Careers Service Occupations

Government, Politics & Social Research

Government, Politics and Social Research

About

Graduates can find roles in everything from central and local government to intelligence and security agencies and political parties.

Sector careers advice

See below for further sector careers information

Roles & Skills

Government, politics and social research roles exist within a wide variety of organisations. These include the Civil Service, local government, intelligence and security services (MI5/6/GCHQ), and EU institutions

The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties and entry requirements.

Gaining Experience

Networking is crucial to gaining experience in this sector, particularly for public affairs and party political roles.

Networking is not about requesting a job, but is asking for advice and information. Developing relationships and letting people know what you can do can help you find relevant opportunities and learn more about a particular sector and new developments in that field.

Use any networks you already have. Friends and family, university lecturers, contacts from part-time jobs, work experience, voluntary work or student societies can be useful. Are they doing or have they done jobs which interest you? Can they put you in touch with someone who can help?

You could also meet key contacts by attending public debates, political seminars, such as Newcastle’s Cafe Culture, and party conferences. 

Other sources of useful contacts

Find out more about networking to gain experience, including how to make connections and effectively use social media, see Making Contacts.

More information on gaining experience in the following:

Central government, local government, and trade unions

Advertised internships and placements

Direct work experience opportunities can be limited in this sector due to sensitivity of information (e.g. Civil Service, intelligence and security services) but you can still work towards developing the key skills needed for many of these roles through a part-time job, volunteering or involvement in extra-curricular activities

Some of the few formal work experience placements offered in this sector include:

Other ways to gain experience

General office-based experience will be helpful for the majority of roles in this sector, but try to seek out opportunities that match your chosen area as closely as possible. See our Part-time Jobs section for vacancies

Gov UK - Get involved - lists diverse ways to engage with government directly, and take part locally, nationally or internationally. These include:

For trade union work you could gain valuable experience by becoming active in the students’ union or volunteering for a campaigning group.  

Political parties

Advertised internships and placements

  • w4mp Jobs - includes internships
  • Parliament UK: Sandwich Student Placements - opportunity for undergraduate students to work within the House of Commons, offering a unique insight into governance and the running of Parliament in general. Students must be enrolled on a four year degree which allows you to complete a Sandwich placement on your third year of study
  • Operation Black Vote (OBV): MP Shadowing Scheme - the programme’s aim is to address the deficit of BME individuals in all areas and levels of political life.
  • Speaker's Parliamentary Placements Scheme – a 9 month paid placement for people who have the skills, passion and potential to work in Parliament but don’t have access to the traditional routes in. There are 13 positions available with MPs from different political parties; three of these spaces are allocated for participants with disabilities

Other ways to gain experience

Most MP’s will have held successful careers in commercial, public and voluntary sectors before becoming elected representatives but the following can help you gain some relevant experience in the field.

  • Join and be active in your political party. Parties want to hire staff who are sympathetic to their aims and values. Being active within a party will allow you to gain valuable work experience, better understand the culture and make contacts. You’re also more likely to hear about potential job opportunities when they arise.
  • Volunteer for local party campaigning work. You’ll probably not be paid but you’ll get the opportunity to understand the party, make contacts and get a better idea of the job roles available and what they involve. Speculative approaches to MPs are unlikely to be successful unless you are already a party member, have shared connections and have volunteered on campaigns before.  
  • Make tailored applications. Telephone in advance to find out who is responsible for recruitment. Follow up a speculative application with a phone call a few days afterwards to show you are serious and motivated.  Be flexible – you might not get a 3 month internship, but even a week delivering leaflets might still offer valuable experience and opportunities to make contacts.
  • Do campaign work for other local organisations such as charities and voluntary organisations.  Working for an organisation lobbying government and Parliament can give you a good understanding of how politics works
  • Become active in your student union and run for committee in a student society
  • Blogging can demonstrate your interests.

For networking and speculative approaches - Parliament UK – lists all political Parties in Parliament

MEPs

The European Parliament is made up of 751 Members elected in the 28 Member States of the enlarged European Union. 

