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Career Guides

Careers for Political Scientists

Second Edition (1996)

Leslie A. Pal
School of Public Administration
Carleton University

the Board of Directors of
the Canadian Political Science Association
November 1996

Please refer to this document as follows:

Leslie A. Pal, "Careers for Political Scientists",,
2nd ed. (1996), consulted on [date of consultation on the web].

In the spirit of making research as broadly available as possible, the Canadian Political Science Association gives its permission for copies to be made of CAREERS FOR POLITICAL SCIENTISTS for not-for-profit purposes provided that, wherever it, or a part of it, is reproduced or quoted, the Association is duly acknowledged.


The first edition of this guide was published in 1991 and has been available in university employment centres and departments of political science across Canada. Early in 1995 Dr. David Smith, President (1994-95) of the Canadian Political Science Association, asked if I would update the original document. I happily agreed to do so and am grateful for the help of several people. Ms. Michelle Hopkins and the staff at the Association's national office helped track down political scientists who had successfully pursued careers outside academe. As with the 1991 edition, I contacted them about their experiences, and several were kind enough to respond in detail. I have quoted from some of their letters (without direct attribution); these are found in insets throughout the text. The School of Public Administration at Carleton University paid for the mailing. Jackie Watt and Leighann Neilson at Carleton University Placement and Career Services were most helpful in making sense of current employment trends and job search strategies. Ross Finnie, a colleague in the School of Public Administration, was generous with both his time and his unique data sets on National Graduates Surveys and Follow-Ups developed by Statistics Canada. We were able to compile, for the first time, detailed comparisons across disciplines and over time for persons holding undergraduate and graduate degrees in the social sciences. Dr. Finnie is the co-author of chapter II on Job Search and the Job Market.



The traditional career paths for political scientists -- academe and law -- are increasingly crowded. Today's graduates are just as likely to consider employment in the private as in the public sector, but there are relatively few sources to help you as you make your choices. This guide is designed to fill the gap and supplement other materials of a more general nature that will assist you in your job search. It is aimed at political scientists (at the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. levels) seeking a career outside of an academic or teaching environment. This is not because careers of the latter type (or law for that matter) are so congested that they are not worth considering. Most universities and academic counsellors are familiar with these paths and can give good advice on how to follow them. The interest in non-academic careers is more recent, and so is less familiar.

Something you have probably asked yourself (and been asked by others!) is "what can I do with a degree in political science?". Political science is not an accredited profession and so even the most capable political scientist is not "qualified" to do any particular job in the same sense as an engineer or a physician is. Indeed, the discipline as a whole has traditionally been somewhat resistant to the idea of "career training" for government service or the private sector. Even the public administration and public policy fields, which come closest to an explicit training model, prefer on the whole to remain at arm's length from governments and corporations. This does not mean, however, that you lack specific skills that might be of use on the job market. While it is probably best to think as broadly as possible about the background and skills that you can offer to an employer, your academic training has nonetheless focused on one discipline, and you should see that as a strength. This guide assumes that while political science is not a unique qualification for any one career, it does confer -- because of the core concerns of the discipline -- some advantages in seeking employment with government departments and agencies, public affairs departments in private firms, interest associations and for research positions. A senior official with the government of Canada, for example, notes that political science "has given me a wide background in the parliamentary process and provided me with certain writing and research skills. I am at ease when talking with parliamentarians about issues of the day, perhaps more so than those of my colleagues who have not had training in political science."

This is a career guide, but it is not careerist. You should not pursue political science simply because political science may help in some ways to get you a job. If you are a junior undergraduate, you should consider your academic options as carefully as your career options. You will do better in a field that interests and challenges you than in a field chosen only because you think it might provide future employment. This guide shows you (and your parents!) that political science can lead to satisfying and interesting careers. You should only choose political science if you think that it will satisfy your intellectual needs. By the same token, realize that there are few non-academic jobs for specialists in 18th century French materialism! If your inclinations already lie in a predominantly non-academic career, maximize the benefit of your academic training by taking courses in cognate disciplines such as economics, and acquire some familiarity with public sector organization, management, budgeting and policy-making. The job market these days is intensely competitive, and the best jobs will go to the best-prepared and most-qualified.

One word of caution. This is not a complete job search guide. It has a specific audience in mind and a specific purpose as well: to sketch out the most likely alternative careers for political scientists and provide some basic information on who to contact and how to get started. There is much more to finding a job than can be contained in a short guide like this one. You should consult with a faculty member on possible career paths and opportunities. As well, some universities offer job or career counselling and placement services. Many companies and government agencies try to come directly onto campus from time to time to interview and hire, and you should keep your eyes open for events of this type (they come as early as September, so begin checking at campus employment centres around that time). You might also wish to consult some of the following sources on employment market trends and job search techniques and skills.

Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, Megatrends for Women (New York: Villard Books, 1992).

Nuala Beck, Shifting Gears: Thriving in the New Economy (Toronto: Harper, 1992).

Richard Nelson Bolles, What Colour is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers (Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1994).

Canada Employment Weekly.

CACEE - (Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers), The Looking For Work Series, 4 vols. (1991).

Employment and Immigration Canada, National Occupational Classification - Index of Titles (updated periodically).

Employment and Immigration Canada, National Occupational Classification - Occupational Descriptions (updated periodically).

Jean-Marc Hachey, The Canadian Guide to Working and Living Overseas: The Complete Guide for Entry Level and Seasoned Professionals (Ottawa: Intercultural Systems, 1995).

Tom Jackson, Guerrilla Tactics in the New Job Market (New York: Bantam, 1993).

Jim Lang, Make Your Own Breaks: Become an Entrepreneur and Create Your Own Future (Toronto: Trifolium Books, 1994).

Ontario Minister of Labour, Taking Aim: Job Search Strategies for People with Disabilities.

Yana Parker, The Resume Catalogue: 200 Damn Good Examples (Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1988).

Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love: The Money Will Follow (New York: Dell, 1987).

Job Search and the Job Market(co-authored with Ross Finnie)

The other sections of this guide provide specific information on different career paths. Before you begin, however, you should keep several things in mind about searching for a job and the nature of the job market.

Search for Job/Deciding on a Career

All employment guides convey the same two, basic truths: (1) searching for a job involves selling yourself and your qualifications; and (2) finding a job is difficult. Selling yourself involves two things: knowing who you are and what you want. The most important first step in the search for a non-academic career is determining what your interests are and what you can offer to an employer. Both of these require self-assessment. Below are some key questions to ask yourself as you sketch out a résumé.

Academic Background

You are reading this because you are a person with a political science background looking for a non-academic career. However, what is special about your particular academic preparation?

  1. In what fields of political science did you concentrate (e.g., international relations, theory, Canadian, comparative, public administration, policy, methods)?
  2. Did you do any outstanding or significant piece of work related to your specific expertise (e.g., publications, thesis, dissertation, major paper, research document)?
  3. Do you have any specific skills that grew out of this expertise (e.g., computer assisted data analysis; survey design; archival research; interview methods; foreign language; literary capability)?
  4. Besides political science, do you have any substantial background in other disciplines (e.g., an economics minor)? What skills might have resulted from this?
  5. Are there any other significant aspects to your academic career (e.g., prizes and honours, field or research trips, participation in model parliaments or UNs, service on student bodies or associations)?
Personal Background

This goes beyond the basic information that an employer will typically need at the beginning, but will help you later on as you present yourself in interviews and try to show why you are the best candidate for a job. What is significant about you as a person?

  1. Are you well-travelled? Have you been exposed to different cultural milieux? Do you have special sensibilities that arise from your background that might be useful in a career?
  2. What other types of jobs have you held, with what responsibilities and accomplishments?
  3. Do you have hobbies or interests that speak to the type of person you are or special skills that you might have?
  4. What do you consider to be your major accomplishments and achievements outside the realms of work and university?
  5. Honestly list your key character traits (e.g., ambitious, articulate, formal, intuitive, relaxed, risk-taker, spontaneous, systematic, versatile, gregarious, introspective, efficient, logical, etc.).
General Skills

When searching for work most people concentrate too narrowly on specific skills or characteristics they might bring to the job. In addition to these, you have general, functional skills that should not be overlooked. They fall into several general categories: communication, creativity, leadership and interpersonal.

  1. In what aspects of communication do you excel (e.g., writing, bargaining, debating, interviewing, listening, transcribing, translation, teaching)?
  2. In what ways are you most comfortable in expressing your creativity (mapping, modelling, intuitive perception, designing, experimenting, displaying, discovering, etc.)?
  3. What dimensions of leadership come most easily to you (e.g., administering, co-ordinating, delegating, mentoring, motivating, planning, etc.)? How well do you work in group situations?
  4. What interpersonal skills do you have? Can you put people at ease in awkward situations, can you deal smoothly with strangers? Are you good at counselling and consulting?
The other sections in this guide will provide information on different employment opportunities for political scientists, and you will perhaps find yourself being drawn to one in particular. Pause and consider your own background, interests and skills. In what ways does your special mix of attributes, scholarly and personal, make you a strong candidate for a position? Knowing yourself is the first step in being able to compete effectively for a position.

The Job Market

The second step is having some sense of the general job market. Remember that you are not simply offering yourself to an employer; you are taking on a job for yourself. Be certain that you know all the relevant details about the position, from the obvious one of salary to the full range of expectations. Be sure that this is something that you will be happy doing. Also remember that only about 25% of employers ever advertise job openings. Government agencies and the public sector are generally better about publicizing vacancies, but not by much. You sometimes have to rely on indirect measures, such as a story in the business section of your paper that company X will be expanding in your area or is bidding on a major contract. This usually means expansion, and you can get a jump on the competition by sending in a letter and résumé. Also consult the newspaper classifieds and specialized publications, but remember that the odds of finding out about job opportunities are highest for personal contacts (1 out of 2) and direct employer contacts (1 out of 4). They are lowest for classified ads (1 out of 20) and employment agencies (1 out of 25).

All of this begs the question of what types of jobs are out there. The rest of this section provides some data on employment trends for political science graduates over the last decade. But what general features of the job market should you be aware of to make sense of specific trends?

Perhaps the most significant development in the Canadian employment market in the last decade is the shift from ³single career² paths to ³multiple career paths.² Even as recently as the early 1980s, university graduates could look forward to finding jobs that would become life-time careers. Once settled, they stayed. Their training and education was tied to a single career choice, and so a single career path implied a single educational path with a discrete bundle of skills and competence at the end. All that has now changed. University graduates today should expect to have as many as seven or eight ³careers² in their working lives. With new careers come demands for new skills, and so education and training become a life-long endeavour. This does not necessarily mean graduating as a political scientist and then re-training as an engineer in 10 years. What it does mean is applying basic and even specialized disciplinary skills in new contexts. A graduate in public administration, for example might work for a government department, a non-governmental organization, an international agency, a consulting company and a commodities broker. Coupled with this trend toward multiple paths is the phenomenon of multiple jobs: many more people work at two or even three jobs simultaneously. This puts a premium on organizational skills, not to mention sheer stamina.

Tips from a consultant

My current occupation is political research. Three years ago, I established a small consulting firm with two other political scientists, because the job situation was so dismal. In other words, to fulfill my desire to work in my field, I had to become a small entrepreneur. I use my political science knowledge and skills on a daily basis.

If one of my children wanted to go into political science now, I would probably try to discourage them to do so. This having been said, I would advise currently-enrolled students to do stats and computers, to improve their second official language and to learn another language. I would advise them to diversify their background by taking a second B.A. or an M.A. in another discipline.

They must keep their expectations low. Most of them will have to look for employment in the private sector and will not work in their area of expertise. For those who want to work in the field, they will have to hustle to find short-term employment and contracts with governments, universities and NGOs. They may have to do it for several years, with periods of unemployment between jobs. Therefore, they should marry somebody with a decent career who understands their situation!


Another major trend of particular importance to political science graduates is the shrinking public sector and the growing emphasis on private sector employment and entrepreneurship. In its 1995 budget, the federal government announced that it would reduce the public service by 45,000 positions. In the same year, six provincial governments tabled balanced budgets, all of which relied in one way or another on cuts to government services and employment. The public sector has traditionally been the major employer for political science graduates, and so cuts of this magnitude suggest fewer opportunities than in the past. You should remember, however, that government is not going to disappear and that there will always be jobs in the public sector. Those jobs will be fewer, however, and competition will be more intense. As well, some government jobs will simply shift from the public sector to the private sector, as departments contract out and privatize functions that previously would have been done ³in house.²

Tip from a Senior Parliamentary Researcher

Political science is not only of constant value in my work, it is required by it. This is independent research work for parliamentarians, which is being conducted in a directly political and public policy setting. At the most senior levels, it involves major and highly specialized responsibilities and commensurate skills of analysis of complex issues, written and oral communication. In my case, this is primarily in the area of foreign policy and international relations (including trade and finance).

I would advise students to obtain a well-rounded foundation in the discipline first and to hone their conceptual analysis and writing skills, as well as acquiring the skills of empirical analysis and necessary proficiency with information technologies. That foundation provides the basis for developing various specializations later on and is knowledge that contributes to the range and flexibility that careers increasingly require. Beyond that, in their specific areas of concentration, I would encourage students to think explicitly in terms of their potential policy applications, and at more senior levels to explore the politics of subjects that need to be understood within an interdisciplinary context.

