State legislators work for the state government, and many hold other jobs as well. Because of the part-time nature of some legislative offices, state legislators may hold part-time jobs or own their own businesses. Federal officials work full time for the Senate, the House, or the executive or judicial branches.
There is no direct career path for state and federal officials. Some enter their positions after some success with political activism on the grassroots level or by working their way up from local government positions to state legislature and into federal office. For example, President Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago before being elected to the Illinois state legislature and the U.S. Senate. Additionally, many politicians get their start assisting someone else's campaign or advocating for an issue. Those who serve as U.S. Congress members have worked in the military, journalism, academics, business, and many other fields.
Initiative is one key to success in politics. Advancement can be rapid for someone who is a fast learner and is independently motivated, but a career in politics often takes a long time to establish. Most state and federal officials start by pursuing training and work experience in their particular field, while getting involved in politics at the local level. Many people progress from local politics to state politics. It is not uncommon for a state legislator to eventually run for a seat in Congress. Appointees to the president's Cabinet and presidential and vice presidential candidates frequently have held positions in Congress.
Read publications such as State Legislatures (http://www.ncsl.org/bookstore/state-legislatures-magazine.aspx) to learn more about the field.
Visit http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislative-staff/jobs-clearinghouse-service.aspx for job listings.
Participate in internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your college’s career services office. The U.S. Congress and state legislatures also provide internships.
Land an entry-level job at your state legislator’s office to learn about the field and make valuable industry contacts.
Conduct information interviews with federal and state officials and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.