I’ve been working as a Parliamentary Researcher for two years now. One of the things that stands my job now apart from my last job is the sheer amount of people that come into my office, week in, week out to do work experience, shadowing days and internships. It’s a revolving door of young people desperate to get a little taste of what it’s like to be a parliamentary researcher. But it’s not a very easy job to get at all.
For each intern position we advertise for in my office, we have over 100 applications. For a fully paid job, it’s rare to have less than 200 applications, I’ve known it go to over 300 on a few occasions. With the election coming up, there will be new MPs and a lot of swapping and changing in Parliament, meaning a lot of jobs up for grabs.
I thought I’d write a little guide on how to get a job as a parliamentary researcher. They’re my own thoughts on how it’s generally done. It’s not the be all and end all. I don’t know everything. For example, I barely did any of these myself and got my job on networking alone.
Get some experience.
It’s not easy to get work experience in parliament, but it’s also not impossible. My office offers a one day experience in Westminster – our office is physically too small to have someone for a week. We take pretty much anyone who e-mails and asks for it, as long as they have some connection to the constituency – whether that’s by living there or going to school there. We ignore party lines when it comes to work experience, which is something we wouldn’t usually do for anything else. Some MPs just won’t do work experience placements. Some will only be in the constituency and not in Westminster. It’s still worth emailing your MP to ask.
Do an internship.
I find this a difficult bit of advice to give because it’s something I didn’t do and couldn’t have afforded to have done either. But it’s also hard to avoid it. The average team size in Parliament must be around two for each MP – when they hire someone they want them to be able to come in and start work straight away and doing an internship is a great way for someone to have the Parliamentary experience they need. Some internships are now paid, some only require you for one day a week meaning you can fit it around University, some Universities (like Leeds for example) offer an internship as part of their courses and you can take part in the Speakers interning programme too.
If you can’t do an internship, then you should probably get involved in politics in some way. Recently, there have been two general elections and the EU referendum. Even local elections provide a chance for you to get involved. Join your local party, deliver some leaflets and show willing. I asked everyone I interviewed when I was last looking in September about what they did during the EU referendum. If it was nothing then they were downgraded pretty quickly.
Do your research on MPs.
When you work in such small teams, it really is vital that you pick the right MP for you. It’s not hard to do research into what they believe. Check their voting record (but don’t take it as gospel), read up on their websites and even look for gossip about them on sites like Guido. You can often find books about them. I work for an MP that is pro-gay marriage, anti-fox hunting and is pro-choice, all things which are really important to me. There are horror stories around about some MPs. If you see the same MPs looking for staff then you know they’ll have a high turnover rate and they might not be worth it. Some MPs will expect you to work long hours, some are more flexible. You’ll work closely with them so you might want to be able to make friends with them.
Stay close to W4MP.
This is the website where most of the jobs in Parliament are advertised. If you see a job you want to apply for then you should apply for it that same day. Leave it any longer and you risk not having your application even read because it’s been hidden below thousands of others.
Expect to fail at least once.
Most of my previous interns have found a job in Parliament after doing an internship with our office, but most of them had interviews for jobs they didn’t get first. It can be a gruelling and cruel process. It’ something you have to stick to and just keep going. You will get there eventually.
Personalise your cover letter/CV.
I know that when people are applying for jobs in Parliament they will have applied for many others. But it’s so easy to tell when someone is applying using the same cover letter. Each MP’s constituency is different. They face different issues and different problems, they have wide-ranging demographics and each MP will have different interests. Your CV/cover letter should reflect that. Even if it’s just a small sentence or paragraph.
Know something about your MP and their constituency.
The first thing I always ask when I’m interviewing anyone is “what are three things you know about this constituency?” and/or “tell me three facts about this MP”. It’s maddening how many people just can’t answer it, or come up with something completely random. I’m never looking for an in-depth knowledge, it’s nothing you can’t find out on Wikipedia or on the MP’s own website.And once you get there, I highly recommend reading How to Be a Parliamentary Researcher by Robert Dale.