Figuring out how to go about getting into politics can be very daunting. Here we strip away the mystique giving you our top 10 tips for getting your foot on the ladder. In this day and age it can seem that the most important part of politics is avoiding a PR disaster or scandal, but there are some essential skills you should recognise in most politicians you’re familiar with. Its also worth knowing that working in politics isn’t just about being the prime minister or the president; you could be a journalist, a speech writer, a researcher or a strategist.
This article is the second in our ‘Getting into’ series. You can also ready our Getting into Radio article.
In the UK the vast majority of parliamentarians studied at prestigious universities. Although a degree is becoming less important it does give you a grounding in the complexities of the political system. Many politicians were active in their student unions debating and campaigning with their peers.
Labour member of the European Parliament for the north-west Afzal Khan told The Guardian “The main benefit of having a degree in politics is that it gives you a theoretical understanding of our political system and politics as a whole, but it’s no substitute for practical political experience and actually getting out and doing it.”
2. Life Experience
You are likely aware – particularly if you’re British – of the criticisms leveled at so-called ‘career politicians’. This term is usually used in a negative way to refer to MPs who have dedicated their whole lives to advancing their political career to the detriment of real life experience outside of the political sphere. If you expect to represent your constituents properly in parliament you need to get a handle on what it’s like to work a day job.
Its not just about being able to represent people effectively, there are numerous skills from ordinary jobs which are transferable to politics; communications, leadership, research, organisation, creativity and problem solving for example.
3. Do Your Research
Fiona Richardson, senior career consultant at the Careers Group London tells The Guardian that those interested in political roles should “spend some time looking at the skills, knowledge and experience required in [job descriptions] and think how they might go about acquiring [them].” She recommends the website W4MP. Polical Job Hunt is useful for people from the USA, Seek in Australia and New Zealand.
The chances are that you can already identify a political party and or campaigning group that you have an affinity with. Many of the most successful politicians began as volunteers for their chosen party from a young age. Volunteering will give you a strong background in politics and stand you in good stead with the right people who will notice your hard work and dedication.
If its your desire to become a member of parliament one day your past will inevitably be looked into by your political opponents, journalists and constituents; if they can see that you’ve stood up for what you believe in from an early point it will show your dedication.
5. Become a Confident Communicator
Political roles of any kind are not the preserve of shrinking violets. Even if you’re a researcher spending much of your time huddled over a pile of dusty books in a library you still need the skills to communicate your findings effectively. If you’re a shy person make sure you’re frequently taking the time to do things outside of your comfort zone to build your confidence. Why not try amateur dramatics, singing or simply attending more social events with people you don’t know?
6. Solidify Your Views
‘Flip Floppers’ is a term used in the UK to refer to politicians who regularly change their opinions on issues facing the electorate. If you’re supporting green belt building following campaigns for the land to be saved what is a voter to think? Make sure you have a strong understanding of the sorts of issues which affect people and research them to decide what your stance is. Whilst you should be tailoring your communications based on your audience at any given time to a certain extent, it’s also important to never change your stance based on who you’re talking to.
7. Always Make a Great Impression
Unfortunately politics isn’t just about caring for your fellow man and being passionate about what you’re doing. Making the right impression every time is essential, whether you’re meeting a potential future colleague, a political opponent or a constituent. To do this you need to look the part by dressing and presenting yourself in a respectful, neat and tidy manner. Turning up to a meeting in jogging bottoms and a stained top whilst nursing a hangover just isn’t going to cut the mustard!
8. Serve Your Community
Wiki How notes that an overwhelming number of former US presidents have served in the military. This may seem an extreme option, but there are other less dangerous ways of demonstrating care for your community and passion for your country. Working for a charitable organisation will give you strong workplace based skills as well as show that you care. You could also volunteer regularly at a charity associated with a cause close to your heart.
9. Be Nice
Politics can often seem a cut throat world full of arrogant people bullying each other to get ahead. You don’t have to be like this and it can never hurt to remember the age old maxim ‘be kind to the people you meet on your way up, because you’ll see them again on your way back down.’ As with many professions, politics can often be more about who you know than what you know so being kind and considerate to those around you can certainly be helpful. Acquiring mentors in the form of those who have navigated their way through the system can be invaluable.
If you’re interested in politics presumably you have a particular cause you’re passionate about. Whether its workers’ rights, animal rights or environmental causes make sure you’re getting your voice heard and doing your bit to advance it. Getting involved in campaigns will give you valuable experience towards a political career.