I'm a former assistant to a Cabinet Minister and a Member of Parliament. I've also worked for provincial and federal conservative parties.
Before You Graduate
Graduating with a degree in political science does not guarantee a job in politics, let alone a career. There are many political science graduates across Canada, and there is plenty of competition for work.
Therefore, one of the most important things you can do for yourself before you complete your degree is to research, research, research! What kind of research? Here are some examples:
- What area of political science do you want to specialize in?
- Where do you see yourself working (geographically) after you graduate?
- What do you want to get out of a career; stability? Money? Benefits? Excitement? Travel?
- How do you plan on developing your career?
- What skills or experience do you need?
These are all fundamental questions you should ask yourself if you haven't already. The sooner you begin, the more likely you will be successful in having the career you want with your political science degree.
There are approximately six areas of employment you can enter with your political science degree:
- Public service sector
- Non-profit organizations
1. Work in the Public Service Sector
So you want to work for the government? The plus side to working in the public sector is good pay, a certain level of job stability, benefits, and a chance to move up the corporate ladder, depending on what department you work in. Did I mention benefits?
The downside? During these economic times, while recovery is still incomplete and everyone is watching where the money goes, the government cuts the public service sector in all areas and departments. More people are retiring, and there are no plans to fill their positions = fewer employment opportunities for you.
There are also more hurdles to jump through, even to make it to a job interview. Most bureaucratic positions in Ottawa state that you must be bilingual BBB imperative, and that's oral, reading and writing. There are also numerous tests you must pass in some cases (depending on the department and position), and years of experience are a must-have.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Chances of Being Hired?
Get some solid experience under your belt.
If you are a recent university graduate, you can apply for the ten-month paid internship program through Parliament, or if you are a Conservative Party member, you can apply for their summer internship program. You will be placed in an MP's or a Minister's office, allowing you to gain valuable knowledge and experience and interact with other public sector employees. The pay isn't spectacular, but the networking opportunities make up for it. Make the most of it.
- Learn to speak, read and write French. Many places here in Ottawa offer French language training specifically designed for public sector employment/employees.
- Find work in the private sector in a field related to your studies that will assist you in obtaining a job in the public sector.
- Volunteer your knowledge and experience with non-profit organizations in your field of study.
- Regularly check the federal/provincial public service employment websites for job listings you would be interested in applying for and see what specific qualifications you will require.
2. Become a Lobbyist
What's so great about becoming a lobbyist?
For starters, you can specialize in a particular area that interests you, such as medicine, business, foreign affairs, etc. If you love policy, there are plenty of policy analyst/advisor opportunities. Most lobbying positions put you in direct contact with many key players in the political sphere, especially politicians on Parliament Hill. Can you say network?
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Another bonus to working for a lobby group is that many offer junior research positions paid internships, and paid career development opportunities.
Most positions require a Bachelor's degree, a few years of experience (usually four to six on average), and appropriate work experience in industry, politics, or government.
3. Work as a Consultant
This is a challenging career path to embark on shortly after your political science degree. An effective consultant requires extensive experience in your related field to be taken seriously in the political world.
Finding short-term employment and contracts with governments, universities, and NGOs will be challenging, as there is plenty of competition, especially in Ottawa.
Suppose you still decide that this is the career you wish to develop. In that case, you will need to work on building an extensive network of contacts and learning a second language. It would be best to diversify your background by taking a second B.A. or M.A. in another discipline.
4. Work as a Teacher or Professor
This is the career path for those wishing to pursue a master's degree and follow up with a Ph.D.
One word that can describe the career outlook for someone interested in teaching: tight.
Why do I say that? The Canadian market for university teachers has been flat for over a decade, and the supply of tenured teaching positions is far less than the demand. Only the top five to ten percent should consider an academic career. You will likely need to take a limited term or sessional appointment before landing a tenure-track position.
What Can You Do to Develop a Career in This Area?
- What you study is equally important as where you study. A university with a solid reputation or a department with a good reputation will help you.
- Apply for every scholarship and award that you are eligible for. They help demonstrate your scholarly excellence.
- Remain focused on your dissertation research, and take only one assistantship and one sessional appointment for lecturing and course management skills. Keep outside commitments to a minimum and plan a publication strategy which should include a publication of your dissertation.
