reWorking Michigan: Job Opportunities in Politics

Jan 10, 2012

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families.

2012 is a presidential election year, and campaigns are gearing up across the state. For people who are looking to change careers, or those who've lost their jobs and are hoping to resume getting a steady paycheck, politics could be an option this year. To find out what political employers are looking for, WKAR's Scott Pohl spoke with a couple of consultants about hiring trends in politics.

Steve Linder is president of Sterling Corporation. The company works on polling and media for Republicans and conservative causes.

Linder says for those still in college, interning can be a gateway to a job. He says he's eventually hired every intern who has ever worked for him. For others, volunteering can be the first step to a paying job.

"I've seen volunteers come into a campaign, and a campaign manager look at them and say you know, this person is pretty darn good," Linder says. "I'll bet they could be a field director. I'll bet they could be whatever skills the campaign happens to be looking for at the time."

Todd Cook agrees. He's a partner with Main Street Strategies, a political communications and issue advocacy firm that helps Democrats and liberal interests.

"Most of the people that I've worked with in politics, we all started the same way," Cook explains. "We volunteered in college, we volunteered in high school. As we did that and we got more experience and we showed people that we could do a good job, we got more responsibility, and that turned into jobs and things like that."

The qualities Cook and Linder look for in people are what you might expect. They want smart people who are passionate about the issue or politician they're working for, and have a capacity to work sometimes unusual hours.

The typical skills being sought in politics include an ability to write, or perhaps work in accounting. Linder says a comfort level with new technology is becoming increasingly important.

"I think the area right now that is probably the most right for people that have had no political experience," Linder states, "are people who understand technology, people who understand social media, social networking, and people who understand how to use technology to interface with large groups of people."

Frequent job changes can be part of political life. To younger workers, that's become an expectation, but Cook says older workers can be uncomfortable with that.

"The idea is that every 18, 24, 36 months, you're going to be in some other capacity. While maybe still in politics," Cook says, "it may not be the same role, it may not be the same boss or group, or organization, so that's one of the big things."

Cook has another word of caution. Politics is measured by wins and losses, and he says everybody in the business loses once in a while.

"You should be passionate about things you work on, and you should feel that they're important," Cook states, "but if you make every issue a life or death issue to you personally, you're going to be dead a lot."

Can a campaign job turn into a job after election day? Steve Linder says yes. He says every member of the state House and Senate has at least one staffer who worked on their campaign.

"Not everybody who worked on the campaign was able to be hired onto a state payroll," Linder says. "Sometimes, there's just not enough positions available. A candidate has four of five people running for the state House. Their office budget probably only allows them to hire one or two people."

Along with a presidential election, 2012 will see House of Representatives elections in every corner of Michigan, and a myriad of other offices and ballot proposals. They'll all need help, and while the pay might not be great at first, there will be hundreds of jobs to fill.