Political Promise

How to get a job in Parliament

Getting a job in Parliament can seem like a daunting process, especially with rumours that you shouldn’t even contemplate it unless you have a PPE from the University of Oxford.

Well, I’ve spoken to both Houses about how you might muscle through the crowd to get a job in Parliament, and this article tries to give you some handy hints and tips to point you in the right direction. Parliament is a fascinating place to work, but it’s also highly competitive so doing your homework about the House you want to work at is an absolute must, also is an interest in the constitution, politics and public policy and politically impartiality is key, which may be a bit difficult for some of you out there.

So which route should you take? To do an internship or not to do an internship? What is the right degree course to take? Can working for an MP help?

Firstly regarding the degree, I spoke to Alistair, a Parliamentary Outreach Officer, about what his top tips for graduates would be.

“That’s a tricky question!  I would say a degree in politics is not necessary at all – but it wouldn’t be a hindrance either.  During my time in Hansard, most of my colleagues had English or History degrees, but the subject wasn’t really the key to the work, rather it was a keen love of language and a grasp of current affairs and politics.  Many degrees offer the transferable skills necessary.  If you look at Parliament more widely, a whole range of subjects could be useful. Political knowledge is extremely useful, but you can simply be an enthusiastic amateur – like myself – to gain that.”

So, as the PPE only club is a myth, it looks like with the right passion and dedication you stand a chance. The internship route can be another very good way of meeting the right people and at the same time gaining relevant experience.

The House of Commons is currently working on launching an internship programme to help widen access to politics. Speaking to Hazel Blears’s Parliamentary Office, one of the champions for this new programme, they told me this scheme is aimed at individuals with low incomes to help them pursue their political career goals. The scheme will be formally launched on the 8th June 2011, more information and how to apply will be found on the Social Mobility Foundation website later in the year.

The House of Commons also offers student placements for those enrolled on a sandwich degree course and more information can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/commonshro/hofc-ssp/. The House of Lords offers work experience placements for 15 to 18 year-olds but does not currently offer official internships.

Internships and degrees aside I also asked both Houses how you could land an actual job. The House of Commons said, “There are a large range of different opportunities available to graduates and young people. The House recruits for Administrative Assistants on a regular basis. These entry level jobs are based in different areas of the House and give the successful candidates the opportunity to develop their skills and experience so they can apply for promotion opportunities as and when they arise.” Job opportunities can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/about/working/. Again, the House of Lords also offers a range of graduate positions and these can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/lords/lordshro/roles/.

If you can’t get onto one of the internships another option you may want to explore is looking for an internship with an MP, however these are more useful for those seeking an explicitly political career. For example, if you want to work as a Parliamentary Researcher nine times out of ten you will need to have completed an internship. There is a brilliant website w4mp  http://www.w4mp.org/default.asp which has a whole host of information about everything you need to know about working for an MP, and I do mean everything.

For graduates there is the option to apply for the House-wide graduate programme via the Civil Service Fast Stream. Once on the programme, graduates are given the opportunity to undertake a variety of roles. For example you may be the Second Clerk of a Select Committee, this involves participating in organising the Select Committee’s inquiries, preparing briefing papers, travelling with the Committee in the United Kingdom and abroad, and helping prepare its draft reports.

Another example of the opportunities available to graduates is you may get to work in the Procedural Offices where you learn firsthand how the House works and the complexities of its procedures. As well as developing the usual skills of administration – preparation of briefing papers, drafting memoranda and reports and participating in meetings – clerks learn how to provide advice at times of high political pressure in such a way that it will be accepted by all opposing interests.  To find out more about the Civil Service Fast Stream service you can visit the website at http://faststream.civilservice.gov.uk/.

In the House of Lords graduates can apply for Clerkships, Clerks work across all the different offices in the House of Lords administration. Clerks, among other things, are called upon to provide procedural and other services for international parliamentary assemblies like the Council of Europe, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Inter-Parliamentary Union and other bodies. Library Clerks research and provide information to Members and provide briefing papers on public and parliamentary concern. There are also Committee Office Specialists, who work with the staff of a committee providing information for the members of a committee, for these roles however specialist knowledge on the area of the committee is essential.

Hopefully this article has given you place to start toward your goal of landing a job in Parliament. The competition is fierce and the one thing, which was stressed to me while researching for this article, was to make sure you do your homework before approaching the House you wish to work for. Good luck.

By Claire Dunn.

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