How To Launch a Career in Politics
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Breaking into the world of politics can be difficult if you aren't familiar with its structures and nuances.
Many students and citizens aspire to careers in politics to help improve their communities. Political science jobs provide a forum for motivated strategists, politicians, analysts, and educators to make an impression on society from within local, state, or federal organizations. Political science majors often blur the lines between their personal and professional belief systems, aligning with their political party of choice to pursue careers.
This guide explores some of the most dynamic and fulfilling political science careers.
What Is a Career in Politics Like?
Aspiring professionals from many backgrounds can pursue jobs in politics. Political science careers are commonly found in lobbying organizations, political action committees (PACs), and the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Politicians can also find work in non-governmental organizations, thinktanks, and election campaigns.
Many aspiring politicians enjoy the fast-paced, high-intensity environment of lobbying and government organizations. Political science majors often fundraise for PACs affiliated with their party or become lobbyists on behalf of politicians or specific industry interests. Administrative jobs in scheduling and assisting are highly coveted because they are the best way to build experience, especially within state and local governments.
Within the judicial branch, political science majors can aspire to state supreme court or state attorney general positions, which are usually elected. By contrast, federal positions like Supreme Court justice and attorney general are appointed, not elected, so the route to those jobs is different. Political science majors are ideal candidates for analyst and pollster positions for thinktanks and as strategists for campaigns and social media.
Whether pursing lobbying, public office, or administrative roles, all candidates need strong communication, computer, and diplomacy skills. Political science jobs also require a high degree of emotional maturity and discretion. While candidates can pursue state and local government roles throughout the U.S., many upper-level positions concentrate around Washington, D.C.
Campaign-centered careers in political science require candidates with highly adaptable skills. Presidential election cycles can last for up to 2.5 years, while other cycles may only last for several months. Many campaign workers spend their "off seasons" advocating for legislation or temporarily working for down-ballot elections, nonprofits, or special-interest groups, both locally and in Washington, D.C.
How Are Careers in Politics Different From Careers in Government?
While the two fields share some similarities, jobs in politics and government differ in several ways. Political careers include people who work in governance, including elected officials, department heads, and campaign workers. Those working in public service, in the military, or as legislative aides or state court judges hold government positions and are considered public servants. This includes roles like postal worker, teacher, police officer, or transit employee. There are more roles in government — totaling 3,867,028 nationwide — than in politics.
Many political jobs in the U.S.A. are inherently cyclical. For example, campaign workers and elected officials have fluctuating employment opportunities depending on that year's elections. Additionally, the staff members and aides who support elected officials must also endure the ebb and flow of jobs in politics. Naturally, there are more available roles in politics during active election cycles.
In many cases, politics and government commingle. With only subtle differences between political and governmental roles, it's understandable that citizens generally use the two interchangeably. Many elected officials, for example, hold political positions but also supervise government employees. Politicians elected to their positions frequently aspire to advanced government jobs at the local, state, or federal level.
Working for the government comes with a variety of benefits. While opportunities vary depending on a candidate's qualifications and location, perks can include retirement pensions, subsidized medical and dental insurance, and a public service loan forgiveness program. Local, state, and federal government jobs typically offer diverse employment opportunities with competitive salary prospects.
Entry-Level Jobs in Politics
Studying political science can lead to entry-level roles in government agencies and political campaigns. The U.S. government encompasses hundreds of departments, agencies, and sub-departments, including the armed forces, Congress, and the Census Bureau. In most cases, the specific department is more important than the title, since many roles share the same titles across multiple government agencies.
Entry-level political jobs require unique skill sets suited to political science majors. Students can tailor their careers in political science to their skills and areas of interest, pursuing positions like data analyst, social media strategist, or pollster in fields like research, law, or administration.
Data analysts who specialize in politics are called political analysts. These professionals conduct surveys and gather information to forecast and influence political trends. They study foreign and domestic political systems, policies, and principles. A data analyst needs a bachelor's degree and advanced skills in communication, math, and computers to qualify for entry-level jobs in politics.
