You have to admit that it’s nicely vague. So what exactly does it involve?
If one had to define “working in policy”, it would be as a fusion of research, consulting and advice, often morphing into something dangerously adjacent to PR. Policy advisers provide the foundations and structure for decisions that are high- level and far reaching.
No 1 employer of policy advisers is Her Majesty’s government in its central, devolved and local incarnations (and – until spring 2019 at least – at European level too. Post Brexit? Your guess is as good as mine). Your overarching role in this context would be to provide objective advice, based on fact. Key functions here would be to analyse data, brief and debrief ministers (they’re not the experts here – you are), and answer questions posed by other politicians, the press, the public.
As a British Prime Minister once (allegedly) said, “A week is a long time in politics”. Things change fast, very fast. So if a political crisis brews up (and don’t they always with alarming regularity?) you’d need to be as nimble and nifty as any gymnast in grasping the implications, handling the fallout and adapting your strategy.
But it’s not all about politics. Other employers might include the media, the charity and NGO sector, environmental and energy organisations, banks, specialist consultancies, you name it. Really any organisation which has to keep abreast of political, economic and regulatory requirements.
Skills? Oh yes. Try these for size:
Research, both qualitative and quantitative: if you’re afraid of figures, don’t apply. Some specialist jobs even demand mathematical modelling.
Oodles of attention to detail – your job is to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s, both literally and metaphorically, particularly when it comes to governance, legal and compliance issues.
Ability to work alone and adapt effortlessly to rapidly changing circumstances, whilst also being at home in a team.
Communication – you bet – the nub of the job. Not as easy as it may sound: this could take in not just researching, writing and presenting facts but persuading, influencing, coaxing, compromising (but not too much) and making complex information short, sharp and to the point.
Objectivity is essential, married with being knowledgeable and up to date, often in some highly specialised areas. Because remember, the buck stops with you regarding erroneous and incomplete information.
Did I mention tact, diplomacy and endless patience? You’ll be dealing with demanding situations and difficult people, some of whom won’t necessarily understand or want to take on board what you are saying if it doesn’t fit their world view or immediate plans (that’ll be the politicians then).
So it’s a heady mix of the analytical (finding and interpreting the facts), the innovative (new perspectives, emerging trends), the creative (interpreting impacts, imagining outcomes) troubleshooting, sidestepping problems and providing solutions when those dilemmas can’t be avoided. You’ll need to be able to grasp new concepts, strategies and facts and find the nub of any argument very speedily, discarding irrelevancies and honing in on key facts, figures and possibilities, turning the latter into concrete and workable strategies.
Want to know more? Try:
Gill Sharp, Careers Consultant