Ask a group of kindergartners how many of them want to be President one day and there’s a good chance more than one will say yes. But by the time most young people graduate from high school, there’s much less interest in working for the government. Only a few students might want to pursue a career in government or politics.
If you have an interest in political science or public administration, then a career in the government could be ideal. However, the prospect of actually getting one of these jobs can be daunting. What qualifications are needed? What kind of educational background is required?
Young people who want to make an impact on their community should know that getting into a government career path can be a great place to start in making a difference. Here’s what you’ll need for a career in government or politics.
Types of Government Jobs
Before we get down to what you need to start a career in government, it’s important to understand the kinds of jobs that are available. Some options include.
- Politician (typically starting at the local level).
- Law enforcement (police officer, national security, FBI agent).
- International relations.
You have so many options if you want to work for the government. Realize that even teachers and firefighters typically work for the government, so if you decide you want a career working for a government agency, you’ll need to narrow down your options a lot before you start getting a degree or working on other qualifications.
Undergraduate Degree in Public Administration, Public Affairs, Business, or Law
The first step in breaking into government work is to get a relevant 4-year degree. Most people who end up working for local, state, and federal governments get a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, Public Affairs, Business, or Law.
You might notice that many politicians have law degrees. This isn’t an accident! Lawyers are trained to read through dense, difficult documents and have the attention to detail and other skills needed to become lawmakers.
Other degrees may be more helpful if you’re interested in non-political government jobs. A business degree, for instance, might serve you well in creating budgets or running a government agency.
Public Administration and Public Affairs will teach you how to work with the general public and ensure that the government is serving the people.
If you’re interested in data and high-level crime, then becoming a criminologist and working for a government agency could be a great fit. Some criminologists create criminal profiles based on research and trends to assist in catching criminals.
Others might work with data to discover crime trends that will inform public policy. A criminology degree is quite different from a criminal justice degree.
For some government careers, you will need an advanced degree. Take some time to identify career paths that interest you the most, and work backward. Choose a degree that you’re interested in but also one that will help you break into the career path of your choice.
An Internship in Your Area of Interest
One of the best ways to get experience and set yourself up for a career in government is to get an internship. There are thousands of internships across the country in fields like public policy, government affairs, finance, research, and more.
Summer is the best time to get an internship, as that’s when students tend to have more time to focus on learning and gaining experience.
Determination and Networking
In addition to getting the right degree for your preferred career path, you’ll need some “soft” skills. Getting into government work requires a lot of patience and determination. There’s a lot of “red tape” involved, and many roles have lots of competition.
To stand out from the crowd, you need to do your best to get experience as soon as you can. Volunteering can help you gain experience while also providing networking opportunities. Networking can be a crucial component in getting your first government job so you can work your way up the ladder.
Think about it: if you have twenty resumes in front of you, and two people have connections who can vouch for their trustworthiness and work ethic, what happens? Those people tend to rise to the top of the pile.
Networking can seem daunting, especially for introverts. But it is a skill you can develop, and it doesn’t have to feel weird. More people than you realize have connections and you just need a bit of practice to start talking about your career goals with friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
A Healthy Dose of “Grit”
Getting a government job takes time and a healthy dose of grit. You need to be willing to apply to roles you’re qualified for and be prepared for the process to take 6-18 months. After all that, you may not get the job. That’s where grit comes in.
If you’re civic-minded and interested in working for the government, all that effort can be extremely worthwhile. You’ll get great benefits and contribute to your community and your country. Just keep in mind that getting into a job might test your patience and be prepared!