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«Revised and expanded 6th edition Copyright © 2003 American Political Science Association All rights reserved. For noncommercial use only. No part of ...»

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“Nongovernmental organization” (NGO) usually refers to a nonprofit group that works in a policy area. There are NGOs at all levels of government and in virtually all public issues and policy areas, from neighborhood housing and environmental renewal to food banks and youth development to national policy areas such as health, education, civil rights, and criminal justice. NGOs are associations or nonprofit groups that may perform a number of tasks such as fund programs, conduct research, advocate policy positions, and provide assistance. They may apply and receive government funds for projects. They may be local, statewide, national, or international. The American Red Cross, Friends of the Earth, and the National Council on the Aging are examples. Some NGOs defy definition by working on a full range of issues across the liberal/conservative political spectrum, but they generally are not membership or professional organizations. (See the separate chapter on international careers in this guide for more information on international NGOs.) The American Nurses Association, Handgun Control, and the American Political Science Association are examples of individual membership associations that hire political science majors. On the other hand, a trade association comprises business competitors, not individuals—for instance, the Direct Marketing Association, the National Grocers Association, and the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association. People join because they want up-to-date information on their profession or issue, to share problems, and to influence public policy. Member companies rely on their association for lobbying Congress on issues that affect their businesses, information on new products, research and statistics about their industry, and business ethics. These groups are nonprofit, but generally do not fall under the NGO rubric. In each policy area there are some associations, interest groups, and NGOs that are nonpartisan, but others are identified with party and ideological leanings. It is best to identify those that share your viewpoint and not to waste time or energy on groups that would make you politically uncomfortable.

Whatever the label of these thousands of organizations of like-minded citizens— associations of business firms, financial institutions, interest groups, think tanks, individual corporations, churches, political action committees, universities, health care groups, local governments, and labor unions—they represent themselves in Washington, D.C. Some have their permanent headquarters in the nation’s capital, whereas others maintain only a Washington branch office. Still other groups retain Nonprofits some of the numerous Washington-based attorneys, lobbying firms, or public relations firms to look after their interests. In addition to NGOs and associations, many companies have created government affairs divisions to monitor public policy developments and, when necessary, to try to influence the policy process.

Interest group employees and representatives undertake many other tasks.

Simply keeping track of what government agencies are doing and how your own organization might be affected is a demanding and complex job. It is often of enormous importance to learn in a timely way about what new administrative regulations are proposed, what a congressional committee is planning to do, or whether a dependable supporter in the Senate has decided to seek reelection. The act of putting together a persuasive case for a policy proposal designed to serve the group’s interest requires careful preparation, with extensive research and analysis. Accordingly, many interest groups employ people with skills in policy analysis.


The assumption that Washington lobbyists are invariably either lawyers or former government officials or both is not true; there are many entry-level lobbying positions and quite a few senior jobs for those with the right preparation. Some require advanced degrees but many more do not, and strong backgrounds in the social sciences are certainly valuable. Political science skills are highly prized, especially clear writing, cogent analysis, and statistical skills. Courses on the legislative and regulatory processes will provide a good foundation for the procedures with which you will deal.

Good writing skills are necessary to prepare testimony, association policy statements, regulatory comments, friends of the court briefs, and lobbying materials.

Excellent verbal skills aid in making contacts, meeting with government officials, and conveying policy positions. Perhaps most valuable is the ability to translate legislative and regulatory “bureaucrat-ese” into plain English for constituents of your organization.

Experience in government often serves as a useful preparation, and many interest groups’ representatives in Washington have held a government position.

Some have been elected officials, but many more have been executive and legislative staff. Often, moving “downtown” to work with an interest group comes later in life, after you have exhausted a government career. Experience on Capitol Hill or with an executive agency may act as a kind of postgraduate training that will enrich your understanding of the policy process and enable you to do a better job in representing the interests of your organization.

Government employment may serve two purposes: expanding your knowledge of how government works and providing a grounding in the substance of some areas Careers in Political Science of public policy. For example, a good way to learn about the intricacies of agriculture policy is to serve on the staff of the House or Senate Agriculture Committee, or to work for an elected officeholder whose constituents include substantial numbers of farmers. In addition to substance, experience may provide contacts and working relationships. Inevitably, you will learn who are the significant people in a policy domain and how they may best be approached.

What and whom you know are perhaps the most valuable commodities to an interest group or trade association. In preparing for this kind of position, therefore, it is desirable to pursue opportunities to gain government experience, either as an intern or in a permanent job. Many organizations provide internship opportunities (see the lists below).

NGOs, especially, are often understaffed and anxious to employ people with education in political science and policy analysis. It is sometimes possible to move quite quickly into positions with important responsibility and influence, and careers in the interest group community are often exciting.

