Public Policy Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Public Policy Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented crises to every aspect of society, including public leadership, the economy, public health, and international relations (UN DESA, 2020). With other pressing global issues at hand, enacting effective public policies can make an enduring contribution to knowing how to cope and eventually recover from these crises. These play an important role in shaping the future, which makes public policy careers crucial to ensuring that regulations are properly examined and evaluated.

Public policy courses are offered either as a two-year associate’s program or a four-year bachelor’s program, typically as a field of concentration in public administration. Advanced studies are also offered through doctorate and master’s programs. Institutions also provide professional certifications. To be able to formulate effective public policies, students are trained to have a mastery of the tools and principles of political science and economics. However, compared to the mentioned fields, the broader scope of public policy requires the analysis of data, while at the same time integrating the principles of psychology, neuroscience, and humanities in formulating policies.

This guide will provide essential information on possible career paths for public policy majors. The skills needed to become an effective public policy professional are identified, as well as the paths for career advancement.

Public Policy Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in public policy?
  2. Public Policy Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Public Policy Professionals
  4. How to Start Your Career in Public Policy
  5. How can I advance my career in public policy?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Public Policy Professionals

Why pursue a career in public policy?

Every industry has policy-related jobs. A degree in public policy offers a variety of career paths, which include law, law enforcement, justice, lobbying, policy analysis, and advocacy. To influence and, if needed, to change policy are the main goals of public policy professionals. Public policy permeates every aspect of everyday life and plays a crucial role in social capital.

Think tanks are public-policy research analysis and engagement organizations that employ the majority of public policy professionals. These groups conduct extensive research and analysis to inform policies. These said, public policy majors need not worry about finding employment opportunities in different fields.

What is more, the demand for these professionals is also high. For instance, the concern over security and drug-related crimes is expected to increase the demand for public policy professionals. In addition, increased connectivity, as well as the proliferation of information through the internet, will boost the demand for policy analysts. The changing public interests, world affairs, and the ever-shifting political and economic circumstances would require sound policies that will promote trust in governance (OECD, 2017).

Public policy career paths bring fulfillment as you see your work having a significant impact on communities. Public policy professionals, especially those employed by non-profit organizations and the government, have been found to have public service motivation (PSM) as described in the work of Boyd et al. (2018) entitled “Sense of Community, Sense of Community Responsibility, and Public Service Motivation as Predictors of Employee Well-Being and Engagement in Public Service Organizations”.

Their study published in The American Review of Public Administration, Boyd et al. were able to establish that “PSM works to direct applicants toward public service careers and, once hired, can be linked to motivated activity within public-sector organizations. Similarly, like PSM, a sense of community (SOC) and a sense of community responsibility (SOC-R) have also been posited to act as powerful predictors of employee well-being and engagement.”

Source: The Census Bureau, 2019

Public Policy Career Outlook

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs stressed that if not properly addressed through policy, the social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic could increase social inequality, including discrimination, exclusion, and global unemployment. Given this scenario, there is an increased need for public policy professionals across all sectors.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies public policy analysts not as specialized occupations and, as such, the agency does not keep a record of the earnings of public policy professionals. Depending on their research specialty, public policy professionals might be classified as political scientists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, or urban and regional planners (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Most entry-level jobs in the field of public policy require a bachelor’s degree. Policy analysts are required to have at least a master’s degree, although most think tanks prefer hiring those who are in the process of completing a doctorate degree. According to the BLS, the closest comparable data for public policy jobs salary is with that of the political scientist, which has a median salary of $125,350 in 2021.

The projected demand for political scientists is 6% per year through 2029. For other public policy-related jobs such as medical and health service managers, the outlook is 30%, while for social and community service managers, the projected job growth is 15%.

Policy analysts typically concentrate their research on specific sectors. Climate change policy analyst careers are projected to grow 8% per year through 2029, while the outlook for healthcare policy analyst careers is 16% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Experienced policy analysts that work for the federal government typically receive GS-15 level, which ranges from $110,460 to $143,598 (US OPM, 2021). Job prospects for legislative aides, in particular, are increasing as the role of the federal and local governments becomes more crucial in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

RoleSalaryDemand
Market Researcher$59,14622%
Community Relations Coordinator$46,29011%
Legislative Aide$45,79312%
Social Science Research Assistant$53,5606%
Budget Analyst$78,9705%
Program Manager, Nonprofit$53,66115%
Chief Lobbyist$91,0009%
Policy Analyst$75,6459%
Nonprofit Director$82,26615%
Postsecondary Teacher$89,20412%

Required Skills for Public Policy Professionals

The public policy job description encompasses research, political science, economics, statistics, psychology, and humanities. A career in public policy concentrates on researching, evaluating, and shaping public policy. This role requires an understanding of the social sciences and humanities, as well as statistics to be able to formulate informed policy recommendations. Public policy professionals are also skilled communicators as they constantly convey their work to various stakeholders.