Graduates should think of how they can create jobs for these skills in non-traditional terms when looking beyond the university. Obviously, assets such as computer and linguistic or other skills can be important to potential employers, but the specific value of a political science background will need to be sold with this package (if it is not a requirement for the position). Graduates will need to relate their academic knowledge to professional and policy analysis utilities. Given current realities, they should also be looking beyond the public sector to private and non-governmental organizations, or consulting firms, which need research analysts with a strong understanding of governmental and political processes. In this regard, they should do research into the policy actors and networks within the areas of particular interest to them. They should look for opportunities to become involved in some way (perhaps initially on a volunteer basis) in these ³policy communities,² because that could be a promising route to longer term employment.

Senior Parliamentary Researcher

This underscores the point that, with a drop in public sector opportunities, political science graduates will increasingly have to look to the private sector (or the non-governmental, not-for-profit sector) for jobs. Employment centres now stress entrepreneurship in every aspect of a job search: the energy and imagination that you put into the search and the possibility of creating one¹s own employment either by packaging several part-time jobs or in actually starting a business. Frankly, there is little in political science as an academic discipline that will help you start a company. But remember the point made in the last section: you are not simply selling yourself as a graduate in political science, but as a unique person with a unique array of experiences, aptitudes and skills. Among your skills is the knowledge and the mental organization that comes from exposure to political science.

A final general point about the modern job market is not to despair! While unemployment rates remain stubbornly high in many sectors and regions of the country, the economy as a whole is growing in the mid-1990s, and not primarily with ³McJobs² that demand little education or skill. Statistics Canada data for the early 1990s in fact show the opposite: while jobs for those with only high school or less were disappearing, jobs for those with college and university credentials were increasing. A university degree in political science confers both special skills linked to the discipline and ³transferable skills² that are part of your higher education (communication, organization, analysis, research, effective time management). While the employment picture is indeed volatile and challenging, you are as well placed as anyone -- and considerably better than most -- to succeed.

Employment and Immigration Canada issues a publication titled Job Futures which uses data from the Canadian Occupational Projection System to track and predict employment opportunities for different jobs and educational backgrounds to the year 1995. The 1990 edition (the latest available) provides some interesting information on the employment experiences of recent political science graduates.

Undergraduates (three-year Political Science degree)

Women accounted for 40% of 1990 graduates, up from 36% in 1982 but down from a peak of 44% in 1986. In all other social sciences, however, women were a consistent majority of around 55% from 1982-90. Political science graduates were much more likely to continue their formal education after graduation than graduates of other disciplines (39% as opposed to 14%). Those who did enter the labour force upon graduation were less successful than other graduates in finding employment. Consequently, the rate of unemployment among political science graduates was more than twice the average for all graduates at this level (see below for details drawn from more recent data).

Political science graduates were found in a wide range of occupations. In 1992, for example, about 35% were in management and administration, and another 23% were in clerical and related occupations. Political science graduates also work in fields related to the social sciences, sales, teaching and service. Another interesting pattern from recent data show that, upon graduation, political scientists tend to work in part-time or temporary occupations more than other social science graduates do.

Graduate (M.A. and Ph.D.)

Women accounted for 31% of M.A.s and 8% of Ph.D.s awarded in 1987. According to Job Futures, an average proportion of political science M.A.s entered the labour market but "fared comparatively poorly" with "significantly less than average finding full-time employment." The proportion who were unemployed (21%) was three times greater than the average. The majority who did find work were concentrated in government management and administration, with most of the rest working as writers and editors, organization methods analysts, research officers in social welfare occupations, and teaching.

The employment experiences of political science doctorates matched those from other disciplines. They were just as successful in finding full-time employment, concentrating mainly in university teaching and educational and government administration. In the non-academic employment fields, their strongest competition comes from planning and resource management and history graduates.

The data from Job Futures are limited in many ways. They are based on 1980s statistics, with projections for the 1990s. They do not tell us about earnings, or perhaps more importantly, about job satisfaction. Nor do they tell us whether things in fact have been getting worse over time for graduates in the social sciences. Fortunately, Statistics Canada has developed a rich (but surprisingly little used, aside from Job Futures) data base called the National Graduates Surveys and Follow-Ups, which allows detailed comparisons across three cohorts of graduates who successfully completed programs at Canadian universities and colleges in 1982, 1986 and 1990. Interviews were conducted with each cohort two and five years after graduation (the last wave of interviews with the 1990 cohort was not available at the time of writing). Along with the usual breakdowns by discipline and gender, the database offers a unique insight into graduates¹ educational experience, employment profile (with questions about earnings, job satisfaction and skills use), and even evaluation of the education program (³Would you enrol in the same programme again?²). The following charts and tables summarize some key findings of interest to graduates in political science.

One question is the proportion of graduates that pursue higher degrees after a period of time after graduation. The data show that political science graduates consistently go on to complete after-degree programs in higher numbers than other social science graduates and all BAs. Chart 1 shows that the proportion in 1984 and 1987 was almost twice that for the other categories, though the magnitudes of difference declined for the 1986 and 1990 cohorts. It would be difficult to explain the precise patterns without much more detailed analysis, but it may be due to the fact that many political science graduates have typically seen their undergraduate degree as a stepping stone to a law degree. Some other data discussed below suggest that it might also be due to a less precise fit between education and job skills for political science graduates in the past.

Charts 2 and 3 trace the employment status of those who do not have higher degrees for the three cohorts two and five years after graduation. The good news is that for the first two cohorts the proportion of graduates finding full-time employment grew in the years following graduation. Between 1984 and 1987, for example, the proportion rose from 72% to 79% of all political science graduates. Another hopeful sign is that fully 81% of the 1990 cohort had found full-time work within two years of graduating. Less encouraging is the historical pattern of comparison between political science and other social science graduates. Political science graduates consistently were less successful than other social science disciplines in finding full-time work. The gap was biggest in 1988, with on 65% of political science graduates employed compared to 82% of other social science degrees. The 1990 cohort fared better, however, with political science actually doing a bit better (81% compared to 79%). Chart 3 shows that unemployment rates for political science graduates were more stable and higher than for other graduates, though by 1992 rates were virtually identical.

The National Graduates Surveys also contains questions on earnings, the match between needed job skills and educational background, overall job satisfaction and satisfaction with earnings from their jobs. These data are too extensive to reproduce here, but anyone pursuing a degree in political science should be aware of the overall pattern. First, political science graduates earned less than other social science graduates or all others with a BA in all five surveys except 1987. Second, every survey showed a lower match between job skill requirements and educational background. Third, political science graduates were less satisfied overall with their jobs in all five surveys. These are nothing more than patterns, and without further analysis it is difficult to say what lies behind them. However, Chart 4 on graduates¹ overall evaluation of their educational program suggests that the patterns show some disadvantages associated with an undergraduate degree in political science.

The striking fact from the table is that in all years political science graduates showed less overall satisfaction with their educational program than all other graduates. Between 1984 and 1987, all graduates had a decline in satisfaction with the education, but the drop was steepest for political scientists. Between 1988 and 1991, political science graduates had the highest proportional increase in overall satisfaction, but were still below others in the cohort. The difference in 1992 is significant.

