How to kick-start your career as a politician
Think you can do a better job than the current elected officials or candidates? Maybe you were born to run.
Getting elected to a political role is kind of like a very long, very challenging and very public job interview. You need to communicate your value while winning over the people who will make the final decision. The good news is it doesn’t take a background in law, government or political science—or a family tree with deep party roots—to be a good politician.
“There are a lot of misconceptions that you have to come from a certain pedigree to run for office,” says Amy Foster, a member of the City Council of St. Petersburg, Florida. “The more we have everyday folks considering that this is something they can do, our country might be very different. Anybody can do this with the right resources and support, and we need more people who are willing to take that leap to bring different perspectives to the table.”
Inspired? Get ready to start shaking hands and kissing babies, and follow these tips to jump-start your career as an elected official.
Meet the local constituents
Getting involved at the local level is a great way to get started and get educated about the current political climate in your area. “Know your district—what’s its population? Who votes? What are the issues that matter to them?” says Erin Loos Cutraro, co-founder and CEO of She Should Run, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on encouraging women and girls to see elected office as a career possibility.
Cutraro suggests looking at the active organizations in your community to see which ones align with your passions. Volunteer for or get a job with the organizations you’re most interested in, attend rallies and meetings so you can network, and be active on their social media pages. “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 and how to align that with what’s important to you,” Cutraro says. “This can help you build out a platform and identify areas where you can bring value and make a difference.”
Once you feel like you’ve found an area to invest your time and energy in, get to know which of your local elected officials also support the same causes. If you’re just getting started and don’t feel ready to jump into seeking election for yourself, consider applying for a job on one of their campaigns so you can contribute your skills, make valuable contacts and see the action firsthand and up close. “The more time you can spend around the process, the more comfortable and confident you’ll be,” Cutraro says.
Here’s where your networking skills will need to work overtime in order to build relationships within a particular political party. The more you can demonstrate your dedication to advancing the party’s causes, the greater of an asset you can become to prominent party officials.
Reach out for training
As in any job interview, you’ll need to demonstrate you have what it takes to connect with others in order to win the support of the people. Here’s where good communication skills are paramount. “I was elected to listen to folks,” Foster says. “You really need to be able to listen to a variety of different stakeholders and synthesize what you’re hearing and find solutions.”
“You most certainly are going to be in a position, no matter the level, to deliver a message to a group and potentially on the record,” Cutraro says. “It’s never too soon to fine-tune those skills.”
There are plenty of organizations that are eager to help up-and-coming candidates with training and staffing. Do a search for “political candidate training” to get a sense of just how many partisan and nonpartisan organizations out there offer classes, advisers and seminars you can attend to get the required skills in areas like dealing with the media, data management or fundraising.
Build a strong support team
Once you have some experience and training under your belt, you’ll need to assemble a group of supporters who will back your efforts to get elected. Political campaigns are nothing if not a team effort. You’ll need people who can fill roles such as campaign manager, finance director/fundraiser, field manager and communications director, says Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, a political action committee that, among other activities, recruits and trains progressive candidates, and finds the right people for a campaign.
“Working with the right people to get elected is as important as the training you get,” Foster says. “You have to have a good network of insiders who are your source for advice in the process. It’s really important.”
Campaigning is draining work and can take a toll on your health and your relationships, so surround yourself with supportive people who can help you carry the load. “You need a group of people, like a ‘kitchen cabinet,’ who are your important advisers,” Cutraro says. They’ll be the people you trust and who will be honest with you, who will tell you when you should rethink something or support you when you need it.
Remember that the political process is a cycle, and just because you lose an election doesn’t mean your career is over. Part of political work means learning from your mistakes and moving on. Lionel Rainey III—founder and president of LR3 Consulting and Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting agency based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—says he always tells his clients, “It’s never as good as you think it is going to be, and it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be.”
Get a hand
Starting out in any new industry, whether that's politics or pizza-making, requires determination and an open mind. In the political arena especially, you want to establish yourself as a creative problem solver who's capable of delivering on your promises. That requires a commitment to your own professional development. Could you use some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can sign up for career advice, industry insights, and job search tips to be delivered right to your inbox. From learning which questions to ask during a job interview to how to negotiate a job offer to how to be a trustworthy leader, Monster's experts deliver the info you need to send your career skyward while still keeping your feet firmly on the ground.