If you are interested in working in the political sector but you want to expand your options beyond the Civil Service, consider public affairs. Public affairs practitioners tend to work 'in house' for a large company, as an advisor for a political consultancy working with a number of clients, for a trade association or union, a political or issues-based organisation or for a government agency. Other related roles can be found in NGOs and Think tanks, political parties or in central government, working as lobbyists, with pressure groups and with different commissions.
Within consultancy alone the range of jobs is enormous and perhaps the best way of finding out about the diverse roles is to do a preliminary job search and see what you can find. There is no such thing as a typical employer or a typical post in public affairs. Most consultancies are relatively small, which means that posts come up fairly infrequently and you may need the flexibility to take on many roles. Several of the larger PR agencies have specialised public affairs or government relations divisions. In 1994 there were 5 public affairs firms, now there are 70.
In general a public affairs consultant tends to make the link between companies or independent organisations and the government. They use their knowledge of political processes to give advice to their clients. Public affairs consultants are required to keep up-to-date with current trends in politics, and read about policy decisions as and when they happen. They are responsible for communicating this information to their clients (some large companies have their own staff involved in public affairs). They have to be able to react quickly in any situation to build strategies for influencing public figures. The job may involve a lot of writing (composing press releases or newsletters) as well as emailing clients to keep them informed. It may also require some travelling to conferences and political events to build networks. It's useful to be aware that the work of public affairs consultants, lobbying, is controversial and on the political agenda.
Public affairs attributes profile
| Key attributes/skills needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes|
|The analytical skills to analyse complex problems
These are most likely to be developed and evidenced from your academic studies, especially any dissertation or research projects.
|The ability to communicate with excellence, through listening, speaking and writing, and to persuade
||Presentations within your course, and mooting or debating experience. A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics. CEED also offers courses on Communication Skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.
||Developed through your academic studies and any relevant work experience
Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?
- Awareness and interest in current affairs and trends
Networks - why and how to use them
Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to assist you with your application. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to connect with organisations. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
- Saint Connect - The Careers Alumni Network for St Andrews where you can make contact with alumni, get industry news, participate in discussions, and search jobs. Find out how to use Saint Connect by viewing the 'Video Tour' (bottom right-hand side of Saint Connect screen).
- LinkedIn – Alumni Tool - this feature shows the career paths of 30,000+ St Andrews Alumni. By using the search field, you can find alumni working in a particular organisation eg Senior Public Affairs Manager (Devolved Nations), Cancer Research UK, Senior Public Affairs Advisor at Thames Water, NHS National Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Roche Pharmaceuticals and Public Affairs and Communications Manager at The Challenge. Watch the YouTube video on how to use this resource.
- Graduate recruiters - ask if they can put you in touch with any alumni now working for their company.
- Friends and family - ask around your immediate social network for any contacts in the organisations which interest you.
- This networking video produced by Cass Business School gives excellent tips on effective networking.
How to gain experience/internships
- Whilst at university, involvement with political parties or other kinds of student politics, debating, and student publications will give you a good grounding in current affairs, communication and information.
- Involvement in societies or the Students' Association can give you experience of organising, teamwork, leadership and communication but they can also give you a chance to be involved in student issues and this is particularly relevant for jobs in Public Affairs.
- The St Andrews Summer Internship Scheme for 2nd and 3rd year students has included marketing and communications internships in the past, as well as ones in the Principal's Office. The deadline is usually around late February.
- The Saltire Scholar Internship Programme has offered placements in communications/public affairs in the past. Applications from penultimate year students are usually invited in November.
- Many placements or internships are not advertised - draw up a list of organisations you'd be keen to work for and send off speculative applications:
- Offer to volunteer in MP/MSP/MEP offices. If you support a specific political party, assist your local candidate or work in their national communications team. Use websites such as Find Your MP to identify people to contact.
- Alyn Smith MEP, has produced a booklet entitled 'Opportunities for Bright Scots in Europe', which provides details of many internships available in the EU, European Parliament, Euro 'Think Tanks' and Policy Centres and Science, Technology and Research organisations. Download brochure.
Fleishman Hillard, the largest Public Affairs consultancy in Brussels, occasionally has relevant internships in its Brussels office. These provide an opportunity to see how public affairs within the EU works across a wide range of sectors.
How to get a (graduate) job
- Your job search strategy in public affairs will test all the skills you will need to be successful in the industry itself. You may have to think creatively about your approach to job hunting and be prepared to be persistent. Networking and making speculative applications will be important as many opportunities in this area are not advertised and may evolve through volunteering. Any contacts you make will be invaluable and by gaining you can begin to make these relationships. Consider the suggestions in How to gain experience/internships above.
- Have a look at the following websites:
- Spend some time exploring our Think tanks page if you are interested in jobs in this area, for links to jobs and internships.
- Check out the different opportunities available within political organisations in Brussels. Read the page entitled Brussels related careers.
Key UK links and resources
Careers Centre resources
Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:
- Book an appointment with a careers adviser
- Search for vacancies (Job Shop, internships/work experience, graduate jobs)
- Register for events
- The Careers Centre subscribes to GoinGlobal, a specialist website with information and job vacancies worldwide.
- Relevant Careers A-Z pages:
- Public Affairs Networking: Network for public affairs practitioners with very useful careers advice
- Public Service: The information portal for the public sector
- Types of work profiles on the Prospects website:
The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.
The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.
- Washington Internships in Law and Policy - published by Internships, USA. If you're interested in working in DC, this is the place to start. Nearly 300 organizations offering internships affecting change. Access via subscriptions (password required).
Internships in the US - Public Affairs
This list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply designed to serve as a starting point:
- Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs A full-time, nine month, graduate-level experiential leadership training program that prepares diverse, talented and committed individuals for effective and ethical leadership in the public affairs arena. The Fellows Program is offered in Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and St. Louis. Nationally, there is tuition between $3,500 and $5,000. Need-based stipends are available at all Coro locations.
- Common Cause A nonpartisan non-profit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in a nonpartisan grassroots citizens' organization lobbies elected officials. Unpaid Internships.
- DC Internships/Programs Variety of programmes available in Washington, DC:
- Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems – for students wanting to pursue careers in public policy, economics and government service.
- Institute on Economics and International Affairs – for students interested in a career in the foreign service, international affairs, or multi-national NGOs.
- Institute on Political Journalism – for students interested in a career in journalism, communications and public relations.
- Institute on Business and Government Affairs – for students interested in a career in lobbying, trade associations and government affairs offices.
- Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service – for students interested in careers in the non-profit sector, direct service and fundraising.
- Capital Semester – for students who are interested in a spending a full semester in Washington, DC.
- Legal Studies Institute – for first and second year law students looking to add a DC experience to their legal portfolio.
- Project on Government Oversight (POGO) Investigates, exposes, and seeks to remedy systemic abuses of power, mismanagement, and subservience by the federal government to powerful special interests. The main job of interns is to assist in researching government subservience to special interests.
- Samuel Huntington Public Service Award Provides a $15,000 stipend for a graduating college senior to pursue one year of public service anywhere in the world. The award allows recipients to engage in a meaningful public service activity for one year before proceeding on to graduate school or a career.