There are three important conclusions to be drawn from these data. The first is that in the past the discipline may have attracted people who really should have been doing something else. Once graduated, they looked back on their academic experience with less satisfaction than others. Think carefully about whether political science is really suited to your intellectual interests. You should enjoy your university experience for its own sake and for its own special rewards. Whatever happens later, you will at least be able to look back on a period of your life that had merit and gave you satisfaction. Also note that Chart 4 does not include political science BAs who then went on to pursue higher degrees. If they are included, satisfaction rates increase slightly. Coupled with the fact the political science BAs tend disproportionately to take after-degree programs, this suggests that you should assume that in order to get the best out of your undergraduate degree you may have to pursue some form of graduate study. The second conclusion is that if you decide that political science is what you want to do with your undergraduate career, then be sure to craft your degree carefully so that you complement it with courses that will round out your skills. As we noted earlier, you will be hired for your entire background, not just your university degree, and so you should work diligently to round out your experiences through volunteer work, co-op jobs, etc. Finally, remember that the patterns exposed in the National Graduates Surveys are built up on averages. While the average experiences of political science graduates have been less happy than those of other graduates, many have attained good, high-paying jobs that provide challenge and satisfaction. Your task is to put yourself into that group.

General Tips

In addition to the preceding, there are several other points that you should think about as you search for a job.

  1. Take a career planning workshop or seminar in skills assessment, occupational interests and aptitudes, résumé writing or interview skills. Courses of this type are not always appropriate, depending on your age, qualifications, work and job search experience, but if you are new to the game, it will be worthwhile. Many universities offer courses along these lines. Be cautious with non-university, non-government placement services or counsellors. Check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure reputability.
  2. While this guide focuses on Canadian job opportunities, many political science graduates will have an interest and background in international affairs. Check on international exchange programmes or overseas employment prospects. A good source book is Jean-Marc Hachey, The Canadian Guide to Working and Living Overseas: The Complete Guide for Entry Level and Seasoned Professionals (Ottawa: Intercultural Systems, 1995)
  3. Try to integrate your summer employment opportunities with your academic and long-term career interests. Several universities now have co-operative education programmes that provide students with practical work experience relevant to their discipline. These programs frequently take longer to complete than the usual degree, but they offer experience and contacts that might be helpful later when applying for positions.
  4. Remember that while political science is your core discipline (particularly at the graduate level), you will not be hired simply as a political scientist, or even as a person with a bundle of purely job-related qualifications. You are being hired, to some extent, because of the whole person that you are. As noted earlier, this includes all your experiences, whether you consider them "job-related" or not. The single-minded pursuit of academic qualifications is unhealthy (even for Ph.D.s!) and you should not fear a balance of other interests and passions in your life. Art, sports, literature, music, volunteer activity and other extracurricular pursuits all contribute to depth and maturity of character. Ultimately it is character that shines through the résumé and interview, and character that sustains you throughout a successful career.
  5. Keep as many options open during your academic career as possible. Particularly for M.A. and Ph.D. students, opportunities arise from time to time to do research work for faculty or part-time analysis for consulting firms. This is, quite frankly, a dangerous game since the money is rarely good and your first obligation is to your degree and university requirements. However, the experience and contacts that one gains can sometimes be well worth the effort. The point is not to take anything that comes along while you are pursuing your degree. The right offer for the right type of work is worth considering carefully.
  6. This guide is designed for all political science graduates, but by tradition, unless they have pursued higher degrees in the discipline, B.A.s have always looked for non-academic careers. M.A.s and Ph.D.s are a different matter, and some of the statistics from Job Futures raise the question of how far to go in the pursuit of a higher degree. While Ph.D.s appear to have been more successful than M.A.s, the potential restriction of university teaching positions may change that pattern.
  7. The following sections of this guide deal with specific employment sectors likely to attract the interest of political scientists. Most university career placement offices also have general (Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers) applications for employment (see Appendix). These is a general application held on file by the placement office for viewing by prospective employers. It touches on all the basics: education, work experience, extracurricular activities, career objectives and a personal statement. For many employers, this becomes the only application form, so the information you provide on your personal background should be extensive and detailed. CACEE also publishes (annually in August) a graduate recruitment annual entitled Career Options. It is usually available to students for free at the university placement office, and contains articles and job advertisements.
  8. Like everything else, job search has gone ³on line² in the last few years. There are news groups for jobs on the Internet, and the World Wide Web has two sites -- the Career Mosaic and the Monster Board -- with job postings. The Monster Board¹s ³On Line Career Centre² lists some Canadian firms, and it is highly likely that this trend will continue for all electronic sites. Many university employment and counselling offices have now placed their full-time job lists on-line, and these can be accessed through the Internet by anyone, anywhere. Not all of these electronic services are easy to access, however and should be approached with a ³search engine.² If you are unfamiliar with the Internet, this offers a good opportunity to learn.
Tip from a Former government official, consultant

My particular advice would be: as long before you actually start looking for work as you can manage, spend some time to research what¹s out there in both the public and especially the private sectors of the economy, and identify some particular chunks you think you¹d like to work for. Then identify some organizations in these chunks, and the names of some relevant people in them. Send resumes, make phone calls, explain what you want to get into, beg people to give you a moment of their time or any kind of advice. In some cases there are professional courses and whatnot for particular slots beyond university (e.g., Canadian securities course, public relations certificate). If you can¹t find a job right away, take a course of this sort while you¹re still looking. It is sometimes useful to work on political or charity campaigns, and to meet people in the area you¹re focusing on. It is sometimes helpful to apprentice in casual positions, even without pay. Just focus on something as specific as possible and keep moving. At some point, the coin will fall into the slot, and you¹ll have a job with pay.

Former government official, consultant


This guide is aimed primarily at careers outside academe, and so this section will be brief. If you are a Ph.D. candidate hoping to pursue an academic career, seek advice from your supervisor or the departmental graduate officer. If you are an M.A. candidate considering a Ph.D. and eventually an academic career, think carefully. The Canadian market for university teachers has been virtually flat for a decade, and the increase anticipated for the early 1990s has so far not materialized. According to a survey of the supply and demand for tenured positions over the 1990-1995 period completed by the Canadian Political Science Association, there may be as many as five applicants for each available position. The most optimistic scenario projects four applicants for every position. These figures do not include overseas applicants. In short, the competition for tenured university positions will be fierce. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to tell which fields will be in greatest demand. As a student, you have to decide your field specialization and dissertation topic four to five years before you enter the job market, and there is no way of telling whether your specialization will be in demand or not.

The implications are clear. The market is so tight and so competitive that only the very best (the top 5 to 10 percent) should consider an academic career. Keep in mind that even if you do fall into this category, there may only be a handful of jobs available when you complete your degree. You may have to take a limited term or sessional appointment, or perhaps a succession of these at different institutions, before landing a tenure-track position. What can you do to maximize your chances?

