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How to Get a Job in Politics

From the Career Center at the University of California, Berkeley

PAYING YOUR DUES: NON-PAID INTERNSHIPS

The most common point of entry to paid work in politics is long hours in a nonpaid internship.

Volunteer interns are often the first to show up and last to leave. Duties can range from preparing daily press clips to answering phones and opening mail to cleaning the office and running errands. During a campaign, volunteers may walk precincts, send out mailers, and staff campaign events.

There is an upside to volunteering large amounts of your time. When people know they can count on you, more substantive assignments will follow. Eventually there is the opportunity to draft constituent correspondence, attend a hearing or briefing, or handle a lower-level issue. There is a high turnover in volunteer staffing and persistence pays off. Cal grad Sara Rogers worked full-time for free for 5 months for California Senator Shiela Kuehl and is now paid to be her Legislative Aide, directly involved in health insurance reform that will affect all Californians.

The institutional memory in the world of politics is a long one. Once you have proven that you are willing to work in a team and pitch in to get things done, your reputation will open many doors.



FINDING THE RIGHT INTERNSHIP


These volunteer positions are competitive. Here are some strategies for finding the right place for yourself.

Do research on elected officials. Go to their homepages to find information on their legislation, campaigns and policy issues.

Know why you want to work for that person. What interests do you have in the policy issues they care about or the district they represent?

• Understand what to expect from the internship. They will want to weed out the student who has unrealistic expectations.

• Demonstrate the qualities they are looking for. Are you a problem-solver? Are you a hard worker? Can you show initiative? Are you organized and able to get things done?

• Be persistent. Elected officials' offices are busy and often understaffed. Keep trying to get in touch with the staff of the people you'd like to work for.

PAID POLITICAL JOBS

Elected officials often have both policy staff and personal staff located in their districts and in Sacramento or Washington, DC. Duties can vary accordingly. Here are some sample entry-level job titles.

• Legislative Aides
• Field Representatives
• Legislative Correspondents
• Campaign Staffers

IN SUM, there is no clear cut path into a career in politics. To sustain your interest during the long hours of work (often un- or ill-paid), it's crucial to have the right motivation. If you end up in elected office, that's great. But starting out, it's important to think about how you would improve the community around you, what issues are important to you, and how you might influence change in that direction.

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The Department of Political Science
at CSULA offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs to prepare students for professional careers in public service, law, international relations, and teaching, and for more effective civic participation.

Important links to campus and CSU web sites.

internships, jobs and careers for political science majors

NOTE. This page is updated very infrequently, so some links and information may be outdated; if you find any problems, please let me know at tclim@calstatela.edu

After graduation, political science majors are employed in almost every part of the public and private sectors. Some graduates go to law school or accept positions with government at the federal, state, or local level -- the traditional goals of political science majors -- but many go into business, the arts, public relations, teaching American and comparative politics in secondary schools, campaign consulting, urban and regional planning, or journalism. Others pursue any of the other careers common to liberal arts majors. All of them have one things in common: they like politics and find it fascinating.

Currently Cal State LA graduates occupy positions in the public sector at the federal, state, and local levels, including the immediate past (until 2007) Fire Department Chief for the City of Los Angeles, several city managers (including the retired Long Beach city manager, currently managing the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority), city managers and department chiefs for other cities around the state, and other administrative and managerial positions. Political Science majors from Cal State LA have recently gone to graduate school at UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside, as well as at Brown University, Claremont Graduate School, Florida State University, the University of Southern California (USC), Emory University in Atlanta, and the University of Texas at Austin.



recent internship opportunities

  • Intern Abroad Programs coordinated by The Washington Center (TWC). The Washington Center’s Intern Abroad programs provide something more and more students seek – an opportunity to combine study abroad with a valuable internship experience. Each program integrates academic and work experience in a comparative and international context. In the summer of 2009 TWC offers four ten-week programs in cities across the globe: London, England; Oxford, England; Quebec City, Canada and Sydney, Australia.
  • Capital Fellows Program • Adminstered by CSU Sacramento, but open to graduates of any 4-year university, the Capital Fellows program consists of 18 Assembly Fellows, 18 Senate Fellows, 18 Executive Fellows and 10 Judicial Administration Fellows who receive an outstanding opportunity to engage in public service and prepare for future careers, while actively contributing to the development and implementation of public policy in California. The ranks of former fellows and associates include a Justice of the California Supreme Court, members of the United States Congress and the State Legislature, a deputy director of the Peace Corps, corporate executives, and local government and community leaders.
  • The Richard J. Riordan Summer Intern Program provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students interested in a public policy career to work in a policy research environment. Intern projects are proposed by PPIC researchers and designed around a specific set of tasks and deliverables that can be accomplished within the term of the internship. They have several summer internship opportunities available, as detailed in the descriptions on their website. The application deadline for summer internships is March 13, 2009.
  • "Training for Tomorrow," a congressional internship in the office of Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez. This internship is open to high school and college students whow have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Priority will be given to applicants who live, go to school, or work in the 39th District. Apply online.The application deadline is usually in August for the fall quarter
  • Panetta Institute Congressional Internship • A good opportunity for CSLA students! This internship "begins with an intensive two-week course at California State University, Monterey Bay with Leon Panetta and other seasoned veterans explaining how the legislative process actually works. Then each intern is assigned to a Capitol Hill office of a member of the California congressional delegation to work for two and a half months." The internship covers all expenses, including lodging in and travel to Washington, D.C.
  • Los Angeles World Affairs Council typically offers three undergraduate internship positions a year: one for spring, summer and fall. Internships are primarily administrative, but also offer exposure to world leaders in domestic and international politics, economics, science, religion and the arts. Unpaid. Applications for fall accepted the preceding August; for spring, January; and for summer, May. Interns continuing their education after their internship can apply for the Isis-Momoko Intern Scholarship.

