Careers in… Policy, Government and Public Affairs

Wednesday 22 February, 6pm – Exhibition Centre, University of York

We are actually covering a very wide cross-section of career options with this event which I have summarised neatly into three distinct areas giving you an overview of the breadth of exciting career opportunities they offer. 

Careers in Policy

Often when we think of Policy roles we think of the Civil Service and Whitehall and whilst this is the fulcrum of the profession, policy workers can be found in most industries across the public, private and charitable sectors. 

Policy Workers research, design and develop proposals which organisations then use to inform the course of action they take.  They tend to develop specialisms over time, for example education policy or house-building policy. In the private sector, you might be guiding a business to adapt their product or service to national government policy or you could be working for a charity and writing and developing policy which is then used to lobby the government for change. It’s a fascinating and broad career option that places you at the heart of decisions that help and affect the lives of people across most sectors of society and business. 

The skills you will need are broad and include strong research skills, writing skills and using data. You will also need to be persuasive and a good communicator, creative with your ideas with a keen interest in the world around you.

If you like the sound of this as a career option then check out The Civil Service Fast Stream, The NGDP or the NHS Management Graduate Scheme as all three graduate schemes have some form of policy route. These schemes are open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students; however it is advisable to check your eligibility before applying. 

During the recruitment process it is important to recognise and articulate the skills you have developed through your degree such as research skills or critical analysis. Simultaneously developing yourself through other experiences such as part time work or volunteering will help you stand out in what is a competitive process. A placement year as part of your undergraduate degree would also be of real benefit. Again think outside of the box – a placement year in private industry will then help you make the jump onto the Fast Stream after you graduate. 

Careers in Government

Careers in Government can be broadly broken down into working for the Civil Service or working in and around the political party space. The breadth of work Civil Servants do is quite mind-boggling and covers most disciplines, they even employ a team of beekeepers! This means there is generally something for everyone and it is not all about working in London either, with most major cities in the UK now having some sort of function based there – and in recent times teams from the new Darlington Campus have advertised a number of opportunities specifically to York students. 

If you are interested in this area you probably already know about the Fast Stream which is one of the most popular graduate schemes going, in 2021 alone it attracted nearly 60,000 applications. There are 15 routes available through the scheme which generally opens in the autumn.These days the Civil Service are outwardly trying to broaden their diversity of recruitment to ensure that the government work is as good as it can be and also representative of the nation as a whole.  My key tip is to get clued up on what you are being recruited against as a large number of applicants fail simply because they don’t spend enough time understanding what is being asked of them during the recruitment process. 

Beyond that don’t forget there are other ways in including many direct entry posts the Civil Service recruits to each year. It is also possible to secure one of these roles and then jump onto the Fast Stream at a later stage if that is a longer-term objective.  Plus working in local government is an option too and most roles in this area will be advertised on individual council websites. 

Political Parties and Think Thanks recruit separately and many will advertise graduate internships in the Spring on websites like  Being able to demonstrate a wide range of skills and in particular, a keen interest in politics is essential. Many will offer shorter-term work experience opportunities but very few offer placements and some of their internships are unpaid; however at York you could apply for a York Futures Scholarship to support you. 

Careers in Public Affairs

Public Affairs is a term used to describe the management of an organisation’s relationship with the outside world. These are individuals or groups with an interest in the organisation’s affairs and actions such as politicians, civil servants, customers and local communities, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, charities, unions and the media so it is a very broad spectrum! 

Some of this work will involve presenting the organisation’s work, views and perspectives to wider societal issues or responding when the organisation is in the media spotlight positively or negatively. Social Media has really advanced this aspect of the profession in the past decade and professionals in this space will need to be good wordsmiths with strong digital skills too. It can be a very fast-paced and dynamic field to work in. Demonstrating your creative side through blogs, vlogs or other digital/social media projects is a good thing to do. 

Lobbyists are also part of the public affairs space and their role is to lobby the government on the behalf of their clients or stakeholders’ perspectives to bring about policy or law change in the UK. This will be done formally through research and publications, and through relationship management. So strong persuasive skills and an ability to build strong relationships with people are really important. 

The public affairs sector has no set job titles, and can incorporate public affairs, policy, government affairs, government relations, parliamentary affairs, regulatory affairs, political advisor, political researcher, external affairs, external relations, International affairs, campaigns, advocacy, corporate communications…… name but a few!

The business space is occupied by a range of Public Affairs Agencies, Think Tanks and lobbying Organisations, some of which will be very closely connected with the government, are often based in London. However many professionals will work in the private sector within government relations or communications teams in organisations in a range of industries including banking, health care, insurance or automotive all over the UK.

If you like the sound of this profession then a work placement as part of your undergraduate degree is an excellent next step to getting ahead. There are a number of opportunities in public relations working on paid placements that will give you excellent insight into this career area. 

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Many of the links above are included in our pages on

together with more tips on how to prepare and where to look for jobs.

And if you have any questions, contact us!