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Where to start  

The work is very wide-ranging and includes many organisations in the public and private sectors which are attempting to make an impact on public policy. The Civil Service itself is covered in the Public Sector A-Z page.

Public policy can be defined as: “The process by which governments translate their political vision into programmes and actions to deliver desired changes in the real world”. It can also be defined as: “What governments at all levels choose to do and choose not to do”.

Typically, organisations and individuals in this sector fall into one of the following categories:

  • MPs, MEPs or political parties
  • Public policy think tanks
  • Charities, interest groups and pressure groups
  • Public affairs consultancies
  • Consultancies in socio-economic/political/security risk

Find out more about careers in public policy.

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

You need to be actively engaged in policy topics, not just as an academic interest. Pick a topic or two and try to understand them over a long period of time, and from different angles.

You should be well organised with strong attention to detail, and comfortable with complexity and compromise. Get involved with public policy on a volunteer/casual basis and assess whether it's something you would enjoy as a full-time career. 

How to get the experience to be credible

Look for work experience in a wide variety of job functions, not just research and policy analysis. Be willing to help with whatever is needed - it could be volunteering, fundraising, or organising events.

Depending on the subject matter, experience on-the-ground can make you a more attractive and effective candidate for the very competitive policy jobs.

Learn to write for a variety of audiences in a concise and engaging manner.

Get involved with the things you care about while you’re a student. Don’t leave it all until the job search stage, since employers will need evidence of your commitment to the cause.

Further study or certification required

It is unusual to need a specific qualification beyond your study at Cambridge, although for some specialist areas a Master's degree can be valuable.

Additional courses on social media analytics or on qualitative or quantitative research methods may make you a stronger candidate. For political risk careers, additional languages may be required.

How to find employers or training courses

Follow the Twitter and Instagram accounts of the organisations you are interested in. Internship and permanent opportunities are usually advertised there rather than via jobs websites.

There are short courses that will help you understand field conditions and keep yourself safe in the field, where necessary. This will help you understand some of the challenges that can arise in field work and consider how you might prepare for, mitigate and respond to risks in order to deliver on your mission. Some examples are:


IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies)

Save the Children 

Tips for succeeding in the application or selection process

Be ready to give evidence of your active engagement with their topic or theme. Understand and be able to talk about the context in which the organisation operates (financial, legal/regulatory, social) and any constraints it faces.

Show commitment through your extra-curricular activities.

What Cambridge offers to help with this career
  • A wealth of student societies, including politically oriented ones.
  • The Cambridge Hub for placements, volunteering opportunities and events.
Other things you should know

Be proactive – not all organisations have large HR departments to advertise vacancies, so look for the people or teams which match your interests and skills. If you think you are a credible candidate and have the background they typically look for, a speculative application might work.

Use Alumni Careers Connect to see the career paths of Cambridge graduates into this field.

Get up to date with what’s happening in the think-tank world.

Public sector graduate schemes can provide a good foundation for policy work. See our blog to read about Nathan's experience at Unlocked and how that led to a strategic role in the Department for Education.

What to do next

Now you have looked at this page, think about your next steps. Everyone's journey is different. There are many ways to move forward. Here are some actions you could take now: