If you are looking at this page, chances are you have already decided that you want to work for an MP. This guide is aimed at making the process more understandable and to help you increase your chances of getting a job in an MP’s office. Working for an MP in the House of Commons can be a very rewarding career opportunity. Staff can work in a paid capacity, as an intern, or as a volunteer.
The first thing to realise about MPs is that they tend not to have the time to train a member of staff up to being able to do the job. MPs prefer to employ people who already know something about how their offices are run and what is required of their staff. Therefore, whilst some people do gain employment in an MP’s office without any political work experience, it is very rare. However, if you are applying for a caseworker position, prior experience of working for an MP would be advantageous but not essential. You should at least have an understanding of and sympathy with the aims and goals of the party.
It is worth noting that some jobs get filled by word of mouth without ever being advertised, often because someone already working for an MP moves on to another job at Westminster.
The following information should help you to establish what you need to do prior to sending an application to an MP.
The first thing you need to think about, is that working for an MP is party political. MPs do receive applications from people who have either worked for an MP of a different party, or who say ‘I’m not party political, but…’ – in short, this is not going to get you a job in Parliament. Whilst party membership is not a pre-requisite, you should know which party you support and therefore only target MPs of that party. Bear in mind, that once you have worked for an MP of a particular party, it will be very difficult to work for an MP of another party. In addition, when you are applying to work for an MP, you have to show that you know about that MP and understand and are interested in their work.
The next consideration is whether you want to work in the constituency office or Parliament. MPs typically employ Office Managers, Secretaries and Caseworkers in the constituency office and Parliamentary Assistants/Secretaries and Parliamentary Research Assistants in Parliament. The jobs are quite different and command different salaries. IPSA publishes the current salary scales here: MP Staff Salary Ranges and example job descriptions are here: Job Descriptions
Caseworkers typically provide advice and support to constituents on a variety of issues (e.g. immigration, housing, benefits and social services), attend advice surgeries and liaise with Governments agencies, the voluntary sector and others. Parliamentary Assistants/Secretaries on the other hand run the Westminster office, provide policy, logistical and writing support to the MP, taking care of everything from running the diary, writing letters, to managing staff. Parliamentary Research Assistants typically respond to political letters from constituents, write speeches, and research and write/orally present briefings. In addition, many researchers coordinate All-Party Groups. The roles vary from MP to MP, which is why it is difficult to be more specific about the duties of each different role.
Once you have decided where you want to work, and in what capacity, you need to think about how your CV will stand out from the hundreds of applications an MP will receive in response to a job advert.
In general, most research positions require you to have a degree. The classification of your degree is not hugely important. In some respects, your education is taken as a given and what really counts is what political work experience you have. More specifically, the key issue is whether you have ever worked, in a voluntary or paid capacity, for an MP. Good customer service skills is also required, – ability to deal with queries from all audiences in a helpful sympathetic manner. A high standard of written and spoken English is also extremely important.
The most successful applicants will have a few months of work experience for an MP. This may be in the form of voluntary work in the constituency office, for the local party, helping during an election campaign, or in Parliament. This may seem prohibitive to people who cannot afford to work for free, or for small amounts of remuneration, but it is the reality of gaining work for an MP.
Getting an Internship
Prior to approaching an MP for work experience, you should be clear of how much time you can offer per week. Be realistic – it does not look good to commit yourself to, for example, 3 days, and then find you can only do 1 day per week. You should also think about whether you are offering to work for free, or if you need some remuneration. MPs have limited staffing allowances and usually cannot afford to pay voluntary staff. However, if the Member of Parliament wishes to pay you travel and/or meal expenses, then a written agreement to pay those expenses in accordance with the IPSA model must be completed and signed. Keep an eye on the adverts for interns on W4MP, as some MP’s are beginning to offer money.
Click here for our Jobs page.
Once you have clarified what you can offer an MP, start writing to the MPs you are interested in working for. It is worth contacting your local MP first, unless they are not of the party you support. They will be more inclined to offer you a position if you have a real link with their constituency and are aware of their political interests.
If you are not sure which MPs you might want to work for, do some research on individual MPs at this website: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/.
W4MP/Dods booklet for new staff
Have a look at the online version of the 98-page booklet we prepared for new staff following the May 2010 General Election. It will give you a very good idea of the scope of the work which Members’ Staff undertake both at Westminster and in constituency offices.
It’s here: Guide to Working for an MP.
CVs & Covering Letters
Remember to keep your CV succinct and on no more than 2 pages. The difficult truth is that your application will be competing with possibly hundreds of others. Whoever is reading your application would not have a lot of time, and they want to see the information they are looking for straight away. Emphasise points such as being involved with your Student Union, being a member of a parties society, writing for the student newspaper and any debating societies, as well as any local party campaigning you may have done. You will stand more of a chance of getting a job with an MP if you can provide a narrative of how you got to the point of wanting to work for an MP. Your CV should change for each application, or type of application, as well as your cover letter.
It may seem obvious, but if you are using the same letter to write to a number of MPs, make sure the MP you address it to is the same MP you write to in the greeting of the letter. In the concluding paragraph of your covering letter, try to give three reasons for why you want to work for the MP you are applying to – not generic points on why you want to work for an MP. A key lesson when writing your cover letter is that you must always talk about the MP in your cover letter, and why you are interested in their work and what you could bring to it. You can find these out simply by Googling the MP or consulting www.theyworkforyou.com. The MP’s own website should also give you a clue about their parliamentary interests. Try to keep your covering letter to one side of A4.
If you have worked for an MP in any capacity, make sure you put that early on in your CV and covering letter. It will focus the MP’s concentration on your application.
Click here to see our guide on ‘Creating a Winning CV and Cover Letter’
Contact Points for the Parties
Labour Party – Write, including a CV, to the Parliamentary Labour Party Secretary, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. The PLP keeps a file of all applicants that MPs can look through when they are recruiting. Also try the Labour Party jobs page: http://www.labour.org.uk/pages/careers-volunteering
Conservative Party. Telephone Conservative Central Office on 020 7222 9000. Also try the Conservative Party jobs page: https://www.conservatives.com/Work_for_Us.aspx
Liberal Democrats. Write to the Liberal Democrat Whip’s Office, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Also try the Liberal Democrats jobs page: http://www.libdems.org.uk/work_for_us
Some of the weeklies and dailies advertise jobs in Parliament e.g. the Guardian. However, the majority of MPs know of W4MP and use it, as it is free and widely viewed by prospective candidates. Most researchers/caseworkers in Parliament gained their jobs through this site.