So you want to work in social policy?

At our ‘How to get into social policy and other policy roles’ event on 25 January 2022, professionals working in this area shared insight into what it’s like and gave practical advice on how to get there.

Below are their eight top tips – scroll to the end to access the recording and more.

1. It’s ok not to know what you want to do

Everyone knows what they want to do when they graduate, right?


And our speakers were no exception: one started out in engineering before moving to internet policy; another moved from accountancy into a research internship and then decided to stay in this area.

The resounding message: don’t panic if you haven’t got your career plans sorted by the time you graduate. Use your time now to explore possibilities and focus on developing your skills, interests and experience.


2. Be open-minded about your first graduate role

Even if your first job isn’t what you want to end up doing, getting your foot in the door is important. Once you are ‘in’ an organisation, there is a lot more scope for moving around.

Each job allows you to understand more about yourself and to develop  skills and experience – all helpful in figuring out what you want from your career.

3. Reflect on your desired impact

If you want to work in policy, you probably aspire to making a positive impact in your area of interest. By reflecting on your values and interests, you are more likely to find this meaning in your career. Use our self-reflection quizzes to get started.

The Bristol Futures online courses can open your mind to current issues and help you to develop a global, multidisciplinary perspective.


4. If you want to work for a think tank

There are various types of roles available:

  • Research – gathering data, analysing, running polls, writing up findings.
  • Events – a busy role which gives lots of varied experience.
  • Communications – potential for moving into journalism, lobbying, working for the parties.
  • Fundraising

Most think tanks recruit graduates through internships, which tend to be 3-6 months long and in London.

Find out more about working for a think tank and current vacancies on Smart Thinking.

5. THE skills that social policy employers want

  • Writing – crucial for a researcher. Get experience e.g. writing for Epigram or another publication, create your own blog.
  • Interest in politics and policy – keep up to date with current issues and develop an opinion – this shows real engagement and an individual way of thinking.
  • Data crunching / visualisation and Excel – increasingly important. Explore Coursera’s short courses in this area.
  • Political acuity – understanding who will be consuming your information and the market you’re working in.

6. Work experience in smaller organisations

This can expose you to more learning and skills development than in a larger organisation.

Applications to these organisations are often (not always) speculative, but you must research so your approach is persuasive. The University’s SME Internship Scheme offers funding for internships at organisations you have approached speculatively – so is a great way to get experience in smaller organisations. Find out more in our speculative applications guide.

Don’t forget that developing skills and interests through extra-curricular activities, such as being part of a student society, is also very valuable for your CV.


7. Advice for applications and interviews

Be clear on why you want to work for a particular organisation – i.e. know what they focus on, their core values and political allegiance.

At interview – show what you can do for the organisation, rather than what they can do for you. So instead of saying you want to work for them because it will be a great starting point for your career, focus on the skills and value you will bring to them.

Use our application and interview resources to give yourself the biggest chance of success.

8. Do I need a Master’s to work in public policy?

It depends on the area of public policy.

A master’s generally won’t be required for entry-level roles, but might be for more technical positions – e.g. data analysis for the IFS.

Research the entry requirements for roles and organisations you’re interested in. Experience and training gained within an organisation can often be more valuable than a postgrad qualification.

Find out more: