Government, Policy, International Affairs, & Law

Look below for relevant events and throughout this page for resources to help you learn about and land a position in this field. You can also subscribe to this community’s newsletter or join the Facebook group for job/internship updates, employer events, and more.

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Spring 2022 Events

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Myths about Careers in Government, Policy, International Affairs, & Law

There can be a lot of misconceptions about careers in this field, so it’s good to be aware of the most common ones. Click the myths below to read more about the truth behind the myth.

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"My first job after college will define my entire career path."

True (in a way). Applying to your first job out of undergrad can be extremely intimidating, because it feels like it will lay the foundation for your entire professional future. In a way this is true, but probably not how you think. 

Whether or not it’s the “dream job” you imagined, your first full-time job after college will help you understand the type of work you enjoy doing, what is important to you in a work environment, and how your academic knowledge can translate into tangible, professional skills. At this point, learning what you don’t like is just as important as finding what you love, and every experience will help! Your first post-grad job is just the first step in what will probably be a much longer and more winding career path than you envision right now, and that’s okay! Remember that this first step won’t determine whether or not you can reach your long-term career goals, just the route you’ll take to get there.  

This means that, when searching for your first job, don’t put too much pressure on yourself! There’s no such thing as the “right” job, so keep an open mind and focus on finding something that interests you and would allow you to gain some relevant skills. If that still feels a bit overwhelming, set up an appointment to talk it through with a SuccessWorks advisor! We can help make sure that you have the resources and support you need to feel prepared. 

"I need a Poli Sci major to work in government."

False! If you are interested in working in the government, a Poli Sci major can give you some great insight into how the government works and interacts with its citizens. However, it is definitely not a necessity. The American government is hugely diverse, and needs people of all backgrounds and skill sets to accomplish its work. Whether your skills are in Computer Science, STEM Research, Human Resources, Communications and Writing, Business, Economics, Library Science, Languages or Linguistics, Engineering, or something totally different, chances are the government needs employees like you! Take a look on the main site for federal hiring,, and see what you find.

To work in the federal government, it’s much more important that you can clearly and effectively demonstrate how your past experience and skills relate to the position that interests you. This means that you should understand how candidates are evaluated in the federal hiring process, as well as how to write a federal style resume. Check out the SuccessWorks federal hiring resources, and make an appointment if you have further questions!

"I can’t get an internship until I’ve had an internship."

False! When you’re looking for your first internship, it can often seem like employers want you to have internship experience before they’ll consider your application. This can be discouraging, to say the least. However, there are several ways you can use your application materials to show what a strong candidate you are, even before your first internship experience. 

First, remember that when employers ask for “experience”, they usually don’t require that this experience come from an internship. Experience can come from your classes, jobs, student orgs, volunteering, or personal projects! For example, if you’re applying for an internship with an NGO that supports newly arrived refugees in Wisconsin, that 15-page paper you wrote about asylum-seekers in the European Union would be extremely relevant – and would also highlight your writing, research, and analysis skills!

There are a lot of different ways to incorporate your experience into your resume, like changing up your section headings (ex. Breaking out “Communications and Marketing Experience” and “Additional Experience” rather than just “Experience” for a Social Media Internship) or adding a “Research and Writing” section to highlight your relevant coursework and projects. If you read through your resume with fresh eyes and find that it really doesn’t show all of your relevant skills and knowledge, that’s a good sign that you need to make some changes! If you aren’t sure how to do this, check out the Resume Tips and Tools on the SuccessWorks website, or meet with an advisor

"There aren’t any good internships because of COVID-19."

False! Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has massively changed the internship landscape. However, there are still a lot of great opportunities out there! It’s just a matter of finding them. 

Handshake (UW-Madison’s central career platform) is a great place to start looking for internships. Use the keyword search function to find opportunities in your interest area. Also consider programs like the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) internship program, which offers a huge array of opportunities in all areas of the US government for students to work about 10 hours a week (virtually) through the semester! You can even think about pursuing opportunities that are a bit more “outside the box”. Volunteering with an organization doing relevant work in your field is a great way to gain some experience and start to develop your professional network! 

