What's it really like?
Lori has been working as a political researcher for an MP since 1989. Prior to starting in her current position, she held several temporary office jobs.During a typical day at work, Lori deals with the incoming correspondence. She reads e-mails and deletes the numerous ones which arrive in her inbox that are not from members of the constituency. She will then respond to the correspondence or transfer it to somebody else in the office if this seems appropriate. Lori is responsible for researching and working upon issues currently affecting constituents.
She also sorts out the post each day, manages the expenses, pays the bills, and performs other administration tasks. The office in which she works takes students wishing to gain experience during internships. Lori is responsible for providing them with work and teaching them about the different areas of the job.
Lori believes that whilst the job can be interesting, it can become mundane, particularly if the MP who employs the political researcher is a backbencher. However, the situation can change at any time and employees need to remain alert at all times in order to react quickly to the various political events of the day. Lori often has to attend impromptu meetings with the MP who employs her, in order to discuss and advise on important issues.
Personally, Lori does not like dealing directly with constituents. Many constituents get themselves into trouble or difficult situations and she feels that they expect her to fix it because she “works for them”. Lori believes that she spends too much time sorting out trivial problems for people who have made silly mistakes. Furthermore, some constituents expect unrealistic help, including one who believed they were a target of a vast conspiracy which was beginning to make them physically ill! However, there is a positive side to this kind of work. Every now and again Lori has the opportunity to really make a difference and help someone out who ultimately really appreciates it.
Lori had some words of wisdom for those thinking about becoming political researchers. Those who have a large ego should not apply, since political researchers will be expected to perform simple tasks such as making coffee and occasionally looking after the MP’s child! Furthermore, in order to be successful in the office of an MP, an individual needs to be a "jack of all trades". Potential employees should be able to write well, research a subject thoroughly, speak to people from all backgrounds, and use common sense on a daily basis.
A political researcher is responsible for researching and providing useful information for their employer, who may be an MP, a political party, a trade union, a large company, a charity, or a non-government organisation.
Political researchers usually work for an MP but may also be employed by other employers including political parties and charities. They are responsible for keeping up to date with government legislation and policy as well as general political developments. These developments have the potential to impact upon all companies and industries and political researchers are responsible for advising their employers about the impact which may subsequently occur.
Their primary duty is to research issues which affect their employer. For example, if the individual works for an MP, they will monitor the issues currently affecting the members of the MP’s constituency. All political researchers must monitor relevant political websites as well as press releases and reports.
Whilst the world of politics is dominated by men, who tend to hold the majority of the more senior positions, the gender ratio in the position of political researcher is relatively more balanced.
Individuals who have recently acquired a position as a political researcher can expect to earn around £15,000 to £17,000. This figure is likely to rise after a few years in the position and senior political researchers may earn as much as £50,000. Political researchers who are employed by MPs or political parties are likely to earn more than those employed by large companies or charities. This is simply because these jobs are likely to be located in central London, whereas commercial companies and charities may have offices situated in various cities across the United Kingdom, which command lower salaries.
The tasks performed by a political researcher will vary depending upon the employer. However, typical tasks performed on a daily basis include:
- Keeping up to date with political sources released by government agencies, including press releases and reports
- Finding out about new sources which may be relevant to the employer, including press releases from particular interest groups and other organisations
- Researching past sources of information to see if they may still be relevant or applicable to current cases
- Performing detailed research on a wide range of subjects
- Keeping up to date with the media every day
- Working on case studies and individual projects
- Researching issues personally affecting members of an MP’s constituency
- Answering queries and questions from members of the constituency and the general public
- Following up on these queries to make sure issues have been fully resolved
- Liaising with individuals from other companies or political offices in order to discuss research issues
- Researching public opinion through techniques including questionnaires, surveys, and interviews
- Writing detailed reports which focus upon the findings of research
- Answering telephone calls and dealing with general media enquiries
- Dealing with general correspondence via e-mail
- Deciding which issues should be passed on to the employer and which should be discarded as irrelevant
- Sending out the post and dealing with incoming post
- Paying bills and managing general expenses
- Attending regular meetings with the employer in order to keep them fully updated about political issues
- Writing speeches for the MP or employer
Individuals do not need to hold any particular degree or qualification in order to be able to apply for the position of political researcher. However, since the job is fairly competitive, most employees do hold degrees. Particularly useful degrees include politics, public relations, business management, and international relations. Most training is provided once individuals have secured their job but potential employees should possess good IT skills and be comfortable using the Internet.
The following skills should be possessed by a political researcher:
- An interest in politics
- The ability to multi-task
- The ability to prioritise one task ahead of another and delegate work to other employees if appropriate
- Good organisational skills
- Good time management skills
- Confidence with dealing with members of the public
- Good interpersonal skills
- Good communication skills
- The ability to work both as part of a team and on an individual basis
- Good research skills
- Ability to present information in a clear and concise manner
- An analytical mind
- The ability to remain flexible
- Problem-solving skills
- The ability to remain calm whilst under pressure
Most political researchers work in a comfortable but busy office environment. However, employees may need to leave the office whilst undertaking research in other environments or meeting with employees from other companies. The large majority of political researchers manage to work thirty-seven hours per week but individuals may be expected to work longer hours at short notice if relevant political developments occur unexpectedly. The job can be stressful at times but it can also be extremely interesting and rewarding.
Prior experience in the field of politics is not necessary. However, it will prove beneficial to any application. Internships in an MP’s office can be arranged, as can the opportunity to shadow a local MP for a week or two.
Major employers of political researchers include:
- Political parties
- Government agencies
- Think tanks
- The Civil Service
- Trade unions
- Non-government organisations
- Public affairs agencies
Depending on the employer of the political researcher, rapid promotion opportunities may be offered. With promotion comes greater responsibility and individuals will be expected to create presentations and hold meetings with important individuals. If an individual is working for an MP or a political party, they may choose to become an adviser after a few years. Some political researchers choose to go back to university to study to become a lawyer, since the skills learnt in political research provide a solid foundation for such a career.
Some political researchers start the job with the aim of gaining useful experience and an in-depth insight into the world of politics before starting the long process of becoming a full-time politician.