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Running for public office begins with these steps

Politician holding Vote signs

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The question

I recently participated in the past provincial election, campaigning for a political party. It's something I have done before because I have a passion for politics in general, as well as a background in journalism, communications and political science. I have also held office on local boards of directors and am currently involved in an organization that practices leadership and communication skills. A goal of mine, however farfetched, is to eventually run for public office. I am frustrated by what I see as a lack of leadership in many areas at the municipal, provincial and federal areas and think there is a desperate need for new ideas and younger people to get involved. Although this is a long-term goal of mine, I am not sure how one prepares for a political career.

The answer

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You have made a good start with your background in political science, communications, journalism, local boards, and your recent experience with a provincial election campaign. There is a real need to have younger people involved in politics, as you suggested.

There are certain steps you can take to prepare for a political career:

1. Get clear on your vision for your career and political ideologies. Reflect on what it is that you want to accomplish by going into politics, what it is that you stand for, what you value, who you want to represent, what difference you want to make, how you want to serve your constituents, and at what level (local, provincial or national). Consider why you took political science at university and why you are interested in politics. Develop a career map and path that will allow you to build your experience and ladder it to your ultimate career in politics.

2. Do your research on the political parties. Look at which parties and leaders most closely align with your beliefs and values. Read their websites and interview the party representatives to find out about their platforms, styles and accomplishments in order to determine which party to align with or join.

3. Once you have joined a party, volunteer to serve on their committees, such as election, fund raising and nomination. Volunteer to serve in a leadership role on other election campaigns for candidates that you believe in and feel strongly will make good leaders or representatives. You can also attend a leadership convention as a delegate or a volunteer to find out more about the leadership candidates, their stances, and help nominate and elect who you think would make the best leader for the party.

4. Another route is to serve as a paid administrative, constituent assistant, communications or ministerial assistant or adviser to an elected official. There is no better way to get to know what it is like to be a politician or a political leader than to work for one.

5. Find a political mentor or mentors, a seasoned politician or political leader to share their experience, wisdom and perspectives with you. Ask one or a select few of them to be your mentors and meet with them on a regular basis (three or four times a year). They can reflect what they hear from you, share their experience and advise you on your political career path.

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6. Become involved and build your knowledge and experience. Start by serving on local community and civic boards, such as policing, arts, school or parks boards. Run for your local city council. Serve on regional committees and task forces for public agencies. Take on leadership positions by chairing committees or task forces. Determine if you have aspirations and the qualities to be a civic leader or a mayor.

Once you have the local experience, look at taking your political career to the next level at either the provincial or federal level. Compare your experience and progress to your career map. Make adjustments where necessary with respect to the level of government and positions in which you would like to work and can make a difference.

Remember that you are a public servant and to listen to the advice and feedback from not only your advisers, staff and mentors but most importantly your constituents. Remember to hold to your vision of making a positive difference in the lives of others in your political career.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

Do you have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts, which includes career coaches, a recruitment expert and an employment lawyer: Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

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