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How to Start a Career in Politics

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It's More Than Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

A career in politics comes from a deep-seated passion to make a difference, whether it's at the local, state or national level. You don't need a degree in law or political science, nor do you need a well-known name to get started. With the right resources and support, you can become part of the decision-making process that leads to positive change. Though a career in politics can be extremely rewarding, the hours can be long. The job, as well as involving working in the public eye, can be stressful. It's important to have the support of your family if you're undertaking the challenge of a political career.

Job Description

Politicians are elected or appointed to office. They participate in decisions and lawmaking that affect the general public. When running for office, they campaign to get people to vote for them. They take a major role in fundraising activities. They meet with constituents, learn about issues and attend meetings. When in office, they continue to talk with constituents, make speeches, work on committees and participate in the legislative process for the common good.

Education Requirements

There are no educational prerequisites for a career in politics. Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger were film actors before running for office. John Glenn, the late senator from Ohio, was an astronaut. Jesse Ventura, a former governor of Minnesota, first gained fame as a professional wrestler. Salvatore Bono was one half of the successful musical duo Sonny and Cher before becoming a congressman representing California. As the experience of these politicians shows, there is no single path to getting elected.

To prepare for a career in politics, it's essential to develop top-notch communication and negotiation skills. It's why so many politicians have a law degree. Law school helps you hone your analytical skills, encourages you to think on your feet and to communicate effectively. However, there are many successful politicians who never went to law school or earned an advanced degree.

Get started by volunteering at the local level. You'll get to know people and become educated on the issues that matter to the local population. Attend public meetings, follow organizations that matter to you on social media and start building your network. Working in politics, even as a volunteer, is a big part of the education you'll need to be successful.

About the Industry

Politicians have an important role in making the decisions that affect people at local, state and federal levels. There are currently more than half a million people in the United States who work full- or part-time in an elected position. Politicians at every level are subject to public scrutiny, so you must be comfortable with loss of privacy. That can include your family members, too. Elected officials have to run for re-election. Campaigning takes significant time, energy and money. Individuals who work for elected officials may find themselves out of a job at election time if someone from an opposing party takes office.

Years of Experience

Pay for politicians varies widely according to job title, geographic location and other factors. A state representative in New Hampshire, for example, makes just $100 per year, the lowest pay for a state rep in the nation. By contrast, California's state representatives average $97,157 per year. The governor of Pennsylvania makes around $187,818 annually, while Maine's governor earns $70,000 a year. The salary for the president of the United States was set at $400,000 during the administration of George W. Bush. Members of the U.S. Congress often see annual salary adjustments. In many cases, especially at the federal level, elected officials receive a lifetime pension after leaving office.

Job Growth Trend

Because of the varied nature of political jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track salary and job outlook for individuals holding political office. Competition for elected office is extremely competitive. There are no guarantees of staying in a job after an election cycle.