Public Affairs Links: Internships the best route in to public affairs

Public affairs - sometimes known as government affairs, lobbying or government relations - is typical of professional communications industries. Agencies and in-house teams tend to be relatively small units of no more than thirty people, and rarely have the resources available to undertake full blown graduate schemes. As a result, the internship route tends to be the best chance for a first-timer looking for work.

These internships come in three main forms; government, agency and in-house. The first of these tends to involve working within the Westminster or constituency office of an MP. Although it doesn’t provide you with direct experience of public affairs, such a role can confer a number of advantages. Future employees look favourably on candidates with Westminster experience, not least because of the commitment to the field it demonstrates. Having a contact or two in Westminster never hurts. Another big plus is that MPs may be more likely to pay you - though that is still by no means guaranteed.

Sadly, this is not something that can always be said of agency or in-house interns. Usually these positions only offer expenses reimbursement to candidates - and that’s if you’re travelling in from London. Usually lasting around three months, the bonus of these options is that often a successful intern has a good chance of permanent employment at the end of the internship. On the downside, this is rarely guaranteed beforehand, and three months of unpaid toil still represents a major financial commitment on the part of the intern. In-house teams for charities defend this practice of unpaid experience on ‘volunteering’ grounds, but the consultancies don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

The type of work you’ll get handed as a public affairs intern will vary hugely depending on the company and situation. If you’re lucky (and good), you may get involved with interesting client-facing work very quickly, helping to arrange events and parliamentary meetings or writing briefing papers. The less fortunate find they quickly become very skilled at filing and tea-making.

Despite such drawbacks, public affairs internships remain extremely popular, as the huge response to adverts posted on websites like Public Affairs Links and w4mp can testify. And given the dearth of alternative options available for graduates looking to break in to the industry during these tough times, they are certainly a very positive thing to put on their CV.

The author is Andrew Greenway, editor of the careers site Public Affairs Links.

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