In his early career, he worked as a teacher. He began his political career in the municipality council of Sør-Fron, to which he was elected in 1983. He later became mayor, a seat he filled from 1991 to 1997. On 3 March 1995 he was appointed State Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, under the Brundtland's Third Cabinet. When Brundtland resigned and Thorbjørn Jagland formed a new government, Rudihagen retained his job as State Secretary. However, he lost the job when the cabinet fell in 1997.