Becoming a politician is far from being the only way into a career in politics. There are many opportunities related to politics, and many of them do not require a politics degree.
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You want to work in the Diplomatic Service? So do very many other graduates! The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) regularly appears in the top ten in surveys of “employers graduates would most like to work for” and its Fast-Stream recruitment scheme receives almost 100 applications for every position.
So the competition is fierce, but there are a number of myths about the Diplomatic Service that put many people off applying:
- You don’t need to have a degree in languages, international relations or politics – any degree subject is acceptable.
- You don’t need to have been to public school and/or Oxbridge – several Kent graduates have joined the FCO in the past and the FCO is keen to promote diversity
- You don’t need to join straight from university – time spent working, studying or travelling, particularly abroad, can help you to develop the skills that you need in the Diplomatic Service and thus increase your chances of success
- You do need to be a British citizen
What does the FCO do?
- The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is the lead UK government department in foreign affairs.
- Its mission is to formulate and deliver foreign policy and look after UK interests abroad. This includes providing services and supporting British citizens abroad. It also supports British companies through UK Trade and Investment.
- The FCO co-ordinates and facilitates the activity of other government departments on foreign policy issues. It is also the voice of Her Majesty’s Government overseas.
What do diplomats do?
- Help shape and implement UK foreign policy, and manage day-to-day relations with other countries and international bodies such as the UN
- Explain British policies, identify potential threats to and opportunities for British interests, and provide political and economic analysis of local conditions to inform decision-making at home.
- Look after the interests of British citizens in their host countries.
- Much of the day-to-day work carried out by diplomatic missions involves promoting UK trade interests.
- Civil Service Fast StreamThe main entry route for graduates is through the Civil Service Fast Stream.
Applications are accepted between September and November each year - further details of the various schemes, eligibility and the application process.
Recruitment through the Fast Stream is competency-based, using the Civil Service Competency Framework.
Relevant experience is not required: these competencies can be gained and demonstrated through all kinds of experience including part-time and casual work, extra-curricular activities and study.
For other opportunities, see Working for FCO
Almost all posts require you to be willing to work abroad for up to two-thirds of your career.Work experienceIn 2016 the FCO offered the following work experience schemes:
- The Civil Service Fast Stream
- The FCO’s Graduate Internship programme for recent graduates from any academic background interested in developing a career in international relations (up to 9 months placement for 43 recent graduates, from June 2016 to March 2017). Graduates were recruited in spring 2016 and the successful candidates included a law graduate from the University of Kent.
A very large number of Kent students are nationals of countries other than the UK and are not eligible to apply for the British Diplomatic Service.
Other intergovernmental organisations
Organisation for Security & Co-operation in Europe
The UN and its agencies offer an enormous variety of job roles, but most require relevant experience and professional qualifications. The Junior Professional Officers scheme, Young Professionals Programme and internships are open to recent graduates: however, the JPO scheme has restricted eligibility and internships are unpaid.
Don’t be discouraged by this: experience of all kinds and in all kinds of organisations can give you the background that you need to join the UN a few years after graduation.
- UN Careers Portal career options, career paths, internships, how to apply, etc.
- Current vacancies in the UN (at all levels)
- "Junior Professional Officers" are recruited through National Competitive Recruitment Examinations. They should have a Masters degree in a development-related subject and be proficient in English, French or Spanish. Not all nationalities are eligible to apply
- Young Professionals Programme (YPP)
A recruitment initiative for talented professionals from countries under-represented in the UN to start a career with the United Nations Secretariat.
Although internships of up to 6 months are available throughout the year for graduates without experience, the UN has no provision in its budget to pay interns and all costs involved must be paid by the interns themselves.
- Internships with UN agencies
- The UNHQ Internship Program
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) internships in London
- International Maritime Organization, also based in London , runs a small internship programme
- How to secure an internship within the UN
Unlikely to be a graduate’s first career post and one that usually lacks any job security!
How to Become an MP
Special Advisers (often abbreviated to "Spads") in Government departments are personal appointees of the Secretary of State, but employed as temporary civil servants. Unlike mainstream civil servants, they are exempt from the obligation of political impartiality. Special Advisers:
- assist Ministers on any aspect of departmental business;
- convey to officials Ministers’ views, instructions and priorities;
- ask officials to prepare and provide information and data, including internal analyses and papers;
- may engage in limited political activities outside the office, such as telephone canvassing.
- Political research: in Government, Parliament, universities, think-tanks, MPs’ offices and trades unions;
- Communication: in public affairs, as a political party agent, in the Government Communications Service and as a political journalist;
For all of these, you will need an interest in politics: some grassroots involvement in local or student politics is a good way of demonstrating this.
