It’s that time of year when university graduates across Canada are crossing the stage at convocation with newly minted degrees in hand. Like every year, there are thousands of students graduating – and this means vigorous competition for internships and jobs.
As a recent grad and relatively new PA consultant at H+K, I’m keen to share advice with aspiring public affairs professionals and newbies.
So, you want to work in public affairs?
Here are my top three tips on how to get there…
+1 Get involved.
It’s a competitive world out there. There are thousands of students graduating this June, and even more who graduated last year that are still searching for their first gig. A degree – in political science, public policy, communications, or public relations – is a great starting point to give you the basic skills to succeed. But in order for your resume to stand out, I recommend doing more.
Get involved in extracurricular activities that allow you to refine and develop your skills. During my degree, I became president of my graduate students’ association and later, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. These roles afforded me experience in writing briefing notes, government submissions and policy. I also had the opportunity to participate in advocacy meetings with bureaucratic and elected decision-makers across partisan political lines from all levels of government.
Look for opportunities to explore your interests and add skills to your toolkit. Getting involved – even in a volunteer capacity to start – gives you relevant material to add to your resume and builds a track record of success that can vouch for you. Student associations, campus clubs, Roteract, Toastmasters and youth wings of political parties are typically fruitful areas to begin searching for opportunities. There are only three ways for something to get on your resume: education, work, or volunteer experience. Make good use of all three categories to ensure that you have the skills and experience you’ll need to be successful.
+2 Network and stay informed.
Being able to connect and network with others has always been an important part of public affairs. Policy and data-driven lobbying is not just about knowing the facts, but about knowing what those facts mean for different stakeholders.
Go to events and meet people. Most political parties have youth rates for conventions and fundraisers. Take advantage of this and meet the key players from both government and industry. Don’t be shy – find your voice, develop a perspective and share it. People of power and influence deserve respect, but they are still people like you or me. Engage decision makers and public affairs professionals in conversation; politics offers a unique and inclusive opportunity to discuss a wide variety of topics!
Read the news and stay current on social media. When I was in university, I tried to review at least three to five news sources per day, every day. I also followed the political discussion on Twitter – know your favourite hashtags (mine are #abpoli and #cdnpoli) and check in regularly. Staying current with current affairs allows you to participate effectively at all of the fabulous networking events that you should consider attending.
+3 Be humble and make the right impression.
Completing a degree takes a lot of work, which sometimes means that with graduation comes the “I’ve made it” feeling of relief. Well, let me tell you – working hard and making a good impression continues even after school is done – and never stops.
+ Develop a personal brand.
Do the right thing – be ethical, fair, and responsible in your decisions. Treat others with respect and kindness, and develop a reputation for being a person of integrity. Short term gains are short lived, and the public affairs community in Canada is relatively small. If you treat others badly now, chances are good that it will come back to haunt you later.
+ Be helpful.
Show future employers in government and business that you are willing to work as hard as it takes to accomplish your goals. Volunteer for projects and take on new responsibilities. Every opportunity counts.
+ Be active on social media.
Social media is a great equalizer. Everyone can participate and it’s a great (and free!) way to build your brand. Participate in social media discussions and demonstrate thought leadership. And, of course, maintain a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and with any other social media accounts. Prospective employers are watching…
+ Add a bit of flash.
I’ve had purple hair for the past few years – tastefully done, I assure you. Even something as simple as this can help in making yourself recognizable. Get a professional headshot and keep it consistent across your social media profiles. Get a business card – even as a student. Have a personality and a personal style, and be consistent.
+ Don’t underestimate the value of good writing, which a degree doesn’t guarantee.
Taking a technical writing class was one of the best investments I made in my career as a student. Grammar errors are never a selling point. Remember the Four C’s of good writing – be concise credible, clear, and correct.
+ Be willing to learn.
I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of mentors in government and business as I’ve progressed in my career. Be open to learning from the wisdom of seasoned pros and be grateful for the time that experienced practitioners invest in you.
Lastly, stay positive. No one likes working with a giant grump! And almost everyone loves the occasional knock-knock joke.
Good luck and happy job searching!

Authored by: Amanda Nielsen