Essential Skills for Public Policy Professionals

  • Quantitative and Qualitative Research. Public policy professionals are experts in both qualitative and quantitative research, They are trained to integrate the discipline of economics, political science, and statistics into the formulation and evaluation of policies.
  • Analytical. Public policy professionals engage in constant research to predict the possible implications of particular policies. They analyze not just numbers, but the corresponding impact of policies on economic, political, legal, and environmental contexts.
  • Interpersonal. In discussing policies, public policy professionals need to explain and at the same time convince stakeholders that the proposed policies are sound, and based on relevant research.

General Skills for Public Policy Professionals

  • Leadership. Public policy professionals often work with a group, thus leadership quality is important to be able to motivate and lead the entire team towards achieving a clearly defined objective.
  • Communication. Aside from communicating research results, public policy professionals need to be effective communicators to a wide range of audiences as policies affect every level of society.
  • Detail-oriented. Since policies are based on research, public policy professionals need to have keen attention to detail so as not to miss important nuances that might have a significant bearing on particular policies.

Public Policy Careers Image 1

How to Start Your Career in Public Policy

Entry-level jobs in the field of public policy require at least a bachelor’s degree. Holders of associate’s degree in public administration that plan to pursue a career in public policy may also take on social and community roles in the areas of housing and healthcare, which are typically offered by non-profit organizations. While some schools offer the Bachelor of Science in Public Policy degree as a standalone program, most institutions typically offer public policy as a major under the public administration program.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Public Policy?

Legislative Aide

The legislative aide assists legislators in fulfilling public obligations in the areas of communication, administration, research, and public relations. The legislative aide conducts research and attends committee hearings to review and analyze proposed legislation.

Median salary: $45,793

Community Relations Coordinator

The community relations coordinator is in charge of building relationships with all the organization’s stakeholders. From organizing outreach programs, fairs, and educational events, to site tours and expositions, the community relations coordinator promotes the values and vision of the organization.

Median salary: $46,290

Executive Assistant

The executive assistant performs administrative support functions. Typically assigned to provide high-level support to a top executive, the executive assistant conducts research, prepares statistical reports, and handles information requests.

Median salary: $63,110

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy?

Social Science Research Assistant

The social science research assistant helps the social scientist in conducting surveys and other research. Assisting in laboratory analysis, quality control, and data management are also among the responsibilities of the social science research assistant.

Median salary: $53,560

Non-Profit Program Manager

Every non-profit organization has a clear set of goals, and the non-profit program manager ensures that projects and other initiatives are in line with these goals. The non-profit program manager oversees budgeting, staffing, and other requirements to deliver quality outcomes to all stakeholders.

Median salary: $53,661

Regulatory Affairs Manager

The regulatory affairs manager is responsible for examining. evaluating, and investigating the eligibility and conformity of products requiring government approval. Aside from filing the necessary compliance applications, the regulatory affairs manager also coordinates inspections of facilities and develops procedures to ensure compliance.

Median salary: $71,100

Budget Analyst

The main role of the budget analyst is advising organizations on the current status of their finances. The budget analyst prepares annual financial reports and other financial documents. This role also entails evaluating budget proposals by performing a cost and benefit analysis.

Median salary: $78,970

Can you get a Public Policy job with just a certificate?

If you are planning a career in public policy, taking a short course, such as a certificate in public administration and public policy would be an advantage because it will provide you with a comprehensive overview of policy topics and skills. Graduates of certificate programs in public policy may take on roles such as that of a social researcher, youth worker, and local community or city services coordinator. These career opportunities will provide you with the experience needed to advance your career in the field of public policy.

Source: ZipRecruiter

How can I advance my career in public policy?

Bachelor’s degree holders may choose to pursue further studies through master’s and doctoral degree programs. Public policy analysts are typically required to have a master’s degree. Professionals in the field may also take the graduate certificate programs offered by institutions. These short courses are provided to public policy practitioners to gain more specialized knowledge and skills in specific fields, such as public management and leadership, government management, and strategic planning and public policy.