Movement among jobs in government and trade associations, public interest groups, and think tanks has become fairly fluid, especially when there is a change of administration—and political party—in the White House. In addition to the government–interest group career path, there is mobility between NGOs and trade associations. Skills are portable across a range of perspectives. Salaries vary greatly between groups—for example, nonprofit organizations and trade associations—and among positions, depending on experience. Salaries also vary greatly between interest groups and government; government usually pays less, but offers more job security and a better benefits package, especially pension plans.

Within this field are a number of positions ranging from federal, state, and local government relations and international activities to membership, education, marketing, communications, and administration. Here, subject area knowledge combined with a background in marketing, for instance, will expand your ability to move laterally when you want a change of duties.

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local position. They often list jobs and may help in researching the associations in your area. Consider joining a professional association in order to make contacts and to access their job listings.

You will find information about positions with interest groups by surfing the web or perusing a library’s reference volumes on NGOs and trade associations. For example, the current year’s issue of Washington Representatives lists several thousand organizations represented in Washington, as well as their addresses, e-mail addresses, and URLs. Washington Representatives, published by Columbia Books, Inc., may be ordered from www.columbiabooks.com/books.cfm and is also found in many libraries and career centers. The same publisher also puts out National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States, State and Regional Associations of the United States, and National Directory of Corporate Public Affairs. The Yellow Book series www.leadershipdirectories.com—especially the Government Affairs Yellow Book and Associations Yellow Book, published by Leadership Directories, Inc.—is also good. All of these publications are expensive, so check to see if your library has them. The Encyclopedia of Associations by Gale Research has been a standard reference tool for 40 years. Your library may carry it or have access to the online version, www.galenet.


The ASAE maintains the Career Headquarters Resume Data Base www.

asaenet.org/career/resumedatabase/ in which you can post your resume for free and access job openings. Check out the nonprofit jobs data base of Idealist, a project of Action Without Borders www.idealist.org/career. Look for notices of job openings in publications such as Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Roll Call, and The Hill.

Internships in interest groups are listed in several different publications and web sites. To assist students, APSA has prepared Studying in Washington: A Guide to Academic Internships in the Nation’s Capital. You should also check with your department chair, and the university’s career services or internship office and their web sites, because many departments, colleges, and universities have substantial amounts of information and personal contacts that can help you get an internship. Among other sources on

internships are:

Internship Programs, www.internshipprograms.com/home.asp Intern Web, www.internweb.com Intern Jobs, http://web.clas.ufl.edu/users/dhedge/ internshipmainpage.htm The Washington Center, www.twc.edu.

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A law degree is one route to: deputy secretary to the governor; online research consultant;

assistant chief of police; public interest/consumer advocate; broadcast or newspaper reporter;

nonprofit interest group public policy analyst; university president; state legislator; political commentator; mediator; executive director, Presidential library foundation; judge; CIA inspector general; senior criminologist; commissioner, state department of human resources; legislative director, education association; juvenile justice specialist, state justice department; corporate manager of environmental/regulatory affairs; lobbyist; labor relations specialist; chief of staff, committee, U.S. House of Representatives; assistant budget examiner; administration and policy development; politician; labor union official.

A law degree is required for: corporate, criminal, or civil attorney; administrative law judge, Social Security Administration; assistant district attorney; corporate legal counsel; government attorney; law professor.


Arguably, a political science major provides the best background for applying to law school and becoming an attorney, but it is not mandatory. Over the years, political science has been the most popular major of choice for applicants to the most select law schools. Nevertheless, law schools value a wide range of skills, educational backgrounds, and life experiences when considering applicants.

Too often, the legal profession is understood only in narrow terms. A majority of all lawyers engage in private practice, either alone or associated with firms of two to several hundred lawyers. Many lawyers, however, are not in private practice. Rather, they are salaried employees of corporations, labor unions, trade associations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and governments. Equally important are the numerous law-schooled individuals who apply their skills to nontraditional law Careers in Political Science practices, many of which are in corporate management, public administration, nonprofit associations, or politics. Although a law degree is not required for most of the occupations listed above, many attorneys have chosen to enter those careers and may have a hiring advantage. Political science graduates may find that they may pursue law-related careers without a law school diploma. However, this chapter is aimed at students who are thinking about law school in their futures.

According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the so-called “gentlemanly profession” has been transformed by an influx of a substantial number of women and, to a lesser degree, of a variety of ethnicities. The expectation is that law schools and the legal profession will continue to become more diverse over time.

For additional information on law school, see:

Kenneth Graham, Understanding Law School www.casenotes.com/uls.html Getting into Law School from the perspective of a Rice University student www.ruf.rice.edu/~legaleas/getting_in.html America’s Law Links http://resource.lawlinks.com/Content/ Law_Students/Intro_to_Law/getting_into_law_school.htm.

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Third, you must develop creative critical thinking. A lawyer must be able to reason closely from given premises and propositions to tenable conclusions. The analysis of a legal problem almost always involves more than persuasive prose based on superficial reasoning. Training for this type of close reasoning may be sought in courses in mathematics, physical science, logic, and advanced political and economic theory, among others.


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