MEPs offices often taken on new interns at the start of the Parliamentary year in September and are normally open to receiving speculative applications.  Demonstrating an interest in the work of the MEP, their political motivation or the region they represent is essential.

You can find a link to a full list of MEPs at European Parliament

Advertised internships and placements

European Commission Traineeships –  paid traineeships, with hands-on experience of EU policy making in a multicultural environment.

Social research and policy work 

Advertised internships and placements

Several organisations advertise social research and policy internships, including:

Finding organisations

Many internships or placements are not advertised publicly – research organisations and consultancies you’d like to work for and target your covering letter and CV accordingly. Do this early, as it can be very competitive.

Use the following resources and those listed on the previous sections of this page  to find opportunities and research employers:

Other ways to gain experience

Market research can be a useful way of finding work experience and a number of market research consultancies in the private sector conduct social research for clients such as government agencies, consumer goods producers and retailers, and media agencies.

Involvement in charities and voluntary organisations, campaigning groups or student societies or working in an administrative role can be another useful way to develop relevant skills and demonstrate to potential employers that you are committed and determined.

See our other Sector-specific pages for information on gaining experience in related sectors.

Lobbying, campaigning and public affairs

Advertised internships and placements 

Finding organisations 

Many placements or internships are not advertised publicly – research organisations and consultancies you’d like to work for and target your covering letter and CV accordingly. Do this early, as it can be very competitive.

Use the following resources to find opportunities and research employers:

Other ways to gain experience

  • voluntary work or internship working in an MP/MSP/MEP office. Getting experience with your local MP, for example helping out at weekends, can give you an advantage when looking for jobs. Working as a parliamentary researcher can also be a useful route in.
  • involvement with a political party, e.g. supporting a local candidate or working in their national communication teams or experience in a trade union, think tank or public sector body
  • campaigning work for a charity or pressure group
  • placement within a European institution (‘stage’)
  • If you can’t find work experience within politics or public affairs you could look for opportunities in a related field, such as public relations or media, which would give you an insight into communications work.

See Internships, Placements & Shadowing for more opportunities.

Postgraduate study

There is no single route to employment in the sector. A combination of work experience with Masters level education is becoming increasingly essential.

Most graduates entering this field will need a first degree or postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject area, such as politics, social policy or policy studies.

It is possible to move into a career in social research immediately after obtaining a degree in a relevant discipline, particularly if your course includes social research methods and statistics. Some employers will expect entrants to have a more advanced knowledge of research techniques. For example, in the Civil Service, many people applying for research posts have Masters Degrees or PhDs in social science subjects, making competition for posts intense.

As well as formal educational qualifications, attending short courses can be an effective introduction to new methods or techniques. See Finding courses.

Before deciding to do a postgraduate qualification, do your research. Examine vacancies in the area you want to specialise and look at what qualifications and experience employers want.

Most vacancies in this sector need relevant experience. You might want to consider whether it is more beneficial for you to gain experience before or after further study - see gaining experience. 

For further information on postgraduate study and funding, see our Further Study web pages.

If you're trying to decide if postgraduate study is right for you, it might help to chat with a careers adviser. No appointment is needed.

 

Finding Jobs

Competition is strong, especially for entry-level positions. Those who can be flexible about where they work (both in terms of location and department/organisation) will have more opportunities.

 Making contacts, or ‘networking’, is crucial to finding jobs in this sector, particularly for public affairs and party political roles (see gaining experience for more information on networking).

Use these resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.

General

Central government, local government and trade unions

Advertised vacancies

Civil Service
Intelligence and security agencies
Local government
European institutions
Trade unions

Political parties

Advertised vacancies

  • w4mp  - jobs site
  • UK Parliament - Houses of Parliament official site, includes vacancies
  • Political Jobs - global vacancies - subscription required to access some vacancies
  • DODS group - specialist recruitment for politics and public affairs
Political party websites also list vacancies, including:
Party political organisations

Speculative approaches may be accepted but you are likely to need previous experience in the field. See gaining experience.

Social research and policy work

The main areas of employment for social researchers and policy workers are in central and local government, including non-ministerial departments such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), think tanks, independent research institutes, academia, market research companies and trade unions. Competition is strong, especially for entry level positions.

