How to: 5 Tips to Find a Policy Job

I’ve been meeting recently with a number of recent graduates (mainly MPA/MPPs) and I’ve found most of them want “policy jobs.” It’s kind of an interesting situation – these MPA/MPP graduate programs prep them for policy work but honestly there’s not a ton of policy jobs. Most federal openings aren’t about setting policy but about delivering on programs or support functions (HR, grants, technology, etc)

Yet there are some policy jobs so here are my 5 tips to find a Federal Policy Analyst Position:

1) Titles – There is no official policy analyst title/job series. So this makes it a little harder – it’s often a program analyst position but in a recent search I’ve found jobs in this space range from procurement analyst and auditor (the policy parts of those offices). People have often asked me what the official job series is – sorry there isn’t one.

2) Find the Office of Policy – The key is to find the “Office of Policy” -most agencies and components have an Office of Policy. It’s usually a small 10-50 person shop. So search for keyword “Office of Policy” – here’s the link on with search “Office of Policy”

3) Types of Policy – In government, there’s a lot of types of policy. In grad school, you may have focused on just the super high-level policy on trade tariffs. But most government policy is done internally focused – what is an agency’s telework policy? Or tuition reimbursement policy? Or IT security policy ? It’s still policy and there’s way more jobs in this type of policy. Check out an IT policy example

4) Find the Office of Secretary – In addition to the “Office of Policy’, most of the high-level agency policy work is done in the Office of the Secretary of each agency (or Office of the Assistant Secretary). Most department’s secretary (or assistant secretary at a sub-component) have a team of 50-100 FTE that work on the secretary’s priorities. Check out a DOD example – here’s the search link from that includes “Office of Policy”, “Office the Secretary” and more

5) Mid-Level vs Entry-Level – And finally don’t get upset if you can’t get a policy job right out of graduate school. Honestly, most policy jobs are mid to high levels as you are shaping the policy of the agency. Try to get a job in an agency you like, prove yourself in a program or support office (IT, HR) and you’ll have a much better shop moving into policy from inside.

Got questions? Got suggestions based on your experience? Leave ’em below

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Samuel F Doucette

That’s all good advice. As a non-MPA/MPP person (but who does have an MBA), my observation is that a certain sense of entitlement can creep into someone who is pursuing advanced degrees. This thinking says, “I invested X yrs and $XXXK into this degree. I better get a great job out of school! Anything less than Perfect Job Y is a step down.”

What I would advise is, take the support/lower-level policy job, get to know the ropes, and then move into the desired high-paying/high visibility policy job. A strategic “step sideways or down” is a better approach than holding out for the perfect job right out of grad school, especially in today’s economy.