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Career: Politician

A Day in the life of a Politician

Politics has been with us for as long as people have had to cooperate to achieve their goals. Over a half-million people currently hold full- or part-time elective offices in the United States, making decisions that affect communities on local, state, and national levels. For those who wish to participate in society’s decisions, a career in politics should absolutely be considered. Politicians have a hand in thousands of decisions important to their communities, from questions of dividing tax revenue for local schools to police funding to issues of federal tax policy. The profession offers great rewards to those with a combination of negotiation and public presentation skills. In addition to full-time political jobs, many find that part-time community boards, town councils, or even state assembly jobs make valuable and rewarding adjuncts to their full-time careers. Politics is not for the shy. At all levels, it is characterized by publicity. Most successful politicians enjoy visibility, while those who leave the profession often cite loss of privacy as its greatest drawback. Whether in a small town or in the White House, politicians are subject to intense scrutiny. Elected officials have to campaign for reelection every time their term is up, but, for the most part, the first time is the real challenge; incumbency is a strong advantage in elections. More than 90 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives is reelected every two years, and the reelection rates at the lower levels of politics are similar.

Paying Your Dues

There is no one career path which reliably leads to an elective office. Working as an aide for an established politician is one common way to meet contacts in the local political party apparatus. Law school is another common first step to a political career, since many lawyers achieve public notice and visibility or do work for state political parties. In general, political careers begin with an elective office in state government; most politicians in Washington start as state legislators and work their way up the party hierarchy. In politics, however, the exception is the rule, and people of all backgrounds pursue successful political careers, from peanut farmers to actors. Charisma is important, and being independently wealthy to finance campaigns doesn’t hurt either.

Associated Careers

A significant majority of full-time, career politicians are lawyers, and many return to private practice after leaving office. Many represent clients doing business with the government offices they vacated, putting their knowledge of politics in this specific area for financial gain; others just go on to ordinary practice. Other former politicians become lobbyists or run professional organizations or foundations that can benefit from the politicians’ stature and experience. Finally jobs in academia or appointed positions in government are also quite common for former politicians.

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