  1. Choose your program carefully. Your degree gains lustre from the reputation of the department and university that awarded it. You should know in which field you will be doing dissertation research and who the leading scholars in that field are. If possible, try to work with one of them.
  2. Apply for every scholarship and award for which you are eligible. If you succeed, you will have additional financial support but more importantly visible evidence of your scholarly excellence. Applications are time-consuming but provide invaluable experience in designing research proposals.
  3. Complete your degree requirements without undue delay. Personal and other circumstances inevitably intervene, particularly if you are a parent, but a completion period too far beyond the norm usually rings alarm bells with hiring committees.
  4. Be careful in accepting teaching assistantships. These make sense for reasons of money and experience, but they also drain time away from your dissertation research. If finances are not a consideration, you should at most take one assistantship for seminar and marking experience, and one sessional appointment for lecturing and course management skills.
  5. Be equally careful in attending conferences and presenting papers. You should attend the CPSA annual meetings as a junior graduate student to observe the tribal rituals of the discipline. It is probably a waste of your time to present papers at this point since your research is at its earliest stages. Too many Ph.D. candidates present too many mediocre papers at the annual meetings in the hopes that their efforts will be noted for future job applications. Yet a single publication will garner more attention and respect than several CPSA paper presentations. The best strategy is to wait until your dissertation is nearly completed and write a paper based on it for publication. You may then present a version of that at the annual meetings.
  6. Many Ph.D. candidates are tempted into the job market before they are ready. They take sessional appointments assuming that they can finish up the dissertation while they teach. This can be done, of course, but not easily. Teaching, especially teaching new courses for the first time, takes enormous amounts of time and energy, and the dissertation begins to languish. If possible, try to time your defence for the spring or mid-summer. The final draft will therefore have to be done in the late fall or early winter, around the time that you will be applying for positions. Starting your academic career unencumbered by the need to complete dissertation requirements is an enormous advantage.
  7. Your first job will probably be a limited term appointment, in which case you usually have about three years to prove yourself. Keep administrative and committee commitments to a minimum, and plan a publication strategy. That strategy should include publication of your dissertation as a book or at least as a series of articles, and a new research program of about three years' duration that will yield either a book or several articles upon completion (most universities have research grant programs for new faculty).
The Federal Government

Despite major cuts announced in the 1995 budget and through the Program Review, the federal government still plans to employ thousands of people across the country. Positions will occasionally come up, though they will be fewer and more competitive. For employment opportunity purposes, the federal government consists principally of the following sectors: (1) Crown corporations and agencies, (2) the public service, and (3) Parliament.

Crown Corporations and Regulatory Agencies

Ottawa has long since privatized all or part of its largest Crown corporations (e.g., Air Canada and Petro Canada), and all indications are that it intends to shift as many of its activities as possible to the private sector. Agencies that have continued to exist (e.g., the Canadian Human Rights Commission) have had their staff cut substantially.

Tip from a Senior Federal Official

Ensure that you have a co-op type experience. I have hired many co-op students in the federal department where I work, and wish that when I had been their age I could have benefited from the practical insights gained from job experience.

The federal government is hiring a lot less today. However, the best will gain entry. Ensure that your degree has a very sound quantitative base, coupled with policy analysis skills, preferably across two or more policy areas (for instance, microeconomic policy, social policy, international relations, etc.).

Senior Federal Official

There is no single registry of federal Crown corporations and agencies, and they do not co-ordinate their hiring. In this respect, they are similar to private companies. They will publish advertisements in the career section of major papers and visit campuses as they need qualified personnel. Many of the most prominent Crown corporations (provincial and federal) find their way onto the annual Globe and Mail and Financial Post compilations of Canada's largest corporations, and this is a useful scan of their size, assets, interests and sometimes corporate culture. If no ads or campus visits appear, then you can find corporation and agency addresses in The Canadian Almanac and Directory, the Canada Year Book (Appendix A), and The Corpus Administrative Index (Don Mills, quarterly). Write to the personnel department for an application.

The Federal Public Service

The federal government of Canada employs thousands of people. While some senior positions are filled by external applicants, the federal government fills most of its positions by internal competitions. Most new hirings are at the entry level. There are currently five routes to employment with the Public Service of Canada: (1) summer jobs, (2) general application for employment, (3) university competition, (4) foreign service competition, and (5) the management trainee program.

Summer Jobs

The key program in this category is the Federal Summer Student Employment Program (FSSEP). It supersedes the Career-Oriented Student Employment Program, or COSEP, and non-COSEP employment. The deadline is February 15, but early applications are encouraged. To be eligible, you must be a full-time student in a university, college, CEGEP, technical institute or high school, and be returning to full-time studies in the fall. The system works by entering each application into a national inventory by job, qualifications and location. Government departments interested in hiring submit requests to the inventory, and your application may then be selected. Applicants indicate academic specialization with reference to a set of codes. There is a code for political science under the category of "Social and Human Sciences," but as well, depending on your specialization, you may wish to consider several categories under "Commerce² or ³Communications.² You can indicate only one academic specialization; two if you have a double major. (See Appendix for copy of application form.)

In addition to the national inventory, some government departments have their own hiring programs. You can be considered for these as well through the FSSEP by ticking the appropriate box.

Application for Employment (General)

The Public Service Commission has a general application form for positions other than the university or foreign service competitive examinations. The applications flow into two streams: one for those who wish to be considered for scientific, professional, administrative or technical occupations (applications are sent to the nearest Public Service Commission Office); another for clerical, secretarial or trade positions (applications are sent to the nearest Canada Employment office).

If your application is accepted, it is kept on a computerized national applicant inventory. You will be considered as positions requiring your qualifications come open. (See Appendix for copy of application form.)

Post-Secondary Competitive Recruitment

Every year the Public Service Commission administers competitive examinations for approximately 100 positions in various departments of the Canadian government. With the cuts announced in the February 1995 budget, only a selected number of departments will be recruiting in any given year. It is best to call the Public Service Commission directly for a listing of those departments.

The positions are for entry-level officers such as employment counsellor, selection referral officer, immigration officer or research officer. The examinations are held each year near the end of October in every Canadian city with a university campus. In order to write the examination, you must complete a special Public Service Commission application form (Application for Employment -- Post-Secondary Recruitment) and be graduating by the following June. You may be required to submit your application prior to the examination, so check the deadline date carefully.

Foreign Service Officer

A more specialized version of the post-secondary competition is the national competition for approximately 60 to 80 foreign service officer positions. Successful applicants will have a keen interest in international affairs and will be posted on a rotational basis in Ottawa and at any of Canada's diplomatic posts abroad. You must be medically suitable for the position willing to accept assignments anywhere in the world, eligible for a top security clearance and bilingual (language training will be provided).

Like the post-secondary competition, examinations take place in October, and applicants must anticipate completing their degree by the following June. In the 1994 competition, political science was among a list of ineligible disciplines for the examination. It is not clear whether this exclusion will continue. Check with the Public Service Commission or a local employment office.