Library Clerks in the House of Commons and the House of Lords are not actually librarians! The main duties of Library Clerks are to carry out research and provide information to Members. They respond, orally or in writing, to requests from Members and prepare briefing papers on subjects of public and parliamentary concern. While responses to individual Members are confidential, much pre-prepared and regularly updated briefing material is made available to all Members on the Parliamentary Intranet and the Parliament website. Many requests from individual Members have tight deadlines, sometimes needing an instant answer on the telephone or requiring a response the same or the next day. Briefing papers linked to the business of the House may also need to be produced at short notice, but some subjects allow time for a more considered approach.
You will need to keep up to date with developments in the subjects which you cover and to develop contacts who are experts in these fields. Librarians in research teams compile a knowledge base of source material relevant to the subjects covered. Your sources will include relevant on-line databases as well as contacts in Government Departments and other outside organisations. All Library Clerks are expected to acquire a knowledge of parliamentary procedures and documentation, to become familiar with the procedures of the European Union and to keep abreast of European proposals in the areas which they cover.
Library Clerkship vacancies are advertised on an irregular basis in the national press and in specialist publications.
- INVOLVES: Monitoring the press, Hansard etc. Researching background to political issues & campaigns. Writing reports, speeches, etc. Assisting with constituency business. General gofering.
- EMPLOYERS: MPs, MSPs, AMs, MEPs, political parties.
- RELATED JOBS: Civil Service Fast-Stream, EU administrator, public relations, public affairs consultant, journalist, House of Commons library clerk, academic research.
- SATISFACTIONS: Involvement in the political world. Working for an individual and organisations whose motivations parallel your own. Being able to see results form your work.
- NEGATIVES: "Low pay. Dogsbody work. Low job security. Lack of external recognition for your work – your MP will take the credit. A lot of research involves summarising information from others, rather than solving problems yourself. A few politicians have egos the size of Belgium & the charm of a trapped nerve."
- SKILLS: Excellent communication skills, to work with your employer, local officials and constituents. Good organisational and time management skills. Flexibility. Commitment to the aims of the political party in question. A can-do attitude and a sense of humour help!
- CAREER DEVELOPMENT: No set career path but a good background for moving into other career areas. Many researchers move on into public affairs or journalism. MPs’ researchers may find their career develops alongside that of their employer, if s/he achieves high office. Increasingly, researchers are going on to become MPs themselves.
- DEGREE: Any, but politics, law, economics degrees useful. A postgraduate degree, particularly in politics, is an advantage.
- VACANCY SOURCES: The House magazine, Guardian, Working for an MP. Competition for entry is intense - any advertised vacancy is likely to attract 1000+ applications.
TIPS: Contact MPs or other organisations and offer to work as a volunteer.
MP’s researcher Also known as parliamentary researcher or parliamentary assistant, this role involves more than just research. You may also write speeches, briefings and press releases; deal with correspondence from constituents; organize and attend meetings; monitor parliamentary business and manage other staff. Career profile of an MP’s researcher from Brightside
Top 10 tips for surviving as a parliamentary researcher from TotalPolitics.com
Trade Union Researcher
- Trades union research officers inform the activities and strategic development of trade unions by collecting, analysing and circulating information on social, economic and political issues
- Job profile of a trades union research officer from the Prospects website
- Job profile of a trades union research officer from the TARGET Jobs website
- This role may involve some or all of the following:
- Researching issues such as terms and conditions; salary negotiations
- Producing reports, articles, press releases and other material
- Contributing to union projects
- Organisation of training and conferences
- Building and maintaining union relationships, generally and for research purposes, with other groups such as the TUC and other unions
- For further details, see:
- Prospects Profile - Trades Union Research Officer
- Trades Union Congress includes list of members
Political party agents
Political party agents organise and support a party at constituency level and also promote the party and its representatives. The largest parties occasionally recruit graduates as trainee party organisers/agents.
- Job profile of a political party agent from the TARGET Jobs website
- Job profile of a political party agent from the Planit website
- A career as a political part agent from UK Net Guide
Public Affairs Consultant
Public affairs is a specialised area of public relations that helps an organization (of any kind, including businesses, charities and public bodies) interact with the government, legislators, interest groups, and the media. Public affairs consultants use their understanding of the political system to offer political and public policy advice. Some consultants specialise in either lobbying or research. Their clients may include private sector companies, trade associations, charities, not-for-profit organisations and overseas governments.
Some public affairs consultants work in consultancies that specialise in this area: other in the public affairs divisions of generalist public relations agencies
- Job profile of a public affairs consultant from the Prospects website
- Job profile of a public affairs consultant (lobbyist) from the TARGET Jobs website
- Job profile of a public affairs consultant (research) from the TARGET Jobs website
- W4mp guide to lobbying
Civil Service Fast Stream
The Fast Stream is a development programme designed to prepare graduates for careers at the highest levels of the Civil Service. Fast Stream graduates work in central Government departments, the Diplomatic Service, the Government Communications Service and in specialist areas including HR, Finance and Project Delivery. The programme offers experience in policy, operational, commercial and financial areas, rotating between different Government departments and with opportunities for external secondments.
Impartiality is a cornerstone of the Civil Service and civil servants are required to be politically neutral in carrying out their duties. Their job is to enact the wishes of the Government in a way that works for the public in the best way possible, regardless of their own political views or their opinion of the policies. More senior civil servants cannot be a member of a political party. If you are highly active in politics, you should consider whether the Civil Service is really the right career option for you.
80,000 hours guide to think tank research
Most think tanks are small and vacancies are often filled by experienced researchers or contract staff. Some candidates with masters degrees will be considered. Doing intenships can be a good way to build experience and contacts.
- A list of think tanks in the UK
- Sourcewatch- list of think tanks in UK, US and Australia
- A world directory of think tanks
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a think tank as "a research institute or other organisation providing advice and ideas on national or commercial problems". A more contemporary definition is “a group which performs research and develops reports and recommendations on topics relating to strategic planning or public policy, and which is usually funded by corporations, interest groups, or government” (http://en.wiktionary.org)
- Guardian forum on working in think-tanks (October 2010)
List of think-tanks
Please note that the descriptions in the following listing are taken from the think-tanks’ websites and do not reflect the opinion of the Careers and Employability Service at the University of Kent.
- Adam Smith Institute ASI is the UK's leading innovator of practical market-economic policies.
- Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion The Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) is an ESRC Research Centre, core-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council since October 1997.
- Centre for European Reform The Centre for European Reform is a think-tank devoted to improving the quality of the debate on the future of the European Union.
- Centre for Policy Studies The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) is an independent think-tank which develops and publishes public policy proposals and arranges seminars and lectures on topical policy issues, as part of its mission to influence policy around the world.
- Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation The CSFI is an independent think-tank based in London. It was formed in early 1993 to stimulate research into the future of the financial services industry.
- David Hume Institute The David Hume Institute promotes research, analysis and debate on public policy issues. Its work is primarily focused in areas linking economics and law, with a particular interest in the interaction between institutional or legal frameworks and market forces.
- DEMOS Demos is a forum for new ideas which can improve the quality of our lives. As an independent think-tank, the aim of DEMOS is to create an open resource of knowledge and learning that operates beyond traditional parties, identities and disciplines.
- European Policy Centre The European Policy Centre (EPC) is an independent, not-for-profit think-tank, committed to making European integration work. It provides information and analysis on the EU policy agenda. EPC aims to promote a balanced dialogue between the different constituencies of its membership, spanning all aspects of economic and social life.
- The Fabian Society The Fabian Society aims to explore the political ideas and the policy reforms which will define progressive politics in the future.
- The Federal Trust The Federal Trust is a think-tank that studies the interactions between regional, national, European and global levels of government.
- Foreign Policy Centre The Foreign Policy Centre is a think-tank which aims to broaden perceptions of what foreign policy is, encourage public debate about our foreign policy goals and find new ways to get people involved.
- Institute of Economic Affairs The IEA seeks to explain free-market ideas to the public, including politicians, students, journalists, businessmen, academics and anyone interested in public policy.
- Institute for Fiscal Studies The Institute for Fiscal Studies is a research institute which exists to provide economic analysis independent of government, political party or any other vested interest.
- International Institute for Environment and Development IIED is an independent, non-profit organization promoting sustainable patterns of world development through collaborative research, policy studies, networking and knowledge dissemination.
- International Institute of Strategic Studies The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict.
- Institute for Public Policy Research IPPR is an independent think-tank on the centre left.
- Joseph Rowntree Foundation The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK.
- The Kings Fund The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation whose goal is to improve health, especially in London.
- NatCen Social Research the largest independent social research institute in Britain.
- National Institute of Economic and Social Research The Institute's objective is to promote, through quantitative research, a deeper understanding of the interaction of economic and social forces that affect people's lives so that they may be improved.
- New Economics Foundation NEF is an independent think-tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. It aims to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues.
- New Local Government Network The New Local Government Network (NLGN) was founded in 1996 by a small group of senior local government figures whose stated aim was to make local government more relevant and credible to local people.
- New Policy Institute The New Policy Institute is a progressive think-tank, founded in 1996. The aim of the NPI is to advance social justice in a market economy.
- Policy Exchange Policy Exchange is an independent think-tank whose mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas which will foster a free society based on strong communities, personal freedom, limited government, national self-confidence and an enterprise culture.
- Science and Technology Policy Research SPRU is one of the world leaders in policy research on science, technology and innovation and its wider economic, social and environmental implications.
