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In Search of…Public Policy Internships

June 2, 2014 09:00 AM

An internship in the public policy field is the best way to bridge the gap between your education and landing a great job. A great position can help you develop your policy experience through learning the career ropes from veteran professionals. By the time you finish your internship, you’ve gained relevant knowledge to help you decide if a public policy career is the right track for you, or even further define what policy field is the best fit.

Public policy internships are critically important to students in public policy programs. The primary purpose, of course, is to provide students with real work in the policy field. Additionally, interns get realistic, on-site experience in their chosen area of study while adding academic credit. It’s important that public policy students prepare themselves by applying for internships, no matter if they’re angling for a career in nonprofit, public administration, criminal justice, public policy, political science, healthcare, or government-related businesses.

Any kind of exposure to a professional setting is beneficial for students, as employers tend to take student applicants more seriously when it comes to job placement. Additionally, internships help students decide whether a certain field is the right fit and provides opportunities for personal growth.

A truly educational internship offers hands-on experience in the work of a particular profession. You not only perform invaluable support to an agency or organization, but you are learning skills to apply to your future career and your course work. Look beyond a prestigious name; find out what you would be doing on a daily basis. Will you be photocopying and opening letters, or will you be engaged in substantive work? Will you make new contacts for the future, or will you shuffle papers in an office? The best jobs with the best experiences may not include the best – or any – pay. An internship without monetary compensation may offer training and networking that will enhance your job prospects for the future. On the other hand, a well-paid internship may end up as a glorified secretarial position. Be aware of present as well as future benefits.

Finding an excellent internship requires focus and organization. Endless possibilities exist. The first step should be with your academic institution. The career placement office has access to internships through its career databases and alumni networks. Secondly, speak with you professors about finding a mentor and develop informal, regular communication with people who have shared interests. You can also search through the database at PublicServiceCareers for available openings.

Many organizations view interns as potential employees, using internships as a “try out” for permanent employment. This is especially true in the private sector and at some federal agencies. Agencies hire interns both during the school year, for part-time work, and full-time over the summer. Most Federal internships are paid and are now part of a government-wide program. The Pathways Program at USAJobs offers clear paths to Federal internships for students from high school through post-graduate school and to careers for recent graduates. The program provides meaningful training and career development opportunities for individuals who are at the beginning of their Federal service.

The Internet is an excellent search vehicle since information changes rapidly. There is no all-inclusive list of internships, but many searchable internship databases do exist. If you are interested in specific organizations, visit the organization’s web pages and search its site for available internships.

 

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