There are a wide variety of roles in government and politics. A genuine interest in the workings of politics and the impact of decisions on people and organisations is essential. If you are also confident with quantitative information, there is a wider range of job options. Most roles are very competitive.
Think about whether or not you want to be involved in party politics, or whether you want to change the way politics is done (e.g. advocacy, lobbying or campaigning), or to support the process of government regardless of which political party is in power (most usually through the national Civil Service or local government).
You also need to consider the size of the organisation as think tanks can be tiny, whilst the UK Civil Service employs over half a million people. Short term contracts are the norm in party political roles whereas the Civil Service can be a career for life.
If you are not already actively involved in the party of your choice through the student party group or in your home constituency, this is the place to start. Check that the party policy really is what you think it is, and that you broadly agree with it! Contact MPs for internship experience – this does not guarantee work in the party but is usually a prerequisite.
There are more opportunities in the months and weeks before a general election. If your own MP is a member of your party, this is the best place to ask first. Otherwise, use theyworkforyou.com to find an MP with specialisms or concerns similar to your own, use w4mp.org and respond to advertised opportunities, or contact other MPs close to where you live. It will require skill, excellent networking skills, determination and probably a sprinkling of luck to convert an internship into paid party work.
MPs employ researchers, campaign managers and office managers in constituency and Palace of Westminster offices, and most parties will have paid roles in central HQ too.
Smart Thinking has lots of information if you would like to work in policy, research and think tanks. This includes:
- Careers resources and FAQs
- An internship and job search page
- Links to prominent UK think tanks, should you wish to do your own research and make speculative approaches
If you are interested in political consultancy, Public Affairs Networking provides:
- Some graduate vacancies
- Valuable information about different types of organisations in the sector
- Civil service - different recruitment schemes including professional entry into social research, economics, operational research, and legal services
- Civil service Fast Stream – Selects people with the potential and expectation that they progress to senior positions. There are both specialist and more general streams
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) - what the Foreign & Commonwealth Office does and careers opportunities
- If you are an EU citizen, have a look at EU careers for details of how to apply to jobs in the EU. It is not necessarily the case that you need to be an EU citizen to apply for vacancies advertised at Eurobrussels – you’ll need to check the specific vacancy.
- the UN Young Professionals Programme - only nationals from a small number of countries can apply for the UN Young Professionals Programme, and you’ll need to be very able and highly qualified too
There are various reasons why considering work in a local authority makes sense for a lot of students. The ability to make a difference to local areas and to see the impact of one’s input on a local area are two of the reasons often given. Skills which are typically asked for include excellent teamwork skills, ability to communicate clearly to a very wide range of people, innovative thinking, and being able to see things through to a satisfactory conclusion. There is an excellent summary of the work involved, and key details about it, provided by Prospects.
Keep a regular eye on the vacancy pages of any local authority (including County Councils, District Councils, City Councils and London Boroughs) for which you might be interested in working. Many of these pages will have ‘Graduate’ as a search option – but bear in mind that the content of the job and the developmental opportunities which may follow from it are arguably more important than whether or not it is specifically defined as a graduate role. Think about what skills you could offer a local authority and use your own search criteria accordingly – working on the front-line to support families with young people involved in criminal behaviour is a very different kind of role from working in project planning, but local authorities offer both kinds of roles and they are both important, and satisfying for graduates with the relevant values and skillset for them.
A few local authorities still offer their own graduate schemes, for example the Kent Graduate Programme. Many local authorities have suitable roles for recent graduates, even if they are not advertised as specifically for this group. Jobsgopublic advertises a wide range of public sector jobs, as do websites such as The Guardian Jobs.
National Graduate Development Programme for Local Authorities (NGDP)
Some local authorities take on graduates only through this programme. There are typically about 80 to 90 places available across the entire scheme in any given year – and about 2000 applicants. The NGDP is a two year programme, usually consisting of four six month placements which must include a front-line service, a support service and a strategic role. Although the intention of the NGDP is to take people on who have the potential to become future leaders, there is no guarantee of employment at the end of the two years. Most trainees manage to arrange placements in areas of interest so that as the scheme is coming to an end they have experience to apply for the sorts of vacancies which particularly interest them.
‘Speculate to accumulate’ – how to make speculative applications
Although it’s impossible to quantify how many of the estimated 50-80% unadvertised jobs are at ‘graduate level’ there is no doubt that you should tap into this market if you want to increase your chance of job search success. Don’t artificially restrict your horizons by focussing on the graduate portals, fairs or company websites alone. There are a wealth of opportunities out there and a good speculative application can help you unlock the door to this seemingly hidden job market.