How to Get a Job In Politics

Three Tips to Find Your First Job

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Entering my senior year in college, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to pursue professionally. What I did know is that politics had always interested me and I wanted to empower folks that share my values and don’t have the platform to express these values. In short, I wanted to make a difference. 

After talking to mentors, friends, and the few people I knew that worked in politically adjacent fields, I solidified my want to pursue politics as a potential career path. The question, like so many young people have, was “where do I begin?” 

I had people within my network that work in politics, so I asked. They struggled to provide clear path on how to get a job in politics. Mainly because there is no set path that everyone in politics follows. Through research and a little bit of luck, I ran across the JobsThatAreLeft job board, and that was what really ignited my job search. 

How to Get Started

Over the next couple of weeks, I applied to as many jobs that fit my strengths and I felt qualified for. The majority of these jobs being in field – or the part of campaigns that is focused on direct voter outreach (i.e. talking to potential voters).

It was a midterm year so there were a lot of opportunities. I was fortunate to land a handful of interviews. By the time I needed to make a decision, I had a couple of options on the table. A few of the things that factored into my decision were:

  • If the race was competitive, 
  • If I would be valued for my work, 
  • Geographic location. 

After a lot of consideration, I accepted my first campaign job as a field organizer on a Senate race based in Memphis, Tennessee. 

If I were talking to someone looking towards applying for campaign jobs, or even a younger version of myself, here are a couple pieces of advice that I’d have to offer.

Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself in Your Search 

I started out in field. 

I love field and know it taught me skills I wouldn’t have developed otherwise. Looking, back on it I mostly applied to field positions for my first campaign job because I felt insecure in the fact that I had very little political experience and didn’t feel qualified to do anything else. It wasn’t until I started working and meeting various folks in the campaign that I realized folks, regardless of department, had various ways of getting to where they were.

I really want to emphasize this point. Yes, some folks are career campaigners and have been in their specific areas for years. However, you’ll also meet folks who were formerly English teachers and work on the data side of campaigns because they taught themselves programming language on the side. If you are interested in something that doesn’t perfectly fit your skillset, do some research and see if you can market the skills you currently have to get a role in the part of campaigns that interest you the most. 

Know Your Deal Breakers 

Campaigns are very much marathons.

You will work long, stress-filled hours at times. The last thing that you want is to join a campaign or get halfway through a campaign and the candidate or leadership of the campaign breaks one of your “deal-breakers.” These deal-breakers can vary – they could be specific policy points, ways of running a campaign, or campaign location. 

I, as well as a couple of my peers, had a crisis of conscience on my first campaign job because of a statement that our candidate made that conflicted with my values. It’s a hard place to be in, and knowing your “deal-breakers” ahead of time (i.e. asking about your deal breakers in an interview or onboarding) will protect you from being blindsided. It will help you navigate any crises like I had, and will make your overall experience that much more enjoyable. 

Local Politics Matter 

I fell into this box too, but I feel like folks frequently want to work on the highest-profile races and/or the “sexiest” ones. Although big campaigns do have their pros, there are also many aspects that can be frustrating (i.e. more of a bureaucratic feel). 

Consider applying to help or work for a race on the local level. In my experience, local candidates’ intentions for running are purer in the fact that they are representing constituencies at the most communal levels. 

Furthermore, it is my personal belief local politics affects folks’ lives more than what happens in DC, and far too often we overlook them. Most importantly, it’s likely if you are working on a state leg or city council race, you will have responsibilities that stretch beyond just field or just digital or just comms. You will gain experience in multiple departments and that might give you perspective on what you want to focus on moving forward in your political career.

Searching for a job in any field can seem an intimidating task. Searching for one in politics can seem even more so. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be. As long as you know what you want and keep to your convictions (while still being open to new/novel opportunities) it can even be a clarifying experience, it was for me. Everyone has different experiences in finding their first campaign job – make it your own!

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Chris Pearcey is a program associate for the Fundraising track of NDTC’s Staff Academy. Prior to joining the NDTC team, Chris worked as a field organizer for Democratic candidates at the municipal, state, and federal levels. A Florida native, Chris attended Wake Forest University, where he double majored in History and Economics, was a student athlete, wrote opinion pieces for the school paper, and held various student leadership roles. In his free time, Chris enjoys exploring Chicago’s exciting food scene, watching every sport imaginable, and reading analyses of classic and current films.