May 4, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

The path to politics isn’t easy—and it varies depending on where you live. If you live in a more democratic republic, the path looks different than if you live in a more authoritarian country.

It also depends on who you know, who’s in your network—and how hard you’re willing to work to expand that network.

Why would you want a career in politics? The biggest one, ostensibly, is that you care and want to make change—and that you like power, at least a little.

It’s time-consuming, public, and sometimes heartbreaking work. If your heart’s in it though, there’s nothing better.

Becoming a politician isn’t easy—and it’s generally not the first stop on your career path. It also depends on where you’re from, where you live, and what you want to do.

In France: civil servant, teacher, doctor

In France’s current National Assembly, civil servants, teachers, and doctors are the most represented among political figures. Lawyers come after that.

During last year’s election in May of 2017, some unexpected professions entered the Assembly—a student of business law interning at a private company.

What did French president Emmanuel Macron do before? He was a senior civil servant and investment banker. Before him, François Hollande was a counselor for a court of audits—a civil servant.

The least represented in France’s National Assembly? Engineers.

In the US: lawyer

In the US, the clearest path toward politics is law, but it’s not the only one. Lawyers make good politicians in the US for multiple reasons. Lawyers constantly need to analyze problems and think about possible solutions, they need to be confident and eloquent speakers, and they need to be open to working with people from across the spectrum of humanity. They also need to know how to persuade people and make convincing argument

Sound political? It is.

Those are the same characteristics of leaders, too, which is why so many leaders within the political realm have law degrees.

Although lawyers currently saturate the US political system, the tide is turning a bit.

Members of “the professionalized political class”—campaign aides, lobbyists, members of think tanks, and those in public interest fields offer another avenue to a political life. Politicians with these credentials are often not lawyers.

In China: engineer

Attribute this to history and philosophy. Engineering was a relatively “safe” field to study. Think about what engineers do: they figure out how things work and stay safe—how the bridge stays up, how the dam holds, how the roads connect.

They focus on the long term. Their work isn’t valued if the bridge falls, the dam bursts, and traffic piles up because of poorly designed roads.

In a country like China, where the political process is more authoritarian than in the US, France, or Canada, it makes sense that those in power have engineering degrees.

Who exactly? Well, President Xi Jinping, for starters. He earned his engineering degree in 1979. Before that? Hu Jintao, a hydraulic engineer. His predecessor? Jiang Zemin was an electrical engineer. The prime minister specialized in geologic engineering.

See a trend?

In Canada: business person, lawyer

Canada’s path to politics mirrors the US’s. It’s interesting though, the trends in occupations vary based on political leaning.

Conservatives have about twice as many business people, while liberal politicians are much more likely to be lawyers, at least according to CTV News.

Canada also boasts the richest diversity in terms of career paths for politicians.

In Canada, you can be a student, a labor organizer, a blue-collar worker, a police officer, a member of the. Military, a journalist, a health care professional, a farmer, or an artist—they all have at least some representation in Canadian politics.

Learn more about studying political science.


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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