So you’re able, you’ve got a list of experience as long as a freight train and a genuine interest in the sector. But you know that getting in is not going to be easy. Speakers at the recent ‘Getting into Government and Politics’ sector event run by Student Careers and Skills at the University of Warwick mentioned some common pitfalls – so by reading this blog, you’ll be more likely to avoid them and to improve your chances of getting in.
- You give up at the first disappointment
- You don’t really know how you fit in
- You have insufficient experience, or can’t explain why your experience is relevant
- Your cover letter sounds like a robot wrote it
Finding out that you’re not considered good enough for something is, for most of us, pretty horrible. But the big graduate schemes in this area, such as the Civil Service Fast Stream or National Graduate Development Programme for Local Government, keep no record of failed applications. In fact they are typically very positive about people who have done other things between graduation and applying (again). So don’t give up if you fail the first time – you’ll have more experience the next time and your next application could well be stronger. Many smaller organisations have more students interested in internships or entry level positions than the number of positions, so being sanguine about organisations saying ‘no’ (or not responding at all) will help you to keep going until you get a ‘yes’ (or even a hopeful-sounding ‘maybe’).
You don’t really know how you fit in
Are you a party animal, ready to toe the line of your chosen political party through thick and thin, willing to take responsibility for making the decisions, and prepared to work extremely hard to get noticed or even elected? Or are you more interested in being involved dispassionately in the political process, and prepared to work hard to make government policy work even if you aren’t always entirely personally convinced it’s a good idea? Or do you want to be involved in the political process because you have a burning desire to have a positive impact on a specific issue such as gender equality, human rights, environmental protection or social justice?
If you know which of these questions you can provide the most convincing answer for (or most want to give a convincing answer to in the future) then you will be developing relevant experience. You will be more likely to be able to promote your experience in a way that makes sense to the organisation you are hoping to work for
You have insufficient experience, or can’t explain why your experience is relevant
You’re unlikely to get paid work in a political party if no-one has ever seen you doing the unglamorous jobs like knocking on doors at election time, or be considered by a think tank or pressure group if they can see no evidence of previous involvement with the topics or issues on which they focus.
Staff profiles on organisation websites and biographies on Linked In can help to identify what sort of skills and experience would help you to get in. Some of the larger graduate schemes don’t mind about the context in which you developed the skills they need. But they are very clear about which skills or competencies they are looking for, and their expectation to see specific examples of where you have used them.
So if you know what skills your favoured employers need, you can either be confident in examples from your previous experience, or think about ways to develop what they are looking for.
Your cover letter sounds like a robot wrote it
Of course relevant experience is vital. Of course a strong academic record will help enormously. If you can also find a way during the application process to convey genuine enthusiasm and give a real flavour of your personality, you are more likely to attract an employer’s interest.
So. Know how you fit in, be tenacious and persistent. Develop your experience and understand what is important about it and let something of your personality shine through in your applications. And good luck!