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Political professional graduate schools consultant and expert q&a - Political Professional Graduate Schools: Questions and Answer

C&E: How do you think students in college and graduate school today view careers in government service? Are they more or less inclined to enter the public sector than 10 or 15 years ago? How about lobbying or public affairs?

BATES: Students in general are less likely to view careers in government service positively and less inclined to enter the public sector. Which is understandable since the whole thrust of politics and public discussion in the last 20 years has been to denigrate government and those who make it their profession. All too often, public service is viewed as merely a stepping stone to a lucrative career in lobbying or public affairs, rather than a career.

Political professional graduate schools consultant and expert q&a - Political Professional Graduate Schools: Questions and AnswerBOCSKOR: From what I've seen, fewer students want to work for the federal government; the term "bureaucrat" isn't appealing. Plus students today really have no desire to work at the same job for 40 years, get a gold watch and a government pension. They want new adventures, and most switch jobs every couple of years to get ahead.

Lobbying and careers in public affairs are more appealing. The pay is better, you generally have more opportunities for advancement, and it's exciting to learn how politics affects public policy.

CONWAY: Government service seems back in vogue for young people, particularly those who are attracted to Capitol Hill (or state capitols) or campaign work, which can lead to positions in the public or private sector. Still, many young professionals are entrepreneurial and libertarian, causing them to have a shrugged-shouldered, arms-length relationship with government entities and apart from that, to believe that they should not remain in one position or field for very long. The energy, eagerness and technological savvy that new grads naturally bring to the professional world has a comfortable home in public affairs consulting, media, survey research and lobbying.

C&E: What should students focus on in graduate school to be the most likely to get hired?

BATES: It depends on where their interests lie. Frankly, for students interested in political consulting, their focus should be on opportunities to get real world experience.

BOCSKOR: Students need to learn how to write effectively, think quickly and decisively act on a plan. Frankly, a 50-page term papers mean nothing; it's more important to distill your thoughts into a two-page memo.

CONWAY: Students should exhibit a well-rounded, holistic approach to education, supplementing theoretical coursework with practical experience, and mixing it up with a third prong, e.g., volunteering, travel, blogging. Students who can write well and edit well are golden. Get published while in school. The opportunities are many: Letters to the editor, opeds, Internet postings, even an article whose title makes it a must-read, like "The Stripes and the Polka-dots: Swing States That Are Neither Red nor Blue, but Both." They demonstrate how your knowledge can directly and immediately benefit a potential employer, e.g, you took a Web-mastering class or wrote your thesis on demographic characteristics and media trends of new voters.

C&E: Does education or experience matter more when entering this field?

BATES: Experience. Experience. Experience. Only by going out in the field and actually working on campaigns can someone understand when to use what they've learned in school and when to ignore it. It is sad when young people in the business take a by-the-book approach and geezers like me are more willing to try new ideas and techniques.

BOCSKOR: That's a tough call. I attended Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, as an undergraduate and had four internships. While my courses were important, the internship opportunities were critical. I had more practical experience as a 21-year-old entering politics than my older competitors. It was that experience that landed me my first job in Washington, with then-freshman Congressman Newt Gingrich (R).

CONWAY: The clear answer is "Option C: Both of the Above." Ideally, get both at the same time. Don't bifurcate your studies and your work; rather, pursue a graduate degree at night while working a full-time job or take on a part-time position or unpaid internship while in school.

Formal instruction helps the aspiring political or public policy professional to hone essential skills like critical thinking, oral and written communication, and the application of reason and judgment to hypothetical situations. That said, nothing teaches like experience. Get as much as you can. Even as unpaid intern for an ungrateful boss, you will learn things that will remain with you as your career develops. The classroom rejects no one; life is more discerning.

C&E: What are the characteristics you look for when hiring?

BATES: We believe that our employees should take their work very seriously and not take themselves too seriously. This means they should have a passion for whichever part of the business they are working--whether it is creative, political strategy, advocacy, commercial or production oversight--and be willing to look at things differently than conventional wisdom dictates.

BOCSKOR: My office motto is "anticipate the needs of others, especially members of Congress." I want someone who thinks creatively, can figure out challenges and has a sense of humor.

CONWAY: Preparation, enthusiasm and candor in the interview, with an immediate follow-up that thanks the prospective employer for their time, restates interest in the position, and provides something new, like an article relating to a topic discussed in the interview or a different writing sample.

A major turn-off is someone who has had five jobs in the past four years. That's kryptonite to an employer who needs folks who are serious and committed, and who do not treat a job like a semester abroad.

Also, mind the little things, like telephone and e-mail etiquette, spelling and grammar, and the way you dress. Today's offices seem to show more navels than a dozen Florida oranges.

C&E: What graduate schools are most highly recruited from? Do specific schools specialize in specific fields? For example, if you want to be a lobbyist is there a better graduate school to chose?

BATES: We have had several excellent employees that have gone through some of the programs at D.C.-area colleges. There is no one specific school or field of study that we have found to be significantly superior to the others.

BOCSKOR: Here in Washington, the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University is tops in political education. American University has a great program in applied politics and public policy. Since both programs enable students to go part-time, and make sure students have practical internship/job experiences, students receive a well-rounded education.

I've taught a class entitled "Fundraising for Political Parties" at GSPM and will teach a fundraising workshop at American University next winter, so I'm more familiar with their programs.

CONWAY: A growing number of colleges and universities are developing programs and departments specifically committed to politics and public policy. In survey research alone, there has been an explosion in the number of places where individuals can pursue coursework and actual degrees in the discipline.

What is amazing is that even at a small firm like mine, four employees all under the age of 30 either have their master's degrees or are currently enrolled in master's programs. In Washington, many professionals continue their studies at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at the George Washington University, which attracts an intersection of government workers, campaign types and private sector professionals.

Big-name schools carry timeless cache, but many do not yet specialize in a way that is practical. I would still take the recommendation of trusted colleague who has witnessed this individual's work ethic and performance in a variety of situations over a high GPA or generic reference.