 

what can i do with a degree in political science?

capThe Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA) degrees in political science are not "professional degrees"; in other words, they do not prepare you for a specific career, as does a degree in accounting, engineering, law, or medicine. A degree in political science, however, does provide the foundation for critical and analytical thinking that can be applied to wide range of interesting and worthwhile career paths. Consider the following possibilities (adapted from a list compiled by the American Political Science Association, with additional listing from the Career Exploration Center at the University of Texas, and a few other sources). The hyperlinked job titles below are mostly special descriptions provided by the Career Exploration Center, the Princeton Review Colleges and Careers page, and the Majors & Careers page on the CollegeBoard.com site:

Activist, Advocate/Organizer (non-profit sector/non-governmental organization)
Budget Examiner or Analyst (for another description, click here)
Attorney (Government)
Attorney (Public Interest)
Campaign Operative
CIA Analyst or Agent
Congressional Office/Committee Staffer
Coordinator of Federal or State Aid
Communications Director
Corporate Analyst
Corporate Public Affairs Advisor
Corporate Economist
Corporate Lawyer
Corporate Manager
Corporate Information Analyst
Corporate Adviser for Govt'l. Relations
Corporate Executive
Corporation Legislative Issues Manager
Court Appointed Special Advocate
Customs Officer
Editor, Online Political or Current Affairs Journal
Educational Administrator
FBI Agent
Federal Government Analyst
Foreign Service Officer
Free-lance writer
High School Government/Social Science Teacher
Immigration Officer
Information Manager
Intelligence Officer
International Agency Officer
International Research Specialist
Internet Political Strategist
Issues Analyst, Corporate Social Policy Div.
Journalist (see below for some journalism links)
Labor Relations Specialist
Legislative Analyst / Coordinator
Lobbyist
Management Analyst
Mediator
Military Officer
Plans and Review Officer, USIA
Policy Analyst
Political Commentator
Pollster
Public Affairs Research Analyst
Public Opinion Analyst
Public Policy Think Tank Analyst
Research Analyst
State Legislator
Survey Analyst
Systems Analyst
University Administrator
University Professor
Urban Policy Planner

The positions listed above, of course, are only a small sampling of possible career paths. Students interested in exploring other possibilities can read the APSA's Careers and the Study of Political Science: A Guide for Undergraduates, which is available for purchase online. A copy is also available on reserve in our library (check under POLS 150 N. Koch), and the department office may have a limited number of free copies available). There are also a number of meta-sites with descriptions of various jobs and internships. One good one is the Princeton Review College and Careers page. You should also check the "Fastest Growing Occupations" list compiled by the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Keep reading for a very brief discussion--with links--of some career and internship possibilities in the government and private sectors.

careers in government

Many Political Science graduates interested in world affairs find employment in the US federal government. The Office of Personnel Managment provides a listing of current job openings. The career options in federal service are wide-ranging, including the State Department (e.g., the foreign service), international organizations (as a representative of the United States), government agencies such as the CIA , National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Justice (which includes the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI) or a position on a Congressional staff. Another new, but very significant potential employer is the Department of Homeland Security, which also provides summer employment opportunities for college students. Coursework in American government is, of course, also good preparation for these jobs; but courses in IR and comparative politics can provide a particularly good foundation for international careers in federal and state government. Another important area of "international jobs" is with international governmental organizations--e.g., the United Nations, International Labor Organization, World Bank. In general, these are extremely competitive positions and require specialized training and advanced degrees--an MA and often a Ph.D.

Most federal government jobs are obtained through the civil service, in which jobs are ranked according to various degrees. Those with B.A. degrees usually are eligible for grades 5 and 7; higher grades typically call for a graduate degree. Many jobs with the Federal government, especially entry-level jobs, are outside of Washington D.C. Some positions are political appointments, the hiring for which is outside regular civil service regulations.

Many federal agencies also provide internships (some paid and some not). If you are interested in pursuing a career in government, you should look into these opportunities at the earliest possible moment. Here is a listing of selected government sites:

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
Congressional Fellowship Program (APSA)
Central Intelligence Agency
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Justice
Drug Enforcement Agency
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Reserve Bank
Government Printing Office
National Security Agency
Peace Corps
US Agency for International Development
US International Trade Commission
US State Department
Voice of America
White House Fellowships

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

careers in the non-profit sector

A degree in political science also prepares students for interesting jobs outside government. Majors find work in private interest groups and associations, academia (teaching and non-teaching positions), international organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations (NPOs), publishing, and business. Government-business relations are important to both the political and business arenas; students with backgrounds in both political science and economics (and/or business) are well positioned for such jobs. Political science also provides a good foundation for a journalism career.

A Special Note on Working in NGOs (reproduced from Yale University's Undergraduate Career Services)

A Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) is an organization that is independent from governments and their policies. Like social service and advocacy organizations, NGOs are usually dedicated to the work of helping others through direct or indirect action. The major difference between NGOs and NPOs are their tax status and the fact that they may be structured very differently. NGO's usually (though not always) use private and public money to work specifically with developing nations. NGOs are often thought of as synonymous with human rights, however there are also other areas that NGOs work within, including improving the welfare of the disadvantaged or representing a corporate agenda.

Important things to know about careers in NGOs:

  • NGOs almost never recruit on campus. This is not because they will not hire college students, but because that is not their focus for hiring.
  • NGOs rarely post positions online, most of the positions are found through networking or internships. Because of that, working with an NGO during your undergraduate time is one of the best things you can do.
  • NGOs do not pay better or worse than nonprofits, each specific organization sets its own pay structure according to its needs and income.
  • Working with an international NGO may require a work permit or visa. This process can be very complex, so it is important to be prepared.


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