- The Smith Institute The Smith Institute is an independent think-tank, which has been set up to undertake research and education in issues that flow from the changing relationship between social values and economic imperatives.
- Social Market Foundation The SMF was established in 1989 to provide a source of innovative economic and social policy ideas.
For information regarding more research organisations take a look at the Association for Qualitative Research’s listings
National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA) produces a World Directory of Think Tanks
Jobs can be found with banks and financial institutions, insurance firms, consultancy firms and international organizations. Networking, experience, analytical and research skills will all be important in this sector.
- What is political risk? The Economist
- Society for Risk Analysis
- Advice from Lawson Chase
The European institutions employ around 50,000 staff (about 10% of the size of the British Civil Service). About 80% of these are based in Brussels or Luxembourg – many of the others are based in EU offices in member states and delegations in non-EU countries.
For all vacancies except traineeships it is normally necessary to be a citizen of an EU member state. Candidates for all vacancies must be competent at least two EU languages (A-level equivalent or above) although English and French are the two main working languages of the institutions. Full details of language requirements.
The best way for recent graduates to get experience in an EU institution is through a traineeship (still often referred to by the French term, stage – pronounced to rhyme with “barge”).
Trainees (or stagiaires) are recruited twice-annually for paid or unpaid work experience placements lasting around five or six months.
Institutions, including the Commission, Parliament, Court of Justice etc, recruit directly for these posts.
Traineeships begin in October and March each year and the closing date is approximately six months before the start date. Applicants must have been awarded a degree and submit their degree certificate with their application, so final-year undergraduates are not eligible to apply.
Most traineeships are paid, offering approx. €1000 a month plus travel reimbursement.
Opportunities for linguists
Although all EU staff need at least two EU languages, there are also specialist vacancies for linguists:
Other useful information on recruitment into the EU institutions
- European Personnel Selection Office has a comprehensive website explaining the various routes into the EU and carrying details of forthcoming recruitment competitions and deadlines.
- EU Careers on Facebook
- European Civil Service website
- Europa website – the main site for information on all EU matters
- EU Jargon buster a handy guide to the key terminology and abbreviations used by EU Careers
- Watch a video about EU Careers
- EU Careers on Twitter
- EU Careers on LinkedIn
The following organisations have advertised internships for recent graduates in the past: please check their websites for current information before contacting them. Many other NGOs will recruit interns or volunteers, regularly or occasionally, so use the “Useful Links“ below to find out more
Competitions for jobs in the European institutions themselves are usually advertised directly by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). However, there are also many opportunities on the "Euro-fringe" - working in organisations, both public and private sector, who have a presence in Brussels to monitor EU activities and to have an input into the decision-making process. These include NGOs, local government, law firms, lobbying organisations, consultancies, charities, industrial and commercial organisations and many more. The following sites carry details of internships and job vacancies in these organisations.
EuroBrussels Jobs in NGOs, charities. political organisations and the press
EU guide to getting a job in the EU
PubAffairs guide to finding a job in Brussels
- Brussels Jobs focuses on non-political expert jobs in the international environment in Brussels . Lists IT jobs, business jobs, office/secretarial jobs, finance jobs, and other specialist jobs in Brussels , for the expat professional.
- EurActiv: includes the European Commission, International Agencies, NGOs, Consultancies, Industry federations, and Think Tanks.
Public affairs consultancies
- List of public affairs consultancies
- Brevia Consulting
- Connect Communications - Has a graduate programme
- Hanover - Paid internships
- ICG - Also has a graduate programme
- Lexington Communications
- Newington Communications - Public and corporate affairs, has a graduate scheme.
- Portland Communications - Paid internships
- The Whitehouse Consultancy – paid internship programme
- Government Communication Service Responsible for public and media relations, linking communications staff in all Government departments. Recruits graduates through the Fast Stream
Find out more
- Foreign Affairs Ministries on the Web
- List of British embassies and High Commissions worldwide
- Diplomat Magazine: foreign affairs magazine for the diplomatic community in London
- The Social Research Association includes many useful links to public and private sector research organisations, also careers advice and resource
- LARIA – Local Authorities Research and Intelligence Association
- NatCen Social Research independent social research centre
- Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity that funds a large, UK-wide research and development programme
- Economic and Social Research Council
supports the training and development of researchers in the social sciences at all stages of their career
- Prospects Occupational Profile on Social Research
- What can I do with my degree in Politics and International Relations?
- Richard Kimber’s Political Science Resources Links to political parties, local councils, the Houses of Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and their members and think-tanks
- Working for a MP Resource for anyone working for a British Member of Parliament or with an interest in how Parliament works
- Politics Home “all today’s politics in one place”
- Political Studies Association
- Institute for Government
- Getting into Parliament and Public Affairs: report from a panel event at Leeds University