This is a very high-potential, though very competitive and high-risk path that can enable you to make a big difference through improving the operation of government and promoting important ideas. If you’re highly able, could tolerate being in the public eye and think you could develop a strong interest in politics, then we recommend learning more about this career to test your suitability.
- • If you have aptitude for the job, then your expected influence is very large, holding the potential for a large impact.
- • Chances of reaching highly influential positions are small.
- • Although you can exit into other policy positions, embarking on this path seems to narrow your options more than many others.
- • It’s a tough job, requiring long hours and the ability to face press scrutiny.
- • It may be hard to stick to your values while seeking power and needing to make political compromises.
Key facts on fit
Strong social skills, ability to toe the party line and withstand press scrutiny, long hours.
If interested, get involved with student politics or working in an MP’s office with the aim of testing your suitability and learning more.
What is this career?
Party politics means joining a political party with the aim of being elected to office. Careers in this path often start by becoming an advisor or researcher for a politician, then seeking to rise up the party ranks, with the ultimate aim of being elected to high office. You could also start your career as a journalist or lawyer, though it’s more common for the most senior politicians to have started their careers in politics.
We haven’t done research into the US political system, so this section is primarily about the UK. Our impression of the US system is that it’s much more common to start your career in some other area, and then move into running for office later. It’s also very common to start by getting a law degree. We suspect party politics would also be a highly promising option in the US.
Potential for immediate impact
Direct impact potential
Government is hugely influential, but it’s difficult to align the incentives of policy-makers with making the world a better place. This means it’s important for the most intelligent, able, and altruistic people possible to enter politics.
In addition, the high risk of failure on this path means that people are under-incentivised to enter it for non-altruistic reasons – most likely you won’t end up with much power, recognition or other rewards.
Being elected is an opportunity for huge influence over the government budget, regulation and the space of ideas. Of course, most people have a very small chance of making it into office. Nevertheless, our impression is that the chance is large enough that it’s still a highly influential path in expectation for graduates of Oxford or Cambridge and/or those with past success in politics (see our analysis here). Moreover, we think there are many opportunities for influence at the lower levels, such as being an advisor to an MP.
This means that it offers good potential to spread important ideas, and although existing politicians may do a good job, we think there’s likely to be further room for improvement.
The initial jobs are often unpaid, then the salaries rise to around £60,000-120,000 for special advisors, and a similar amount if elected.
Potential for long-run impact
We don’t rate this path higher for career capital, because we’re not sure how useful the early years of politics are for building up your general skills and CV. There’s a risk that the career capital is mainly only relevant to political and policy careers, so if your political career fails (which seems likely), then you will have narrowed your options.
This is a high-variance path. A minority make it to high office and become very influential, while many drop out or stay stuck at lower levels. This means it’s valuable to test your aptitude, which can be done relatively cheaply by getting involved in political societies at university or getting an internship with an MP.
It’s widely believed that the process of seeking power makes it easy to get corrupted. It will also be hard to stick to your values in the face of strong pressure to toe the party line and the need to make repeated political compromises.
The first step is volunteering for a party or ideally interning at an MPs office. Securing an internship seems to be achievable if you’re motivated, have a 2.1 from a top 10 university, personable and can demonstrate a strong interest in politics.
What does it take to progress?
Politics requires strong social skills – you have to talk to huge numbers of people and get them behind you. Those who succeed also seem very intelligent (i.e. near the top of their class from a top university) and able to work very long hours. You’ll need deep interest in politics and policy, and to be comfortable with having your personal life in the limelight, while staying committed to your values in the face of tough political trade-offs.
There’s a strong correlation between success in this field and graduating from Oxford or Cambridge (especially with a PPE degree from Oxford), and being successful in student politics, though it’s unclear how much of this is causal and how much is due to the most motivated people picking these paths.
The work is challenging and important, and you’ll have a lot of autonomy, so this can make it a motivating path. On the other hand, it’s difficult to fit around a personal life, and you’ll need to cope with tough political trade-offs.
Overall, this is a difficult, high-risk path, so we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ll find it interesting regardless of the outcome.
- All our resources on politics
Coachees interested in politics have recommended reading Parliamentary Affairs, talking to people in the field, and reading biographies of politicians to learn more about what it’s like and how to succeed. (Also, as some insiders have recommended(!), watching The West Wing and The Thick of It.)
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