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Government & Public Policy

Careers Paths in Government/Policy

Government careers offer the opportunity to significantly impact issues that affect people and the communities they live in. The range of opportunities is significant since one can find almost any private sector job in the various levels of government. Furthermore, government also offers truly unique careers from representing US citizens abroad to developing policies that shape our nation’s schools to managing local emergencies.

The first step in considering a government career is to determine at what level you wish to make an impact. Federal government jobs address national, overarching subjects that affect all communities, including protecting the environment, national defense, and international trade. State government addresses issues that impact state citizens, visitors to the state, and those wishing to do business with the state. Local government works on issues that are under their jurisdiction, specifically those that impact surrounding neighborhoods. Each level of government offers unique challenges and rewards.

The next step is to do a thoughtful evaluation of one’s interests and skills. What is most important to you in a job? What skills do you have? What topics excite you? This analysis will help you to shape what is important to you, which will ultimately determine which agencies or departments may be a good fit.

Through all of this careful thought and investigation you may find that you want to work on government-related issues, but you do not want to work for the government. You may be interested in policies that affect the US domestically or how it interacts internationally. Policy research is a dynamic field where such policies are investigated, analyzed, and used to influence the government. Opportunities in policy research are more plentiful for those with advanced degrees (Master’s and PhDs), but jobs do exist for bachelor’s level candidates. Employers are often called Think Tanks and represent a wide range of issues that can be politically centered.

Examples of Entry Level Positions

Federal
  • Environmental Protection Specialist
  • Special Agent (FBI)
  • Management & Program Analyst
  • Open Source Officer
  • Paralegal Specialist
  • Correspondence Specialist/Tour Coordinator (Senate)
State Government
  • Environmental Protection Specialist I
  • Human Resources Representative
  • Human Services Caseworker
  • Information Systems Analyst
  • Paralegal Assistant
Local Government
  • Special Events Coordinator
  • Cultural Affairs Coordinator
  • Program Analyst
  • Assistant Project Director
  • Assistant Director of Mental Health Center
Policy Research
  • Research Assistant
  • Programmer/Analyst
  • Information Specialist

Examples of Employers

Federal
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • State Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • White House
  • Senate
  • Department of Education
  • Environmental Protections Agency
State Government
  • Office of the Governor
  • Children and Family Services
  • Environmental protection agency
  • Central Management Services
  • Board of Education
Local Government
  • Mayor’s Office
  • Business Affairs and Consumer Protection
  • Cultural Affairs and Special Events
  • Emergency Management and Communications
  • Family and Support Services
  • Finance
  • Chicago Park District
  • State’s Attorney
  • Public Health
Think Tanks
  • Aspen Institute
  • Brookings Institution
  • Institute for Defense Analyses
  • RAND Corporation
  • Urban Institute

Skills Needed

  • Administrative
  • Communication
  • Foreign Language
  • Multitasking
  • Leadership
  • Prioritizing

Government Internships & Jobs

Internship/Job Search Advice

  • Because not all federal agencies are not required to post their opportunities in one central place, use both USA jobs AND specific office and department websites to find opportunities.
  • In addition to government internships, consider opportunities not technically in government (i.e., lobbying groups, non-profit interest groups, and think tanks).
  • It is acceptable and common for resumes being submitted for federal positions to exceed the typical one-page limit.
  • Application materials may consist of more than a cover letter and resume.  Be prepared to write essay responses and provide letters of reference and/or writing samples.
  • In general, if you are interested in a government job or internship, apply early as these have very competitive opportunities. 
  • Be advised that some governmental organizations have a November application deadline for internships (based on competitiveness and /or the need for security clearance). 
  • If you are applying to a non-government organization, it is more common to see opportunities throughout the year.
Sample Internship /Job Titles of NU Students/Alumni
  • Public Service Intern, City of Chicago Department of Buildings
  • Young Professional Program: Economic Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Policy Associate, Business Forward
  • Research Assistant, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI)
  • Fellow

For more information on career paths:

  • Gogovernment.org - A non-profit charged with promoting federal government jobs. The site includes descriptions of federal jobs, tips for applying, and assessing you fit.
  • City of Chicago - Wide range of city jobs and internships
  • Cook County - County government jobs and internships

Job Search Resources

USAjobs - main job and internship job posting site for the federal government. Most jobs are posted here
Idealist - Non-profit and NGO posting site that often has policy positions posted
Students and recent graduates - Link to the Pathways program for jobs in the Federal Government. Also visible on the USAjobs page
American Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management - Professional association for Public Policy

Additional Entry level Position Information

Pathways is a federal government program that offers direct routes to internships, entry level positions, and entry level fellowships. This program is perfect for current NU students to upcoming graduates to graduate students. Pathways was designed as a better way of securing and on-boarding current students and recent graduates.

Internships and Fellowships can be found at all levels of government and can lead to full-time positions. Here are links to internship program beyond the Federal government’s Pathways program.

Sample Resumes

Deadlines and Timeline for Government Internships/Fellowships

Please refer to the Government Deadline and Fellowships handout (PDF)

Interviewing Tips in Government & Public Policy

Interviewing Advice

  • Government organizations have strict processes in handling applications – and expect to take some time to complete one.
  • Candidates should ensure that they meet the minimum requirements and that the application is thoroughly complete.
  • Interviews consist of: one-on-one, panel, phone, and/or video interviews. To prepare for the interview, research information on the organization via their website, press clippings, and networking contacts. If an interview is requested, expect a background and reference check.

Sample Government Interview Questions

  • Why do you want to work with this particular agency?
  • What makes you a good candidate for this position?
  • Can you walk me through your resume and employment history?
  • How have you communicated effectively to diverse audiences?

Get Involved

Networking

To successfully navigate the internship and job search process, it is important to take an active approach to networking and expanding your Northwestern career network.

  • Network with your virtual connections: Use LinkedIn to search and join industry related groups.
  • Join Northwestern Alumni Association.
  • Build relationships with your personal connections: academic contacts, former employers, campus organizations
Professional Associations
  • American Society for Public Administration
  • American League of Lobbyists
  • Young Government Leaders
  • Young Professionals at State

Student Organizations

  • Civically Engaged Grads
  • College Democrats
  • College Republicans
  • Northwestern Political Union
  • Northwestern University Science Policy and Action Network
  • Public Affairs Residential College