On March 11th, we hosted our 2019 Industry Showcase: Policy & Politics event where panelists from think tanks, city government, and policy advocates spoke to students about their roles and work in the field. Here are our key takeaways.
Opportunities in the field are evolving with the political and social issues of today
FREE SPEECH MEETS SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE #METOO MOVEMENT DRIVES ACCOUNTABILITY
Our panelists addressed how the work of their organizations evolves with changes in social issues. For example, our panelist from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University discussed how the President uses Twitter to communicate and there was no previous precedent for what is and is not protected under the first amendment. Similarly, our panelist from the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board — Investigations discussed how the #MeToo movement and #ICantBreathe has elevated their work as constituents are beginning to seek stronger accountability for public officials.
Changes in foreign affairs or policy also directly impact the work of individuals within policy organizations according to panelists with the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and the Asia Society. These changes shift the focus of an organization and the work they have to do to share key developments with various stakeholders. Sometimes this includes organizing new workshops in new target locations, holding events for decision makers or researchers, or being the first to report on the impact of a new policy.
STUDENTS PROPEL VOTER ENGAGEMENT
Students and the enthusiasm and passion inherent in campus communities are often central to enacting social change. The panelist from Student PIRGs shared that some of the loudest issues students seek to tackle include voter education and the importance of civic engagement. Students can have a strong impact on policy and the future political landscape if they are willing to get involved and be part of the conversation.
You need to be able to write, build reports, and be proactive
Our panelists agreed that internships and part-time jobs are a great way to build professional experience even if it isn’t your ideal industry or long term plan. They encouraged students to look for roles where they can build skills in verbal and email communications, data gathering and report building and team-based to problem-solving.
Panelists also said students should not be afraid to ask questions when in their internships. Asking questions shows you are involved in the work and curious. When you have the opportunity to intern, no matter where it is, keep your attitude positive. There is always something and someone to learn from. If you like what you are doing 75% of the time, you are in great shape!
How to network within the field
Our panelists generally agreed that a well-written LinkedIn message asking for the opportunity to talk about a shared passion or interest is a great starting point for building connections. They also suggested finding someone with the job you want someday and work backward. Meaning, look at their LinkedIn and see where they started and try for that as an entry point.
“Now is the time to take action. Students need to use the time they have on campus to get involved with different organizations, go to office hours and build relationships with professors, connect with peer groups beyond your comfort zone. Take the time to learn from others and realize your power as an individual!”
Navigating unpaid internships
Many of our panelists acknowledged that many internships in the policy and political world are unpaid or low-paid. They encouraged students to reach out to professors they know to see if they can be involved in grant-funded work, tap into local and national funding programs or opportunities through other departments on campus. You might also find an internship or full-time role which offers built-in loan forgiveness and grant benefits.
They also noted that you should always be getting something out of an internship, paid or unpaid. The panelists suggested that if you are in an internship that does not allow you to build or work on skills, it is completely appropriate to talk to your boss about additional projects you’re interested in working on and how you are eager to contribute more to the organization.
All of the organizations attending the showcase hire students as either interns or recent graduates. They each acknowledged how your passion and interest for a particular issue can go a long way towards success in their organizations. Whether it be at a Think Tank focused on a particular region of the world, a law firms commitment to fighting social injustice, city government working to make sure community voices are heard or helping students understand the power of their voice, there are many and varied opportunities and open doors for candidates willing to get to work.
To learn more about careers in policy and politics, check out our Industry Pages.