What can I do with a Master’s in Public Policy?

Chief Lobbyist

As an organization’s representative, the chief lobbyist confers with elected officials and attempts to forward the interests of the organization. The chief lobbyist works in the realm of public relations and formulates strategies to influence legislation to serve the organization’s best interest.

Median salary: $91,000

Senior Budget Analyst

The senior budget analyst oversees the financial health of the organization and creates policies that will facilitate the efficient allocation of financial resources. The senior budget analyst leads a team of budget analysts and financial specialists in developing the organization’s annual budget.

Median salary: $83,356

Sociologist

The sociologist designs research projects to evaluate theories on social issues. Through surveys, observations, and interviews, the sociologist collects data for analysis.

Median salary: $86,110

Policy Analyst

The policy analyst reviews, evaluates, and monitors policies and legislation to determine their benefits, flaws, and possible impacts on stakeholders. Working with different stakeholders, the policy analyst ensures that their concerns and viewpoints on particular policies are taken into account.

Median salary: $80,764

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Public Policy?

Director of Government Affairs

Since changing policies significantly affect organizations, the director of government affairs examines how new and changing government regulations will affect the organization’s operations. The director of government affairs ensures that plans are in place to facilitate smooth transitions as the organization complies with new policies.

Median salary: $99.050

Public Policy Postsecondary Teacher

The postsecondary teacher in public policy is tasked with delivering lectures and facilitating learning among public policy students. The postsecondary teacher also works with students in developing dissertations, research, and other thesis-based papers.

Median salary: $89,204

Fundraising Manager

The fundraising manager oversees campaigns and events that are intended to recruit donors to specific projects and advocacies. Professionals in this job role also conduct research to identify possible individuals and organizations that could contribute resources to the organization.

Median salary: $118,430

Which certification is best for Public Policy?

Certifications in public policy provide advanced knowledge and skills to the public policy practitioner. These courses are designed for professionals that have already gained significant experience in the field of public policy and are looking into focusing on more specialized areas such as:

  • Strategic Planning and Public Policy
  • Non-Profit Management and Leadership
  • Government Management
  • Public Management and Leadership
  • Non-Profit Management
  • Advanced Policy Analysis

Earning a graduate certificate keeps you competitive and can help you transition to a higher position that requires your advanced knowledge in the practice of public policy.

Public Policy Careers Image 2

Alternative Career Options for Public Policy Professionals

Not all public policy majors work for the government. As the public policy degree program offers a strong foundation in research, social sciences, and the humanities, public policy professionals may also take on roles in other fields.

What else can a Public Policy Professional Do?

  • Marketing Campaign Manager. Because marketing strategies are fueled by data and research, the public policy professional may also take on this role. A strong background in both qualitative and quantitative research will prove useful to the marketing campaign manager.
  • Chief Evangelist. Also known as a brand evangelist, this job requires the interpersonal and communication skills of a public policy professional. Product evangelists use research and data to support their claims on particular products. They also formulate campaigns and strategies based on customer feedback.
  • Technical Writer. Public policy professionals are proficient in communicating highly technical research through writing. Because the public policy professional has a skillset founded on economics, political science, and research, technical writing is also an alternative career option.

Source; On Think Tanks

Shape the Future by Pursuing a Career in Public Policy

Public policy careers require public policy professionals to continually evaluate how different issues are woven and interwoven within a society. While this may be considered as a relatively new career specialization, public policy jobs have increased dramatically as countries continue to address both major global and local issues.

The career path of the public policy professional cuts across public, private, for-profit, and non-profit sectors. If you are the type of person who is constantly searching for solutions and desires to work on something that will have a significant impact on society, then this just might be the career path that you are looking for.

 

References:

  1. Boyd, N., Nowell, B., Yang, Z. and Hano, M.Z. (2018), Sense of Community, Sense of Community Responsibility, and Public Service Motivation as Predictors of Employee Well-Being and Engagement in Public Service Organizations, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0275074017692875 
  2. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2017), Trust and Public Policy: How Better Governance Can Help Rebuild Public Trust, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268920-en
  3. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2020), Responding to COVID-19 and Recovering Better, https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/PB-Compilation-final.pdf
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/ 
  5. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, https://www.opm.gov/

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