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Political Aide

Overview  

Covering the world of issues

Behind every successful politician is a terrific aide. Aides, a term which encompasses a variety of positions from policy wonks to press secretaries, interact with the public, represent politicians at public meetings, and occasionally act as their mouthpieces. Aides are the politicians' public relations officers, trusted advisors, and personal secretaries. In short, a politician's aide is his or her right hand.

Political aides handle issues ranging from welfare to business and deal with constituents from a wide range of backgrounds. Many political aides specialize in areas like transportation or technology. Aides are not only responsible for keeping abreast of political trends among policymakers, but also for staying in touch with the needs and concerns of the constituents. Politicians depend on their staffers (usually an elemental staff of senior advisors), throughout their campaigns and their careers. The downside of the job is that, just as politicians' careers depend on reelection, so do the careers of their staffers.

Staffers who are just starting out are often opportunistic. When they see an opportunity to work for an up-and-coming politician, they are easily lured away. If an aide does find herself out of a job, however, and she has made a name for herself, landing a new position is relatively painless. Political aides can also move into the private sector as consultants, or pursue their own political careers.

Career Path  

A bachelor's degree is required for all political aides; many have graduate degrees or relevant professional experience. Aspiring aides can gain experience by volunteering to work on a political campaign or in a government office. Many political aides begin their careers with their home state, either with state or local politics, or as a liaison between a politician in Washington and the state capital.

Normally, aides start out as legislative assistants, learning the technical and legal aspects of their specialized fields. It is important that, during their first few years on staff, aides cultivate relationships with journalists and colleagues in other legislative offices. The turnover rate for political aides is relatively high, but those who remain in the field after five years are highly valued as advisors. Their networks are large and established, and they play a role in prioritizing legislative agendas. Chiefs of staff and legislative directors usually have at least 10 years' industry experience under their belts. They also have considerable clout and a firm grip on the ears of the politicians for whom they work.

Uppers  

Dynamic work environment;Exposure to high-profilepoliticians

Downers  

Occasionally dry tasks;Hard to break into the job

Personality Match  

Efficient;Organized;Outgoing;Ambitious

Personality Miss  

Shy;Impatient

Hours  

Averages about 45 per week

Salary  

Average entry-level salary: $18,000;After 5 Years: $30,000;After 10 Years: $50,000

Skills  

BA

Our Survey Says  

The position of an aide to an elected official is stressful but filled with variety. "My day is never the same," says one staffer. Aides are exposed to many aspects of society; one contact describes a top perk of the job to be "a great education on humanity." However, life as a political aide also "requires a lot of reading and can be boring at times."

Although aides work 40- to 50-hour weeks, those hours are irregular, as aides often have to put together meetings "during the early morning or after dinner." Most elected officials "are very good when it comes to comp time, which makes the weird hours worth it." The dress code for political aides is generally "conservative and professional, more so for meeting with constituents."

The best way to land a position working for an elected official, insiders say, is to help out with a campaign and "get involved in the political side of things." Positions with the government "are terrific resume builders for private industry" and are "excellent for law or communication degrees."

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