5. Work on Parliament Hill
You don't need a bachelor's degree to get a job working on Parliament Hill. However, these are mainly legislative assistant jobs. Suppose you want a position on the Hill with more seniority and authority. In that case, you will need a bachelor's degree, and you will require a political party membership to work in any MP's office.
Jobs in any MP office, whether in a cabinet or as a backbencher, are usually separate from the public service. Employment opportunities are rarely posted publicly. Instead, they are circulated via internal email. You won't know which MP is hiring and for what unless you have access to this email or know someone who can forward you any job openings.
Working in an MP's office is not considered a career, given the unstable nature of government. Unless there is a majority, there is no guarantee of job security at any time. Working on the Hill is a very valuable asset to anyone with a political science degree, concerning both the experience and networking opportunities available through that position. Such job experience may include; general office duties such as filing and answering phones to research work on specific issues and questions of interest to the MP. It may consist of constituency work, speech writing, communications, ten percenters, and householders.
Those who work directly in a Minister's office usually have a post-secondary degree and relative experience. These jobs are few and far between and often depend upon who you know. Many such positions deal more specifically with policy in the Minister's department, such as Aboriginal Affairs. So if you are interested in developing a background in policy and government, working in a Minister's office is a great advantage.
What Can You Do to Become Employed in This Area?
- Get a membership with the political party you identify with.
- Take advantage of any opportunities to network with people that work on the Hill and the politicians themselves. This can include constituency BBQs, town hall meetings, or more significant networking events such as conventions or conferences by various policy organizations.
- Look for publicly posted job opportunities to work in the office of a political party. Many staff members have gone on to work for MPs on the Hill.
- Applying for an internship program is another way to get your foot in the door.
- Volunteer your services to an MP office
Provincial and Municipal jobs
The same advice applies to work in legislatures or city halls. Jobs at city hall tend to be fewer and far between than on the Hill or at any provincial legislature.
The ethics commissioner's office has specific rules and regulations for people who work on the Hill and then wish to work for a lobby group. Most positions require a two-year cooling-off period before you can work for a lobby group. In some instances, if your job involved greater government access or if you were a Minister or MP, there is a five-year cooling-off period. Keep this in mind before you seek employment on the Hill, so you know what to do once you are no longer working to continue developing your career with your political science degree.
Reporting public office holders are reminded that specific lobbying restrictions are just one aspect of their ongoing obligations after they leave public office.
6. Work for a Non-Profit Organization/Charity
Having a career in the non-profit sector has its advantages and disadvantages.
Many of these organizations rely on funding from the government, so they often do not have a large operating budget to have a large staff; they rely primarily on volunteers. Most of these organizations also have a relatively flat management structure which means there will be very little room for advancement. People who are lucky enough to secure a better job in this sector tend to hold on to them for as long as possible, so vacancies rarely occur.
On the plus side, a large number of these organizations spread out across Canada, varying in type and focus, including all different areas of interest, from industry and development to world peace. Because these organizations deal with the government in one way, having a degree in political science will give you an advantage over other job seekers with degrees in sociology or economics.
Additional Suggestions to Help You Develop Your Career
- Take advantage of the career center of your university. It can help you identify areas of employment and career opportunities with your Bachelor's degree.
- Attend as many career fairs as you can while in university. Many are held right on campus.
- Take advantage of any opportunities to build up your existing network of contacts.
- Start a blog or website about issues or areas of interest to you. This will help your writing, computer, and Internet skills and give you some exposure.
- Writing is another way to bolster your resume and provide additional experience and exposure. Your university newspaper is a good place to start. Other avenues include student publications such as the Fraser Institute's Canadian Student Review.
- Volunteering is another way to gain valuable experience and network and get your foot in the door of places you wouldn't otherwise be able to.
- Consider furthering your education by taking your master's degree. You can also study for an additional diploma, such as the University of Guelph's Certificate in Public Policy and Administration which you can do entirely online. Further education can often give you an edge when competing for specific jobs.
- Research job listings you are interested in career-wise and see what they list as requirements. Make a list of the qualifications you need to have and work on developing them. They can be computer skills, language skills, or communication skills, to name a few.
- CPSA | ACSP
Listing of federal and provincial political internships
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Carolyn Dahl
Share your thoughts!
Carolyn Dahl (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 17, 2011:
Thank you jponiato, I think there needs to be more info out there for students so they can make solid decisions about their future!
Joe Poniatowskis from Mid-Michigan on June 17, 2011:
You've provided a lot of excellent information.