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Home >  Academics >  Political Science Department >  Public Policy / Administration

Public Policy / Administration

Obama Cabinet Meeting

What skills are necessary for public policy jobs?

Communication Skills
Anyone working in public policy must have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal. Because of the fast-pace of the policy scene (a committee may call a hearing on a topic and ask for testimony to be delivered in the matter of a few days), policy professionals must be able to quickly synthesize information and prepare written reports on demand (sometimes within hours). Congressional staffers sometimes have less than an hour to prepare "talking points" for their boss to use in a phone call with an important constituent.

Interpersonal skills
Everyone working in policy has a constituency (i.e., a group of people they represent) and therefore must be able to work effectively with people. Policy professionals must build coalitions and work to resolve differences between members of their constituency. These tasks often require a great deal of diplomacy, as well as patience. In addition to being able to work effectively with people, someone interested in policy must truly enjoy working with people. Someone who prefers working independently with no interruptions all day would not do well in a policy position. Networking is a critical part of any policy professional's daily tasks, including after-hours receptions and "power lunches".

Ability to multitask and work under pressure
With few exceptions, policy professionals must work on a variety of issues that are dictated by the interests and actions of their constituency. While research scientists are accustomed to multi-tasking (teaching, experiments, writing, advising), schedules of a policy professional are largely out of their hands and are subject to change instantaneously. Things such as designated office hours for constituents and closed doors to prevent interruptions do not exist in most policy jobs. Likewise, weekly "to do" lists are difficult to create, let alone maintain, because world events often influence the legislative agenda. For example, following the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, several members of Congress introduced bills that would tighten regulations on universities active in research on bioweapons. Within a few days, policy representatives at several scientific societies were answering questions from congressional offices, reviewing draft legislation, responding to university concerns about proposed legislation, and having meetings with other interest groups on the issue. This sudden flurry of activity comes in addition to regular tasks such as tracking other legislation, writing board reports, lobbying for science funding, etc.

Regional Public Policy / Public Administration Schools

Goldman School of Public Policy (UC Berkely)

The Department of Public Policy & Administration (California State University, Sacramento)

School of Policy, Planning & Development (University of Southern California)