Economists play a critical role in politics in the U.S. They analyze, research, and evaluate economic issues and trends and advise individuals and businesses on their findings, including helping politicians forecast the impact of economic policies and regulations on the U.S. economy. Economists work primarily for federal, state, and local governments, though they can also work for news outlets or private companies. While most employers require candidates with master's or doctoral degrees, some government positions require only a bachelor's degree.
Lawyers can pursue a variety of specialties, including roles as prosecutors or defense attorneys, which can both lead to political careers. Many aspiring politicians study law to pursue positions as researchers or legal analysts. Others practice as attorneys before pursuing careers as elected representatives in the House or Senate. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for applying to law school.
Lobbyists play a critical role in facilitating legislation for both political parties. They manage public relations and meet with elected officials to influence decisions to pass, amend, or reject pieces of legislation. Lobbyists must thoroughly understand politics and possess advanced communication skills. Most entry-level lobbyist jobs in politics require at least a bachelor's degree in political science or a related major.
With social media playing an increasingly pivotal role in politics, social media strategists with political prowess are experiencing high professional demand. These professionals develop and implement marketing and promotions plans for political campaigns across platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social media strategists specializing in politics oversee initiatives to drive voting enrollment, fundraising efforts, and political party support. Most entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree and extensive social media experience.
These professionals research and analyze political systems and policies to offer accurate and objective reporting about the state of politics. Many political scientists specialize in areas like national security, the economy, international relations, or political party systems. They often work for congressional offices, lobbying organizations, television studios, or universities. Most political science employers require a master's or doctoral degree in political science or public administration.
Similar to data analysts, pollsters conduct surveys and polls of controlled groups — such as a particular demographic, or even the general population of the U.S. — to determine the popularity of a politician, elected government official, or policy proposal. Also called survey researchers, pollsters need advanced skills in social behavior, statistical analysis, and survey techniques. A pollster typically needs at least a bachelor's degree in social or political science for entry-level jobs.
Political schedulers manage the schedules of politicians in office and candidates on the campaign trail. Schedulers must consider the needs of their clients and those requesting to meet with them. While education requirements vary by employer, entry-level roles usually require schedulers to have executive administrative experience and astute organization skills.
Staff assistant and political aide are both coveted, entry-level jobs in political science where aspiring politicians can gain experience. Politicians at every level need assistants to provide administrative support and guidance. Aspiring staff assistants usually start with internships to gain experience before beginning their political science careers. Most entry-level jobs prefer candidates with bachelor's degrees in political science, communications, or public policy.
What's the Best Way To Get Into Politics?
Jobs in politics require a diverse set of skills, a solid education, and professional experience. Political science majors typically seek internships and networking opportunities while they're still in school to help kickstart their political careers. In addition to political science, aspiring politicians can choose to earn bachelor's degrees in legal studies, history, or economics.
While most colleges offer pathways to careers in political science, there are a few schools known for producing politically minded students, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, West Point, Stanford, UCLA, and Georgetown. Congress counts alumni of Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and Yale Law School among its members.
Jobs in politics require a diverse set of skills, a solid education, and professional experience.
Political science students can pursue a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science. Both degrees prepare graduates for jobs in politics through required coursework in economics, political theory, and law. Internships also play an important role in career readiness for political science majors; some schools require students to complete internships to earn their bachelor's degrees, while others highly recommend internship experience.
Networking is another critical element in preparing for a career in political science. Building connections through professional associations, student-led organizations, and fraternities and sororities specific to political science can benefit entry-level job-seekers after graduation.
Professional networking also helps to develop soft skills, like communication, critical thinking, and computer proficiency, which can all increase job prospects for political science graduates. Fundraising experience is another major advantage, especially for those who aspire to organize political or grassroots campaigns.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some entry-level jobs in politics accept a bachelor's degree in political science. However, most political scientists hold master's or doctoral degrees in political science or related fields.
Political science features a unique combination of complex subjects, including math, economics, and philosophy. Coursework favors students with strong analytical skills and knowledge of history.
Politicians should be excellent communicators, with advanced creative, analytical, and critical thinking skills. Political science majors also need field experience, which they typically acquire through internships.
No. While many politicians have law degrees, others hold degrees in political science or business, often with specialties in areas like public affairs, public administration, or public policy.
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