Does the idea of acting as an advocate excite you? Do you want to impact your local, state, or federal government in a meaningful way? If you enjoy fighting for public causes or solving problems then you may want to consider a career in public service.
These careers range from those in the local government, community arena, metropolitan region, state arena, national, and international settings. Potential employers include local, state, and federal governments; nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations at the local, regional, national, and international level; private firms engaged in working with governments; and private corporations with an active public service culture. Source: University of Pittsburgh
Federal and state governments are split into three branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary. Local administration is usually comprised of city, town, and county government entities. The different government sectors showcase professional roles in education, science, social and human services, defense, politics, administration, legal, human resources, and health-related fields, among others.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
An NGO is any nonprofit voluntary citizens’ group organized on a local, national, or international level. Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of services and humanitarian functions, bring citizens’ concerns to governments, monitor policies, and encourage political participation at the community level. NGOs provide analysis and expertise, serve as early warning mechanisms, and help monitor and implement international agreements. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights, the environment, or health. Their relationship with offices and agencies of the United Nations differs depending on their goals, venues, and mandates.
Advocacy is the organized pursuit of influencing public policy and resource allocation. Advocacy is organized actions to highlight critical issues that have been ignored, influence public attitudes, and enact and implement laws and public policies. Human rights form an overreaching framework for these visions. Advocacy organizations draw their strength from members, constituents, and members of affected groups.
Lobbying is an attempt to influence the opinion of legislators, legislative staff, and government administrators involved in drafting legislative proposals. Many different types of organized groups lobby, including the private sector, corporations, fellow government officials, and advocacy groups.
Human and Social Services
Human and Social Services agencies focus on improving conditions for children and families, education, mental health, and other forms of healthcare. Positions are available in government, nonprofit, and private agencies. The three major employment roles include providing direct service, performing administrative work, and working in the community.
Vault Industry Guides – Log in or create an account (you will need to create an account using your Colgate e-mail address to view this content) and then find “Government”, “Politics, Public Policy, and Activism,” or “Social Services” through the search box or in Industries & Professions. There are links to pages for many specific professions at the bottom of these pages.
Prepare for Jobs and Internships
Information, tips, and strategies to help prepare you as an undergraduate.
Many public service organizations offer internships. Obtaining related experience prior to graduation is very important because internships often have the potential to turn into full-time positions. At the entry-level, research, communications, and program work are common stepping stones into the public service field. The government offers a wide array of opportunities for recent graduates, including long-term paid internships and entry-level positions. The Pathways for Students and Recent Graduates to Federal Careers program, in particular, serves as a gateway for new professionals to bridge into the federal sector throughout all government disciplines.
GoGovernment.org has a great page with tips on applying for a federal job, with pages on:
- Languages (especially official languages of the United Nations)
- Public Speaking
- Technology (computer programming, code, etc.)
Knowledge of industry news can give you a sense of the culture and make you a better candidate.
Vault Industry Guides also include a "Current Trends and Issues Section": Log in or create an account (you will need to create an account using your Colgate email address to view this content) and then find “Government”, “Politics, Public Policy, and Activism” or “Social Services” through the search box or in Industries & Professions.
These organizations can be great places to make connections, learn more about the field, and search openings. Many have discounted student memberships.
- American Foreign Service Association
- American Political Science Association
- American Society for Public Administration
- Association for Public Policy & Management
- International City/County Management Association
- National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA)
- National Association of Development Organizations
- National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration
- National Human Services Assembly
- Partnership for Public Service
- State Government Affairs Council
- Women in Government Relations
- Amnesty International
- Budget Allocation Committee
- Center for Leadership and Student Involvement
- Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education
- Class Council
- College Democrats
- College Republicans
- Democracy Matters
- Model United Nations
- Rotaract Club
- Student Government Association
- Also consider joining clubs associated with the specific geographic region, cause, or social, political, ethnic, racial, or religious group you intend to serve
A Masters or Ph.D. in Public Policy is the typical advanced degree someone in this area might pursue. While some professionals argue that obtaining an advanced degree in the field is crucial for advancement, others contend that one might be better served by pursuing a J.D. or an MBA, or simply several years of work experience.
Advice from alumni who work in this industry.
Kathleen Doherty ’85
Current Title and Organization: Ambassador to Cyprus, U.S. Embassy
Colgate Major: Political Science
Advanced degrees received: Masters of Science, Political Economy
What is it that you currently do? What are your major responsibilities?
Develop and implement policy priorities with Cyprus
What was your first position out of Colgate and what did you do in that role?
I was a researcher/journalist.
How can students prepare themselves while at Colgate to work in your field?
Study abroad and learn a language
Nonprofits tend to hire on an as-needed basis and will usually post positions in mid-to-late spring. Otherwise, many of the other areas that fall under the public policy umbrella will hire in a more planned and systematized manner. Interested parties should check for posted positions beginning in winter and early spring. Many government-based positions require you to apply well in advance of your projected start date. For a summer start, jobs requiring any type of security clearance hire in September and October, federal executing departments hire November through March, and Congressional Internships hire January through April.
- Department of State Internship
- Federal Government Internship Program, Recent Graduate Program, and Presidential Management Fellows Program
- New York State Senate Undergraduate Program
- Peace Corps
- Public Service Fellows Program
- Urban Institute
- The Washington Center
- The White House Internship
Colgate Handshake Opportunities
Check Colgate Handshake, Colgate's internship and job database, for opportunities that may interest you in this field.
Connect to Careers
Latest stories about internships, workshops, professional networks, and more.
Public Sector/Government Advisor
Kat joined the Colgate University Center for Career Services adviser team in January of 2016 and focuses on the areas of Pre-Law, Education, Common Good, and Government.
Before coming to Colgate, Kat was a Graduate Programs Manager at Kaplan Test Prep, working with students at colleges and universities throughout Central and Western New York. Previously, she has held a variety of positions related to the government, healthcare, and technology sectors. Kat received her BA in Public Affairs from Syracuse University and enjoys spending time with her husband, Chris, their two daughters, and two Great Danes.
Questions? Call 315-228-7380 for an advising appointment.