.

What Are You Looking For?

The first question you must ask yourself is what type of political job you are looking for.  Are you looking to work on a legislative, mayoral, governor’s or other elected official’s staff?  Would you prefer to work for a political party?  How about a political campaign?  Have you thought about working for a political consulting firm, lobbying group, or trade association?  The type of job you are looking for will influence how you go about finding work.

Another, equally important decision is where you want to work.  If you’re looking for a job in Washington, DC, or a state capital, there will be many more opportunities with trade groups, lobbying and consulting firms, and in the bureaucracy than if you are looking to work in other places.  Most big cities have political consulting firms and large mayoral staffs, and every place in America has political jobs available in legislators’ offices, on campaigns and local elected officials’ staffs.

Work Your Contacts

After deciding what type of political work you are looking for and where you want to work, the next task is figuring out who you know that may be able to help you get there.  Political jobs are largely relationship-oriented.  This means that networking and using your contacts to get your foot in the door are more important to finding political work than in almost any other industry, except maybe publishing and acting.

Who do you know that may be able to help you get a political job?  Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to be someone’s best friend in order to contact them for help.  Did you work on a campaign?  The candidate, campaign manager, and any other key staff you had contact with are great places to start, even if you only had limited contact with them.

If you’re just graduating from college or graduate school, or work in another industry and are just getting started in politics, you still probably have contacts who can help you.  College political science professors and administrators (such as the president, deans, provosts, etc.) often have great relationships with elected officials.  Similarly, CEOs, business leaders, civic leaders, the presidents of service clubs, etc., often are on a first name basis with local politicians.

The key to working your contacts is to get started and be persistent.  Make a list of those who may be able to help you.  Make the list as big as possible.  When in doubt about a particular contact, include him or her anyway.  Call your entire list and ask them for help and guidance, and be sure to follow up with them regularly

Other Avenues

Whether or not you have contacts that can help, you should also start working the more traditional job-hunting avenues that are also available to political job seekers.  This means doing it the old-fashioned way: sending out resumes and looking through the want ads.

Most incoming governors and big city mayors set up transition teams and specific procedures for processing resumes.  Find out what the requirements are if you plan to work on an elected official’s staff.  Check with your Congressmen and state legislators about sending in resumes as well.

If you are looking to work at a political consulting or lobbying firm or at a trade association, contact them just as you would a non-political employer, ask about sending in your resume, and then follow up.  Political party organizations typically experience high-turnover after elections as well, so be sure to contact them.

Last but not least, there are newspapers that carry help wanted ads for political jobs.  If you’re looking for work in Washington, check Roll Call, The Hill and The Washington Post.  Similarly, most newspapers in state capitals carry political job openings in their help wanted section.  While finding the right political job can be hard work, the effort is more than worthwhile.

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