How to begin a career in politics

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Bush. Clinton. Kennedy. Dingell. Duncan. Roosevelts.

These are a mere handful of the surnames that come to mind when you think of the people who turned a passion for politics into a career. While all these men and women served in government for decades and were elected by voters, they all launched their careers in different ways.

Gathered members of Congress inside the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol

Their successes raise a key question: How do you begin a career in politics?
A good place to start is the George Washington University School of Political Management. With an online master’s degree from GSPM, you can obtain many of the key tools, resources and learning outcomes needed to run political campaigns, run for office, draft press releases or engage in political consulting. In short, an online Master’s in Political Management can pave the way toward actively participating in the political process.

No matter what position you seek in the political realm, or how long you intend to be in this line of work, it’s important to keep a few factors in mind so you can reach your goal.

Anyone can do it

Networking is essential for career progression and could help open the door to new opportunities. The Washington residency is an optional capstone experience at the GSPM that enables students to form the connections they need to begin a career in politics.

However, those who aspire to political science and public affairs careers shouldn’t let a lack of connections deter them from their goal, advised Amy Foster, a member of the city council in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“There are a lot of misconceptions that you have to come from a certain pedigree to run for office,” Foster told Monster. “The more we have everyday folks considering that this is something they can do, our country might be very different.”

These misunderstandings may derive from the massive amounts of money that political candidates spend to run for office. The amounts vary considerably, but some national campaigns can reach upwards of millions of dollars for advertising, travel and marketing purposes.

In reality, anyone who wants to begin a career in politics can do so with the right resources and support team around them, Foster said.

Courses such as Budget Politics, Running for Office and Managing Campaigns are a few of the three-credit courses available to online master’s students through the GSPM curriculum that provide the tools for charting a successful career.

Volunteering is key

People who work in politics today often point to their on-the-job experience as what helped them learn the most and get to their current role. There’s only so much that can be taught in the classroom, but by volunteering to work for campaigns, individuals can more effectively apply the skills they’ve learned. The Applied Proficiencies cluster at GW provides students with the learning outcomes they can use on the campaign trail. Courses include Rules, Laws and Strategy as well as Speechcraft.

When people think of political science and political management, lawmakers are naturally the first people that come to mind. This is largely due to the coverage they receive from the media. However, there’s much more to politics than elections and campaigning. Working for policy-focused nonprofit foundations and advocacy organizations is another avenue to pursue, which can ultimately lead to more opportunities down the road. GSPM alumni who have successfully run for office got their start by working for various associations and labor unions, from the Teamsters to the ONE Campaign to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Organizations such as these provide room for growth, which may explain why many GSPM graduates often remain with their current employers for many years.

Profile view of Mount Rushmore

Hard work pays off

No one gets to where they are without some help along the way, from family members, friends, relatives, teachers and educational facilities. The same holds true for hard work. It takes a lot of patience and persistence to reach a goal, and this is particularly true in politics, which is rife with competition.

The GSPM provides students with insight and perspective for how to begin a career in politics through determination and dedication. It also shows students how to maximize available resources so their hard work doesn’t go to waste. For example, in Maximizing Social Media, students learn how to cultivate and integrate the digital platforms that can help turn campaigns into movements by generating interest and awareness. This course also provides insight into how to use websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram strategically, as a high volume of politically themed posts can be counterproductive. For example, in a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 46% of respondents said they were “worn out” by the amount of content on social networking websites pushing a particular agenda or cause. Additionally, more than two-thirds said the political discourse they’ve observed was both stressful and frustrating.

Learn about the legislative process

How does a bill become a law? What resources are required and what are the steps involved? The legislative process is just that ― a process. There’s a very specific chain of protocol for pieces of legislation to become policy, and those steps differ slightly depending on the level of government and what’s being considered. Whether you want to be a lawmaker or lobbyist, understanding these processes can help you develop the necessary skills. Rules, Laws and Strategy, in the applied proficiencies cluster, addresses this process. Campaigns Around the World, which is an electoral politics course, offers additional perspective into what’s required at the international stage.

Work on your people skills

People who work in this field deal with other individuals almost constantly to establish the relationships that can drive change and deliver results for a cause, interest or objective. This requires an ability to connect with people on a personal level by engaging in meaningful face-to-face discussions, making phone calls and using social media. In short, communication skills are indispensable in this career path. Political Power and Practice helps students develop the communication skills that make democracy work and are fundamental to public affairs, international relations and public administration.

Remain informed about current events

It’s never been easier to stay up to date on the latest happenings in government, international relations or Supreme Court decisions thanks to the internet, electronic news media and social media. Working in politics requires an in-depth knowledge of what’s going on in real time to develop informed opinions about how to approach situations and problems to achieve solutions.

Political professionals should obtain as much information as they can by reading and researching the issues. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post are all highly respected newspapers that many politicians rely on. GSPM’s Campaigns Around the World course enables students to learn about campaigns that take place in other parts of the globe by leveraging news sources that are objective and examine all sides of issues. Rules, Laws and Strategy also provides insight on information dissemination, such as political broadcasting and cablecasting.

What is the highest level of education you need to enter politics?

There is no particular degree requirement to enter politics. Many lawmakers, political candidates and elected officials obtained bachelor’s degrees in political science. Some never attended college at all, while others attended and completed graduate school. Generally speaking, the more education you have, the more opportunities you’ll have to enter a variety of different political careers, whether that’s in public affairs, political consulting, public administration or in international relations.

How old do you need to be to start a career in politics?

Elected officials, depending on their position, may have to reach a certain age to run for a particular office. For example, the U.S. Constitution stipulates that to serve in the House of Representatives, lawmakers must be at least 25 years old. Those who aspire to the White House must be 35 or older.

In general, a successful political career is based on your credentials rather than your age. GSPM online students come from diverse backgrounds and age ranges, as some begin the master’s program straight from college while others pursue their studies years into their career.

When it comes to starting a career in politics, it’s never too late to chart your course. If you’re wondering where to begin, the Graduate School of Political Management can show you how it’s done. Apply now or contact a GSPM enrollment advisor for further details. It can be the first step toward making your goals a reality.

Recommended reading:
What is the average campaign manager’s salary?
The use of native ads on the campaign trail

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Pew Research Center