Political Researcher

The Job and What's Involved

Political researchers seek out information on all kinds of political issues, and supply briefings based on their findings.

Researchers perform an important behind-the-scenes role in the political system. Their work informs political policies, speeches and campaigns.

A political researcher may work at local, national or European level.

The role depends on the employer's needs. An MP's researcher may have to research a variety of topics raised by constituents. A researcher employed by a campaigning group may focus on a single issue, e.g. environmental policy or international aid.

The role may involve:

  • Carrying out detailed research, using the internet and other sources.
  • Regularly monitoring press releases, news media and parliamentary reports.
  • Identifying sources of expertise on a particular topic.
  • Writing reports, or briefing colleagues in person.
  • Helping to draft speeches or prepare MPs' questions.
  • Maintaining files of information for future use.

The work may be pressurised. Researchers may be required to respond swiftly to new developments or produce work to tight deadlines.

In the course of their work they may liaise with politicians, civil servants, clients and journalists.

Researchers generally work normal office hours. Longer hours may be required to complete specific projects.

The work is mostly office based. Some travel may be required to attend meetings or conferences. Some roles involve international travel, for instance to the European Parliament in Brussels.

It is important to have a smart appearance.

Salaries start from around £16,000 a year. After a year's experience, earnings can rise to at least £20,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The main employers of political researchers are:

  • Members of Parliament (MP's), who employ researchers at Westminster or sometimes in their constituency offices.
  • The major political parties.
  • The political units of charities, trade unions and special interest groups.
  • Public affairs and public relations consultancies.
  • Trade associations and professional bodies.

Many jobs are based around Westminster in London. There are also opportunities linked to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the devolved assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast.

Opportunities are growing, but there is intense competition for posts. It is essential to gain work experience that offers a real insight into the political system - for instance, through voluntary work for an MP. Involvement in student politics, canvassing for a political party or campaigning for a pressure group is also useful. While political commitment is important if working for a party or cause, it could be a drawback for those seeking to work in a consultancy, where professional detachment is important.

Vacancies for political researchers may appear in national newspapers, in political magazines, such as New Statesman, and in specialist public affairs publications, e.g. PR Week.

They may also be advertised on websites such as:

www.w4mp.org (Working for an MP), a website for the staff of MP's, both at Westminster and in the constituencies.

Those of specialist recruitment agencies, www.electus-group.com for example.

See www.publicaffairsnetworking.com for a list of political consultancies that offer graduate programme's.

Some jobs are not advertised, particularly within political parties and MPs' offices. It is important, therefore, to build contacts and make speculative applications.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements, but political researchers nearly always have a degree. Employers may expect a good class of degree, e.g. 2:1 or above.

The degree subject is less important than relevant work experience and commitment. However, degrees in politics, law, public relations or a related subject may improve work prospects.

A postgraduate qualification may also be useful. Some relevant courses are listed at www.electus-start.com Specialist courses include:

- MSc in public affairs and lobbying
- MPhil in politics
- MA in political communications

For a degree, entry requirements are normally a minimum of two A levels, plus five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. Entry to postgraduate courses is usually with a first degree. Applicants for first degree and postgraduate courses should check with individual institutions for specific entry requirements.

Some people enter after gaining experience in a related profession, such as journalism. Knowledge of a particular sector, such as healthcare or transport, may be an advantage.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Formal on-the-job training is uncommon. Political researchers, especially those working for MP's, are expected to have the required skills to make a contribution from the start.

However, some large political consultancies have graduate programme's that last for six to twelve months. These introduce entrants to the basic political processes and teach client relationship skills. Graduates will often be expected to conduct research for more experienced consultants, to give them a broad base of experience.

Capita Learning and Development runs a range of short training courses specifically for MPs' staff. There may also be opportunities for political researchers to attend workshops, seminars and conferences - for instance, to learn about the processes of relevant Westminster committees. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations offers one-day workshops in practical public affairs.

Researchers are expected to stay up to date with relevant issues by reading journals and newspapers, and meeting politicians and other contacts.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Political researchers need to have:

  • A thorough working knowledge of the political system.
  • The ability to argue and propose a position based on research.
  • An analytical mind.
  • A resourceful nature.
  • The ability to sift large amounts of material and draw out relevant information.
  • Good interpersonal skills.
  • The ability to express themselves clearly and concisely, in speech and writing.
  • Quick reactions.
  • Sound IT skills.
  • Persistence.
  • A tactful approach.
  • Stamina and resilience.

Your Long Term Prospects

Political research posts provide good grounding for future careers in politics and lobbying. Many MP's started their political careers as researchers.

Agency researchers may take on management responsibilities after gaining experience. It is common to move between public affairs firms.

Get Further Information

Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA),
82 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0BE
Website: www.prca.org.uk

Capita Learning and Development,
17-19 Rochester Row, London SW1P 1LA
Tel: 0800 022 3414
Website: www.capita-ld.co.uk

Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)
Government Affairs Group,
52-53 Russell Square, London WC1B 4HP
Tel: 020 7631 6900
Website: www.cipr.co.uk

The Conservative Party,
Campaign Headquarters,
30 Millbank, London SW1P 4DP
Tel: 020 7222 9000
Website: www.conservatives.com

The Labour Party,
Eldon House, Regent Centre,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 3PW
Tel: 0870 5900 200
Website: www.labour.org.uk

The Liberal Democrats,
4 Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB
Tel: 020 7222 7999
Website: www.libdems.org.uk

Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA),
Willow House, 1st Floor, 17-23 Willow Place,
London SW1P 1JH
Tel: 020 7233 6026
Website: www.prca.org.uk

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