Management Trainee Program

The Public Service Commission notes that this program was designed to "identify individuals with the potential to excel as managers in the federal Public Service." Candidates must have an M.A. from a recognized university. Approximately 100 participants will be accepted each year and will remain in the program for up to five years before assuming full-time management positions in the public service. While in the program, trainees receive competitive salaries as full-time employees in a special development group.

This is a highly competitive program that seeks only the best qualified candidates (assessed through a phased selection process). Successful candidates then enter a developmental program which includes orientations to the government of Canada and a variety of work assignments in Ottawa and regional government offices. Seminars and special courses are offered through the training period, and a senior Public Service executive is assigned to each trainee as a mentor.


There are currently 295 MPs on Parliament Hill, and each has discretion to hire assistants and staff for his or her Ottawa and constituency offices. For those with a taste for practical politics, working with an MP can be a fascinating experience. There are several things to keep in mind, however. The total number of positions is obviously quite small. Moreover, in this field of employment one's qualifications will likely include some connection to the Member's party (e.g., election campaigns, constituency service, campus party wings and youth wings), as well as community and volunteer service.

Work of this type is demanding and not particularly remunerative. It is rarely a career, but it does provide experience in government as well as contacts that might be useful in subsequent job searches. The range of tasks is quite wide, from general assistance to more focused research work on specific issues and questions of interest to the MP. It might involve constituency work, speech writing, communications or logistical support.

Provincial Governments

Many of the more general points made above about employment prospects in the federal government also apply to the provincial government sector. But you should keep in mind some important differences. First, and most obviously, employment practices and opportunities will vary across provinces, particularly from the larger and wealthier ones to the smaller, less wealthy ones. This means that your expectations should be tailored accordingly and that you should be sensitive to the different needs that different provincial employers may have for nominally similar occupations. It is probably unwise to use simply the same résumé and statement of interests and qualifications that you submitted for federal employment opportunities. Think carefully about ways in which you can tailor your approach for maximum effect.

Second, while no province gives overt preference to its own residents, many entry and middle-level positions are difficult to learn about unless the province has made explicit attempts to advertise nationally or regionally. In this case, the classifieds of major papers from each province are helpful. A good university library will have most of them, though several days if not weeks behind. You might also try Internet job postings. Most provincial governments also issue employment bulletins listing public service job vacancies, but these are usually circulated only within the province. If you do not plan to move out of your province of residence, then simply scan the papers, make contacts and massage your networks, and visit the local provincial government employment office. Addresses for the main provincial government employment offices across Canada are listed and available in The Corpus Administrative Index (Don Mills, quarterly).

Third, there is probably even less cachet to purely academic credentials at the provincial level than at the federal level of government. The range of tasks undertaken by provincial governments is narrower than Ottawa's and driven more by program delivery considerations; health, education and welfare make up well over 50 percent of provincial expenditures, and much of the rest is taken up by direct "people" programs. Ottawa's policy-making style tends to be more abstract, if only because it is national in scope and usually cannot permit itself to be too sensitive to purely local or regional characteristics. Provincial policy-making styles are both more immediate and more intimate. In addition, all of the provinces except Ontario and Québec have small bureaucracies compared with Ottawa's. That makes it possible to gauge abilities more concretely and usually more often in terms of experience and accomplishment than academic credentials. These factors should not be exaggerated, but by the same token they should not be ignored. They amount to saying that a Ph.D. in political science is not necessarily a decisive asset when applying to provincial governments for employment. The experiential side of your résumé, particularly on matters at the provincial level or of concern to your potential employer, may count even more.

Fourth, the same principles apply to partisan appointments at the provincial level as at the federal level. Working for an MLA (and because of the relatively small size of provincial legislatures, this is a very rare opportunity indeed) requires the demonstration of solid party and political credentials. So solid, in fact, that it would be foolish to artificially try to pump up your political connections and activities. If practical politics at the provincial level is something that you are engaged in already, then you will know the wisdom of keeping eyes and ears open for opportunities and connections. These need not be of an exclusively partisan nature, however. Political party activity provides tremendous exposure to policy issues that can enhance practical understanding as well as your network of contacts. In the right context, your political experiences should be viewed as a legitimate asset in your search for employment.

Rather than continue with general advice, the following job descriptions and suggestions for success at the provincial level are drawn from comments forwarded by members of the profession who currently work for provincial governments in middle and senior positions of responsibility.

Statement 1 (Financial/Economic Analyst)

The job that I have occupied over the past five years is Manager, Financial/Economic Analysis. I supervise three full-time staff and some temporary staff. In this position I am responsible for (a) financial sector policy (trust companies, credit unions, intergovernmental co-ordination) including the development of new legislation and regulations, briefing senior officials and the minister and attending intergovernmental meetings; (b) documentation of the borrowings of the province both in domestic and foreign markets (involves prospectus drafting, due diligence, underwriting agreements, orders-in-council); and (c) the review of major project investments, examining the financial attributes of the proposal from the private sector proponents and making recommendations.

The skills that political science brings to my particular job relate to the broad overview that it gives on the policy-making process in other governments and my own provincial government. In particular, it has given me an advantage in terms of understanding the legislative process and the intergovernmental policy-making process as well as the division of powers and how this has an important impact on intergovernmental relations. The study of the attributes of the party system also gives one an advantage in better understanding which policies may be saleable in caucus and which might not.

However, in a general way, these skills are not used very frequently. I would not say that my background has given me a particular advantage in my current position. Nor would I say that my background has worked to my disadvantage. Certainly when political changes occur (e.g., current constitutional uncertainty), I believe that, given my background, my views are valued.

For those political scientists who are seeking careers outside the university, my view is that specialization in an area such as public administration, international relations, political behaviour or Canadian politics/parties would likely land a political scientist an interesting job. The key clearly is to identify emerging issues and to develop both an historical perspective and the current context in which to frame the "political" issue.

Statement 2 (Resource/Energy Analyst)

As an undergraduate and graduate student, I made a conscious choice to study economics, particularly applied economics. I found particularly valuable courses in public finance, energy economics, resource economics and regional economics. I also chose research topics which were relevant to current public policy issues (e.g., federal-provincial financial arrangements, federal competition policy, provincial resource policy, federal-provincial energy disputes, etc.)

The analytical skills one develops in graduate school are invaluable. The ability to provide a clear definition of a problem, to identify and flesh out the interaction of variables which influence the problem, and the ability to synthesize information and ideas are all important. The ability to write clearly and effectively is important. Specifically, the ability to write concisely is vital. As a civil servant, one must be able to summarize a complex problem and outline recommendations in a memorandum for a Minister in two pages or less. It is important to be willing to take an "ecumenical approach" to problem solving. As a new graduate, one instinctively tends to think and analyze problems from the perspective of a political scientist. It is useful to recognize that the perspectives of economists, lawyers and those from other disciplines may be just as important, and in some cases, most important.