Advertised vacancies

The following organisations offer graduate level vacancies and occasionally advertise internships:

Vacancy sites

Finding organisations

It’s worth making speculative applications. Vacancies can be advertised on social media, so it’s worth following organisations you’re interested in on LinkedIn and Twitter. Find out more about how to use social media for your career.

Use the following resources to find vacancies and research employers:

Lobbying, campaigning and public affairs 

Advertised vacancies

Some larger public affairs consultancies offer graduate entry roles. Examples include:

 You may also find public or government affairs graduate roles in large corporations and charities, such as:

Vacancy sites

Recruitment agencies

Specialist recruitment agencies advertise public affairs vacancies on their websites, although these are sometimes more for graduates with at least 2-3 years public affairs experience.  

Finding organisations

It’s worth making speculative applications to consultancies. Vacancies can be advertised on social media, so it’s worth following organisations you’re interested in on LinkedIn and Twitter. Find out more about how to use social media for your career.

Use the following resources to find vacancies and research employers:

See Graduate jobs for more vacancy sources.

Find jobs and additional vacancy source websites outside of the UK on GoinGlobal.

Applying to Fast Stream

Civil Service Fast Stream is a popular choice for students and graduates and is very competitive. Read on for tips and advice on the application process.

Overview

  • Fast Stream is an accelerated career path to leadership, with supported development, within the Civil Service
  • There are a wide range of roles and opportunities within services such as Finance, Diplomacy, Health, Science and Technology
  • Fast Stream is usually 3 or 4 year scheme (with a few exceptions)
  • the mission of the Civil Service is to keep the UK prosperous and secure, supporting the government in implementing their commitments and delivering high quality services for the public
  • core Civil Service values are – 'integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity'

The Civil Service YouTube Channel has a range of videos with more information.

There are 15 streams with a breadth of roles - these are: 

You can select up to four schemes that you’re eligible for. Specify your preferences in the order you want them to be considered. You will not be able to change your preference order later so choose carefully!

You are able to withdraw from a scheme selection before you are invited to the Fast Stream Assessment Centre. Once you have been invited to the Assessment Centre you are unable to withdraw from any scheme. 

The Civil Service also introduced a Fast Track Apprenticeship but this is currently under review

Fast Stream facts

  • You don't always have to be based in London. Many civil servants, including some in senior positions, work outside the South East. The majority of Fast Streamers are currently based in London, but opportunities are available in different parts of the UK. Flexibility and mobility is preferred but you can express a location preference when being assigned postings. Most Fast Streamers will need to relocate at least once during the course of the scheme.  
  • You don't need a 2:1 or a first to apply. Many streams accept a 2:2 degree
  • Applications are welcome from any university and many streams don’t ask for a specific degree 
  • There is no upper age limit to apply
  • Most streams have a £28,000 starting salary
  • You don't need a politics background

You can find out more about Fast Stream in the Fast Stream annual report (PDF: 1.56 MB) and on the Civil Service Fast Stream Blog.

Application process

The Fast Stream application process consists of the following: 

  • online application form
  • online questionnaires
  • online e-tray exercise
  • video interview
  • assessment centre
  • final selection board

You are assessed at each stage on the Civil Service competencies (PDF: 738 KB) apart from on the application form, which only asks for your basic details. 

Apart from in the online application form (see above) you are assessed at each stage of the process on the Civil Service competencies. 

Fast Stream describe competencies as the key behaviours and skills needed to be an effective civil servant; to work well as part of a team and be a strong leader.

There are 10 Civil Service Competencies under the broad themes of 'Setting Direction', 'Engaging People' and 'Delivering Results':

  • Seeing the bigger picture
  • Making effective decisions
  • Changing and improving
  • Leading and communicating
  • Building capability for all
  • Collaborating and partnering
  • Achieving commercial outcomes
  • Managing a quality service
  • Delivering value for money
  • Delivering at pace

See below for tips for each step of the application process and information on the diversity programme. 

Fast Stream Frequently Asked Questions provides more advice on the application process.