How to Become a Politician

How to Become a Politician

 

Politicians represent the political, financial, administrative, economic, educational and other interests of their communities, and attempt to become elected to represent those interests.

 

To become a politician, you’ll need to meet basic age and citizenship requirements, as well as have a good understanding of what the issues facing your community, region or country are. 

 

A career in this field might be a good fit for you if you’re willing to live in the public spotlight and market yourself to your future constituents; have good people and budget management skills; and care deeply about political issues.

 

 

Basic Requirements You'll Need to Meet

Each municipal, regional and federal government has a set of laws and regulations governing the eligibility requirements for running for office in their jurisdiction. For example, if you’re planning to run for mayor of Toronto, you will have to meet the basic legal requirements set forth by the province of Ontario.

 

Although these laws and requirements can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, they typically include:

 

• Citizenship (sometimes citizenship by birth, such as is the case for running for President of the United States, although not for Governor in most individual states)

• Meeting a minimum and/or maximum age requirement

• Not being legally prohibited from voting

• Not being disqualified by any other legislation from holding office

 

 

 

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for running for office can vary quite a bit, depending on the jurisdiction. Some municipalities, states/provinces and countries will likely require that you have at least a high school diploma, and in some cases, a university or college education, as a basic requirement to run for office. 

 

It’s important to note that politicians in Canada and the United States come from a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds.

 

And while there is no set educational path for getting into this career, a degree in political science can provide the most comprehensive idea as to the nature of political systems and what drives them, which makes it highly relevant for a career as a politician

 

 

 

 

Personal Traits You’ll Need to Succeed

Surviving the ups and downs of a career in politics takes a certain kind of person. You'll need to have the following traits in order to do so:

 

• Wit and humour (at least traces of humour)

• Comfort with public speaking

• A very thick skin

• Eloquence

• Vision

• A good temperament

• Ability to think on your feet

• Self-motivation and discipline

 

 

 

Experience You'll Need

As you can see, you’ll need to have a certain set of skills to be an effective politician, and ultimately, get elected.

 

Experience in the right areas is crucial for gaining these skills, and crucial for being effective as an elected official. In fact, many politicians have ‘worked their way up’, so to speak, by first working in politics at lower levels. 

 

For example, some federal politicians have first served as municipal or provincial/state officials before entering federal politics. Some regions may even require that you have this experience in order to legally run as a candidate, while others won’t. 

 

Other politicians might not have had previous experience in politics. Instead, they’ve gained their competencies in other roles that involve managing people, budgets, and the needs of many stakeholders.

 

Roles with such responsibilities can be found all over the public administration, non-profit, business and academic world. Many politicians have backgrounds in areas such as law, business management, community foundation management, or labour union organization.

 

 

 

Getting Into Politics

Gaining an understanding of the issues

The first, and most crucial step for becoming a politician, is to gain an understanding of the issues that are affecting your community or your region. This is most effectively accomplished by taking to people within the community and reading local publications.

 

Once you’ve gotten an understanding of what’s affecting your future constituents, the next step will be to get your name out there. 

 

 

Route 1 - Joining a Political Party

An effective way to enter the world of politics is as a volunteer for a political party, or as an aide to an elected official.

 

Based on your understanding of local or regional political issues, you must select a politician or a political party you wish to work for and find their local headquarters.

 

Once you’ve determined where you would like to work and/or who you would like to work for, approach the chosen office and ask if they have any job openings. If they don’t have any open paid positions, it will likely be worth your time to volunteer. 

 

Volunteering for a political party or an elected official will allow you to demonstrate your worth to the office and make valuable contacts. It will also give you an incredible chance to learn from professionals.

 

When people begin to notice your dependability and work ethic, they will pass along more responsibility to you, and eventually you will be considered for promotions or party representation during elections. 

 

 

Route 2 - Running independently

Another route of course, is to enter politics independently (which means outside of being affiliated with a political party).

 

If you run independently, you alone will be responsible for getting your name out there, and recruiting and overseeing all of your volunteer and paid staff. Being well known within your community, having a vast network, and having some financial resources at your disposal can be highly advantageous, but not entirely necessary if you go this route.

 

Good old fashion door knocking, as well as general networking and hosting community events are the best ways to find out what issues are affecting your community. These approaches will also give you opportunities to let your future constituents know you’re running for office, and how you would best represent their interests. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skills and Competencies Needed To Succeed if Elected

Once you’ve been elected, the hard work's just getting started (if you're ethical). Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to be effective as an elected politician:

 

Able to Execute High-Level HR Functions: You would work with the managers of various public programs and government departments. It’s up to you to decide who’s qualified, and who isn’t.

 

Able to Engage Other Politicians: In meetings with councillors, congress, other MPs, or whomever sits across the table from you, you'll need to lead by example in order to earn their respect. If you can’t get their respect, your ability to get things done will be gone before you know it.

 

Able to Manage Large Budgets: With big territories come big budgets. And the bigger your constituency is, the bigger its budget will be (in general). You must be able to determine how much funding, if any, programs and departments get. 

 

Listening to the Needs of Citizens: Can you imagine how many people will call, write and email your office every day? And each one deserves a careful reply. You must be able to effectively handle these questions and comments, or delegate the replies.

 

Showing Your Face: There will be no shortage of ceremonial and charitable functions to go to, or be part of; community breakfasts, fundraisers, meeting with officials from neighboring polities, just to name a few. All the while, you have to take care of yourself, your home and family, your own energy and health. Only a select few can put in a very full workday, and then look after everything we just mentioned. Are you up to the challenge?

 

 

 

About the Profession Itself: What is a Politician?

General job description

Politicians represent the political, financial, administrative, economic, educational and other interests of their communities, and attempt to become elected to represent those interests on a legislative level. They might perform their duties at a municipal, regional or national level. 

 

Those who become elected to City Council, or Regional or Federal office (such as House of Parliament or House of Congress) must represent the interests of the citizens the represent, and attempt to implement legislative changes in order to protect those interests.

 

Politicians who are not elected to office and perform their duties on a part-time basis usually work in another industry, such as healthcare, business, law, accounting and others.

 

 

 

What Do They Do?

Typical responsibilities of the job:

 

• Perform constituency work, which involves visiting individuals, community groups, educational institutions and businesses in order to provide information related to the party’s political mandate and vision

• Respond to inquiries from the media and the general public

• Liaise with speech writers, researchers, other party members and political aides

• Maintain current knowledge of political issues affecting the constituents

• Might be elected to office and work towards passing laws to protect the interests of constituents and advancing the mandate of the political party

• Supervise municipal, regional or federal public administrators

 

How to Become a Politician

 

How Much Could You Earn?

Unlike with other careers, the salary you could earn as an elected political is not dependent on your level of education, your past experience, or even your salary negotiation skills. Instead, it is generally mandated by law. Having said that, it’s dependent on what office you’re running for, in which jurisdiction, and whether or not you get elected.

 

Let’s take a closer look at some numbers, broken down by municipal, regional and federal offices in Canada and the United States:

 

 

Municipal

To illustrate the earnings of elected politicians at the municipal level in Canada and the United States, we’ll use the salary level of city councillors and mayors. As you’ll see, it generally follows that the larger the municipality, the higher the earnings for elected municipal officials, with councillors generally earning half of what mayors earn.

 

In very small towns, some councillors and mayors don’t earn a salary from their position at all, instead relying on their personal finances, or income from their ‘full-time’ career. Mayors that are compensated for their municipal duties might earn salaries of around $10,000.

 

In larger towns and small cities in North America, councillors typically earn anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000 per year, while mayors earn anywhere from $10,000 to $90,000 per year. 

 

In large cities, councillors usually earn between $50,000 and $150,000, while mayors usually earn somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 per year. For example, the mayor of Seattle earns just less than $170,000 USD, while the mayor of Calgary, Alberta earns just over $200,000 CDN per year. 

 

 

Regional (Provincial/State)

In Canada, provincially elected Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) typically earn a base salary, as well as additional allowances if they have other responsibilities. For example, in Alberta, the base salary of an MLA is $127,296 per year. An additional $79,560 is paid to the premier, and an additional $12,732 is paid to the Chief Government Whip.

 

In the United States, the earnings can vary quite widely for state politicians. For example, it’s reported that the governor of Pennsylvania is paid approximately $187,818 a year, while the governor of Maine is paid $70,000. 

 

The range is even wider among state representatives. For example, in California, state representatives make close to $100,000 per year, while representatives from New Hampshire are paid just $100 a year.

 

 

Federal

In Canada, Members of the House of Common (also known as Members of Parliament, or MPs) earn a salary of $178,900 (2019 figures). If they have extra responsibilities above being an elected MP, they receive additional remuneration. For example, the Prime earns an additional $178,900 annually, while the leader of the opposition earns an additional $85,500.

 

In the United States, the compensation for most Senators, Representatives, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico is $174,000. The only exceptions to this include the Speaker of the House, with a salary of $223,500, and the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate (salary of $193,400). The President of the United States earns $400,000 per year.

 

Please Note: The above figures are only meant as a guideline, as a full breakdown of earnings is well beyond the scope of this guide. These figures are also likely to change every year, and do not include pension amounts, and other financial benefits, such as health coverage, expense accounts, and vehicle allowances.

 

 

 

Earnings of Non-Elected Politicians

At all levels of politics, the earnings of those who aren’t elected into office can vary, with many not being compensated by the political party with which they are affiliated, or without drawing a salary from their fundraising efforts if they are running independently (as is common in municipal politics). 

 

In some cases however, a candidate who holds a leadership or other prominent position within their political party might receive a salary from that party.

 

In such a case, the salary would be drawn from the party’s annual budget and thus could fluctuate, as the budget would largely be determined by annual fundraising efforts that can include donations to the party, contributions by party members, as well as government funding.

 

Those who are not compensated by their party (or independent fundraising efforts) generally rely on other sources of income to work with their political party, or run for office independently. Such sources typically include savings or income from their other part-time or full-time profession, such as if they work as an attorney, business owner, et cetera.

 

Salary for Candidates Seeking Election: It's also worth noting, that in some cases, candidates who are running for office can receive a salary from their campaign committees, if they meet certain criteria. This typically applies to federal politics, but can also apply to the regional level. It is generally allowed legally (again, depending on the jurisdiction), as it is considered to level the playing field of running against salaried incumbents. 

 

 

 

Job Opportunities - Current Openings in Your Area

Although getting a job in politics is rarely the result of responding to an ad, it does happen. Take a look at our job board below to see if there are any opportunities to get your foot in the door, or gain some relevant work experience.

 

 

 

Career Advancement Possibilities 

The primary form of career advancement for politicians is to get elected within their riding (or, they geographic area they represent). Once elected, moving into roles of greater responsibility is another form of career advancement. 

 

For example, a politician who serves their communities at the municipal level as a city councillor might decide to broaden the area they serve by representing their community’s interest at the federal level, and run for Member of Parliament, or Congress. 

 

As another example, a Member of Parliament in Canada might be chosen by the Prime Minister to be part of their Cabinet, and sit on a special committee, which would carry with it additional responsibilities and pay.

 

 

 

Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Below is a list of careers in our database that are most similar in nature to this one, in that they’re in the same field, or they involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities:

 

City Manager

Director of Public Policy

Foreign Affairs Officer

Lawyer

Local Government Official

Mayor

Political Campaign Manager

Political Scientist

Politician’s Assistant

 

 

 

References

Please consult the following resources to learn more about this profession:

 

• News and Politics: “Take the Money and Run?” Michelle Tsai. (December 20, 2007). Slate.com. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

• ParlInfo - House of Commons: “Indemnities, Salaries and Allowances.” (March 31, 2019). Parliament of Canada. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

• Elected Members: “MLA Remuneration.” (April 1, 2018). Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

• Saskatchewan - Analysis: “Top earners at City of Regina.” (June 23, 2015). CBC News. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

• Careers: “The 5 states with the highest and lowest paid politicians.” Abigail Hess. (January 25, 2018). CNBC. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

• Career Choices: “How to break into a career in politics.” Sarah Shearman. (January 9, 2017). The Guardian. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

 

 

 

Scholarships for Becoming a Politician

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below shows academic areas which are highly relevant to a career as a politician. You can find scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Scholarships, Bursaries and Awards page.

 

 

 

Relevant Fields of Study 

The majors listed below can provide an excellent foundation for becoming a politician. Click on them to find out where else they could take you!

 

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How to Become a Politician