My advice to political scientists seeking careers outside of academe is to take courses in economics, finance, commerce and business management; pursue interests outside of the academic community to meet and interact with business and other professional people; emphasize your analytical and problem-solving skills, your research ability and your writing skills.

My specific advice to women is to remember that "the bottom line is competence"; if you are hard-working and competent, there will always be opportunities. Interact as much as possible with other professional women, inside and outside of your own workplace, to learn from their experiences and seek their advice in dealing with problems that you may be confronting. If, despite, your best efforts to succeed you still feel blocked in your career path and that there are few opportunities for promotion, "vote with your feet" and be prepared to move to pursue another career path or move to another organization.

Municipal Government

Municipal government has not traditionally been a fertile field for political scientists for three reasons. First, the sub-field of local government has not received the attention or the students that it deserves in Canada, and so the discipline produces relatively few local government experts (though note the sustained focus on municipal government in journals such as Canadian Public Administration). Second, municipal governments prefer to employ graduates with degrees in planning or degrees and certificates in local government management. Third, the local government sector, while large in the aggregate, is marked by a multitude of small cities and towns with relatively few employment opportunities. There are only a few major metropolitan centres in Canada that can offer a range of jobs similar to what one might encounter in applying to the federal or provincial government. Another problem with the local government scene is that it is so diverse and lacks any central registry of employment opportunities.

Nonetheless, municipal government potentially offers an intriguing set of possible career paths. It is at the municipal level that key services (health, education, recreation) get delivered, and transportation and infrastructural services figure large in the activities of every local government. The level of government most familiar to most people is local government, and that poses interesting challenges and opportunities. As with provincial government employment, one strategy in scanning this market is to consult regularly major provincial newspapers for advertisements. Remember, though, that while provincial governments may cover your travel expenses for an interview (if you are not too far away and the position is senior or strategic), it is very likely that you will have to travel to an out-of-province interview at your own expense. You may also wish to consult the Canadian Almanac and Directory for listings and addresses.

Because of the nature of the competition (planners and local government specialists), you should have some courses if not an academic specialization in municipal government. A Masters in public administration with a concentration in local government is ideal, but should be buttressed with skills in statistics, computer applications, finance, research methods and policy analysis. Keep your eye on developments, however. It is now clear that a number of the responsibilities currently assumed by federal and provincial governments will be devolved onto at least the larger municipalities. One possibility is in the area of environmental regulation, involving air quality, noise levels and land use planning. Skills and knowledge in areas that might at first blush not appear to be relevant to the municipal experience (e.g., regulatory affairs) may be quite applicable.

Consulting and the Private Sector

Political science has traditionally been a degree in preparation for academe or public service. The contemporary employment realities in academe and government suggest however that it is time to consider other avenues, especially those in the private sector. The "private sector" may be divided into for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. The next section deals briefly with one component of the not-for-profit sector, interest groups. This section addresses the key organizations that make up the for-profit sector: consulting firms, research organizations and private companies. Law firms would also fall into this category, but because they require a specialized degree they will not be treated as a unique opportunity for political scientists. (It is worth remembering, however, that law is a traditional outlet for political science graduates. The law field is also becoming crowded, but still offers a variety of opportunities.)

The consulting industry has grown rapidly over the last 10 years, though its precise size and characteristics are difficult to measure. Annual reports under the federal Lobbyist Registration Act list around 1000 lobbyists/consultants doing business with Ottawa. There is no comparable registry in any of the provinces, but this sector must also be large. Firms tend to vary greatly, from the large management consulting houses to the small one- or two-person firm that specializes in a substantive policy area. The bulk of the consulting work for which most political scientists would be qualified falls into a few categories. The first is survey research, including focus group analysis. The second is what might loosely be termed regulatory affairs, such as oil and gas or financial policy. This second category usually requires a fair amount of expertise in economics, finance and management, but there are others that do not, such as health care, environment, social policy and international developments. The third is government operations, or lobbying. This field requires a detailed knowledge of how a particular jurisdiction operates, as a well as an extensive network of contacts.

The problem with most consulting firms is that they prefer to hire people with experience either in government, academe or other consulting companies. How then to break in, given that you might have a freshly-minted M.A. or Ph.D., but with no track record? There are several possible avenues. The consulting game is a career path that can only be pursued with a higher degree, initially through an M.A., since a Ph.D. might label someone as over-qualified (though it might be useful to get the Ph.D. subsequently once you have established a track record). The essential point to keep in mind is that academic credentials per se mean very little in the consulting world. Ironically, you will not be considered without them, but only in rare cases will the credentials carry much weight. So, the problem reduces itself to how you can get practical experience, and what kind of experience will be most helpful. The coin of the realm in consulting is either substantive expertise or contacts. Thus if you have managed to work in government for a period and mastered a substantive policy area, or if you have managed to work for an MP or MLA and built up knowledge of government operations and a network of contacts, you have something to trade. On the academic side, a solid grounding in research methodology is a big advantage in seeking work for private sector consulting firms. In rare cases, however, your substantive area of academic expertise may be a determining factor. If your thesis or dissertation topic was on some area of contemporary concern in which there is relatively little experience but lots of interest (e.g., environmental regulatory techniques), then you might be able to go directly into the consulting field. Be realistic, however, in assessing your own work. Ask yourself the following questions: (1) does my research have clear practical implications? (2) how rare is the knowledge that I have accumulated? (3) what is the relevance of my knowledge either now or in the future?

Private industry opportunities for political scientists have expanded in recent years but are still rare. It is virtually impossible to give anything but anecdotal sketches of the possibilities in this realm since there is so little information available. Political scientists will most likely be recruited for government relations types of jobs. This involves everything from monitoring public policy developments regionally, nationally and internationally, to assisting in representations to regulatory agencies and government personnel. Only the largest corporations will have the resources to hire a government relations specialist, and even most of these will prefer to use their law firms to keep them abreast of policy and regulatory developments that affect their business. Another possible area of employment with the private sector is social impact assessment. Some businesses (e.g. resource development, waste disposal, transportation) have direct and visible impacts on definable communities, and in order to receive regulatory approval for projects must do social impact assessments to complement environmental impact statements. Social impact assessments often require skills that political scientists have, such as interviewing and public opinion surveys.

How to land a job in this sector? The opportunities are rare, and the competition from lawyers, management graduates, planners, sociologists, and economists is intense. The key is to understand that, with the exceptions cited above, your academic credentials are simply not enough to get a position. You cannot simply step from your degree to a consulting job. Pursuing a career in the private sector requires some strategic thinking and long-term planning. If you are currently in school, see if you can tailor your thesis research in directions with more practical applications. Work with faculty members who are themselves doing contract research so that you get a feel for what it is like (contract research for government or private firms is very different from more academic types of research). Ensure that you have a solid grounding in government operations, policy, public administration, economics and research methodologies. One source of information on the consulting industry is the Canadian Association of Management Consultants (121 Bloor Street East, #805, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3M5, tel. 416-963-9172). A very useful publication that lists consulting firms, their staff and activities is the Directory of Canadian Management Consultants (Ottawa, annual; also known as the BOSS Directory since it is put out as part of the Business Opportunity Sourcing System of Industry, Science and Technology Canada). For day-to-day analysis of the industry, consult The Lobby Monitor.

