I Want Your Job: Jacinda Ardern

A determination to help people, years of hard work and a positive attitude got Labour's Jacinda Ardern to where she is today

Jacinda Ardern with Grant Robertson, at the launch of his Labour leadership campaign where he announced Ardern as his running mate and deputy. Picture / Brett Phibbs

Growing up in the small town Murupara, Jacinda Ardern knew she wanted to do something to help people. "I saw the level of poverty that exists in some parts of our country; I saw the impact of a lack of work and hope, and what happens when we don't invest in our kids" she says of the employment and economic situation in the 1980s, which kick-started her ambition to be a politician and join the Labour Party at 17.

Through years of hard work and positive attitude, Jacinda is now ranked No5 in Labour's shadow cabinet as well as the party's spokesperson for children, police correction and arts, culture and heritage. She is also Grant Robertson's running mate in the Labour leadership race, with the winner announced on November 18.

We speak to Jacinda and ask her what it takes to be a politician.

As a teenager, what did you want to be when you "grew up"?
So many things! The two careers I thought about the most were being a police woman, or a psychologist. I was determined to do something that would help people, or at least try to make them happy. That was probably why when I was about 6 I thought being a clown would be a great job - now they just scare me.

How did you get to where you are today?
The tough thing about politics is that there isn't really any particular career path. I get asked a lot by younger people what they should study to do the job - my answer is always "study what you love." Do as many different things as possible, build up experiences that will help you be a better representative. You don't have to have a qualification in politics to do it, you just have to have a passion for it. I didn't really study New Zealand politics at university, I just went out and got involved. I joined the party at 17 not for a career, but just to feel like I was making a difference somehow.

From there if new challenges and volunteer roles came up I just said yes to them, not matter how much they scared me.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out on your career?
I think I pretty much got told everything! Having some experience working in Parliament before I became an MP did help me understand what I was going into as well. To this day, the advice that stands out the most was from a friend who said I should never go into politics single because I would stay that way, and my family who were worried I would lose. As much as I dread losing, I have never feared it - as long as I feel like I have given something my all!

What is your take on internships: are they worthwhile?
Definitely. The job market is such a tough place, having someone in the field you're interested in who can vouch for you at a personal level is incredibly useful. And the political environment is full of so many unusual quirks that you can really only learn on the job.

What does your typical day entail?
If I am in Auckland, then it will be a real mixture. Usually a few meetings with local residents in Auckland Central who may have issues with Housing New Zealand, immigration or ACC. We do a lot of advocacy work. It's also our job to stay in touch with things that are happening locally by meeting with schools, local board members, and business associations. And there are always events to attend (although when you're in the opposition, there are fewer ribbons to cut!).

Otherwise I am in Wellington roughly three days a week, when I'm there there's quite a bit of routine. Tuesday means catching the early plane to Wellington, a meeting to discuss what's happening in the debating chamber that day, caucus, and then parliament in full flight from 2pm till 10pm. They can be quite long days!

Resume tips?
Show that you're active in your community. That counts for a huge amount in a job that is all about people. And don't underestimate the power of volunteer work, and what it says about you.

Best and worst parts about your job?
The hours and long stints away from home are pretty hard on you and the people you care about. Thankfully the people you meet in politics make up for so much. It's a privileged job to have and I am reminded of that every single day.

If you could do anything for a job, what would you do?

Three things you couldn't live without at work?
1. Friends and great colleagues.

2. My various devices, as much as it pains my family.

3. My notebook.

Top tips for success in your industry?
You have to like people - a lot, and even when they don't like you! Believe in what you are doing or you will really resent those long days. And learn as early as you can that taking time out for yourself will make you better at what you do.

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