Another route into private sector employment is to ³make your own job.² Increasingly in the entrepreneurial 1990s, people are being told to expect several careers and even several simultaneous jobs. The prospects of landing life-time employment with one, large firm are vanishing. An alternative is to fashion one¹s own job in relation to emerging needs or niches. This usually works best if you have some practical experience, so taking part-time and low-paying work for a short period can fit into a larger strategy of establishing one¹s own business or service. This might include working as a researcher for a newspaper, a consulting firm, a polling company or a community based organization. Volunteer work can also generate a wealth of contacts and experience that you can then build upon in designing a job.

Interest Associations

As with the consulting industry, the number of interest associations has grown markedly in the last decade. While this growth has generated new opportunities for political science graduates, they have been disproportionately small for several reasons. First, much of the growth has been among public interest or advocacy groups. Many of these organizations rely on government grants or fees from a small membership base, and so do not have sufficient funds to hire large numbers of staff. Even some of the more prominent national associations of this type are managed by a surprisingly small number of people: a board of directors, an executive director and sometimes as few as three or four support staff. Groups of this type rely extensively on volunteers. Second, with the exception of the handful of larger organizations, most of the groups of this type have fairly flat management structures. That means that there is relatively little room for advancement. People tend to hold on to the better jobs in this sector, and so vacancies occur only rarely. Third, this sector has been under pressure in recent years as governments have cut their funding in an attempt to balance budgets.

However, there are thousands of associations across Canada, focusing on national, provincial and international issues. They vary in size, type and focus, and include everything from industry and labour groups to peace, environmental and women's organizations. Some are engaged in the provision of special services to their members; others are geared almost exclusively to government lobbying and advocacy. To get a sense of the range of organizations, consult: Directory of Associations in Canada (Toronto, annual) and the Encyclopedia of Associations: International Organizations (Detroit, annual). Both of these publications list the group's name, membership, staff, and activities. Most of the groups and organizations listed in these publications deal with government in one way or another. This is where the political science graduate has a definite edge over competitors from economics and sociology.

Tip from a Lobbyist

I am currently employed as Policy/Communications Coordinator for a Chamber of Commerce with 850 member firms. This Chamber is very active on the policy front and is an institutionalized pressure group. Much of my studies focused on left-wing theory. In particular, during my M.A. my major research paper focused on Chomsky. Chomsky provides an excellent critique -- and description -- of how institutionalized corporations and pressure groups engage in thought control to achieve their corporate goals. I have applied everything I learned from Chomsky in developing and implementing a long-term lobby strategy for the Chamber. I have been here two years and am now a recognized source for the local, provincial and national media on business and government issues affecting my community. I could not have achieved this goal without training in political science.

My ³tip du jour² is get a copy of SOURCES, available from any local or university newsroom. It lists a large percentage of the institutionalized pressure groups, or corporations with government affairs offices, and their key contacts. Also, get copies of any public service directories you can find. They list key bureaucratic contacts as well as all of the registered lobby firms. These firms, to my knowledge, sometimes have junior research positions. A great way to get started!


The most common entry-level type of employment with interest associations is policy-oriented research. Some knowledge of survey techniques is helpful, but nothing as sophisticated as what might be desired in the private or government sectors is needed because most groups in this category cannot afford large scale surveys. They will want researchers, however, who can make sense of survey data gathered by others. Policy-oriented research demands different skills, including familiarity with government publications and documentation, some sense of the large scale trends in a number of cognate policy fields, and an appreciation of the technicalities of policy design, implementation and evaluation. It also requires the ability to assess quickly the range of arguments that define the discourse in a particular policy field, as well as the facility to find logical and empirical weaknesses and strengths in those arguments. Communications skills, particularly writing, and the ability to write under pressure, are essential. Like the consulting and industry and the private sector, working for interest associations is a partisan form of employment. For this reason, you should be relatively comfortable with the group's agenda before seeking employment with it.

Final Tips

Finding the right job and career is one of the most important things you will ever do. Put the time into it that it deserves. This guide should help you get started and is keyed to your background and interests as a political scientist. Consult other sources, talk to experienced people, take courses and workshops if you think that they might help. There are dozens of different techniques and strategies that you can use; almost all of them will in one way or another be helpful. It sounds trite but it¹s true: if you look diligently and carefully, you will find a job.

This guide has tried to organize its advice under several categories, but some useful tips bear repeating.

  1. Know yourself, your aptitudes, and your skills.
  2. Know what kind of work you really want to do.
  3. The fields of public affairs and journalism, while not explicitly addressed in this guide, are potentially attractive avenues for political scientists. Public affairs is essentially the same as government relations and involves working for interest associations and private firms. Journalism, particularly print journalism, seems a good possibility for political scientists because so much of contemporary journalism focuses on political issues. While political scientists have an advantage here in terms of command of the substance, they will have to hone their writing skills.
  4. Don't be afraid, as one respondent said when requested for advice to young political scientists, to "zig-zag." Virtually all of the non-academic career paths that you might choose demand some level of experience. Anything you can do to gain that experience will in the end be helpful.
  5. Another respondent cautioned that you should "never say never" with respect to pursuing a career path exclusively out of academe. In fact, it would appear that those who pursue "non-academic" or alternative careers also teach part time, conduct academic research, write papers and attend conferences. The tie to the discipline, in short, is rarely severed.
The last word should go to someone who "made it" with a graduate degree in political science:

To date my career path has had a "small-p" political orientation based on both public affairs and public relations. This orientation has meant that not only do I now use specific skills and aptitudes that were honed during my years as a political science student, but that I actually use some of the knowledge that I gained as a student. No doubt the latter will come as a great surprise for any poli sci student who may read these words!

In terms of the development of skills and aptitudes my student days of conducting research amidst the library stacks, writing what seemed like a never-ending stream of essays and preparing tutorial presentations for tough audiences of fellow students were absolutely essential. Studies in political science gave me the opportunity to develop my capacity to analyze a problem and to apply that capacity to the evaluation and formulation of public policy. My studies also allowed me to refine my oral and written communication skills.

The knowledge that I gained as a student has proven useful in my work. Undergraduate courses in Canadian federal and provincial politics have taught me how the legislative process works and in particular what influence legislators and pressure groups may exercise in this process. My studies in public administration have helped me to understand the role of the public servant in the creation and administration of public policy. Finally, I have gained through my studies in international relations knowledge of how the global socio-economic scene influences the Canadian political process.