It’s also very important to remember that not all internships are posted. Posting an internship, promoting it, and evaluating applications is a lot of work, and a lot of organizations don’t have the capacity to take it on.  Many students find their first internship through networking, either reaching out to organizations directly to ask about opportunities or by working with their existing contacts to find internships. If this sounds a bit scary, check out the SuccessWorks ultimate guide to networking or talk with an advisor.

"I can’t get any of these jobs straight out of undergrad."

False! There’s no arguing that entry-level positions are competitive. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of organizations are having to cut their budgets, which means that there are less positions available and larger applicant pools. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good job straight out of undergrad.

It’s important to remember that, as a recent graduate, you have plenty of transferable skills that make you a competitive candidate. Through 2020, you’ve had to adapt to virtual learning, find new ways to communicate with your professors and classmates, and balance your academic schedule with personal responsibilities during a global pandemic. The resilience, adaptability, technical, and communication skills you’ve developed are in high demand from employers, as are the writing, analysis, and problem-solving skills you’ve gained throughout your time as a student! 

The other main thing to keep in mind as you’re looking for a job is that flexibility is key. A flexible mindset will help keep what can be a long and stressful process from becoming too overwhelming. You may also have to look beyond your ideal job title or dream organization, or expand your search in other ways if you’re finding that you aren’t getting the results you want. This can be discouraging, but is your best strategy in the long-run because, even if your first job ends up not being exactly what you hoped for, it is still a crucial step in helping you get to your long-term career goals. 

It’s also good to look for positions that are specifically hiring recent graduates because you know that you’re automatically a strong candidate! The Pathways program through the federal government is a great example of this. Pathways hires for a variety of positions throughout the federal government, but make sure you check out the SuccessWorks resources for federal hiring before you apply.

"All of my friends already have jobs, I must be doing something wrong!"

False! First, it’s important to remember that not all industries run on the same hiring timelines. If you have friends in certain Business, Engineering, or Tech fields who got hired several months (or even years) before their graduation, that’s because it’s normal for many of those organizations to hire extremely far in advance. That’s just not the case in other industries. 

In fact, most organizations in the Government, Policy, International Affairs, and Law Career Community are only willing to hire students (at most) a couple of months before their graduation. For some Federal Government positions, you even need to wait until after you’ve graduated to apply! Though there are definitely some exceptions to this (Intelligence, Foreign Service, etc.) and it’s always better to get an early start, you’re likely not as far behind as you think. 

It’s also worth remembering that, on average, it takes 3-6 months to find a job after graduation. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this may become even longer, especially in industries that were highly impacted by the recession. If you’ve been applying for a lot of jobs and not seeing results, that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or that you’re not a strong candidate, just that it’s a highly competitive job market. 

If you’re anxious about the application process and want to make sure you’re doing everything you can, set up an advising appointment! We can make sure that your application materials are as strong as possible, share industry-specific search resources, and help you find new ways to strategize or broaden your search.

"Internships with NGOs/Nonprofits are always unpaid."

Partially true. Because most NGOs and Nonprofits run on very tight budgets, there is often not enough funding to compensate interns for their work. Though there are other professional development opportunities that can come from interning with these organizations, a competitive salary often isn’t one of them. 

Before you rule out Nonprofit or NGO internships completely, take a look at the SuccessWorks Intern Fund. Every summer, SuccessWorks provides scholarships for L&S students pursuing unpaid or underpaid internship opportunities. SuccessWorks also partners with local Nonprofits and Small Businesses doing essential social justice work in Madison through the Social Justice Internship Program

"I won’t earn a good salary working in government."

False (depending how you define “good”)! You’ll probably never become a millionaire working in government, but there are a lot of other benefits to government work. The government is known for its benefits, including health insurance, paid time off, and professional development opportunities. Some roles even have a pension, which is an incredibly rare (and game-changing) way to prepare for your retirement! Though these benefits may not seem super important to you at this point in your life, they can make a big difference in your work-life balance and your sense of professional and financial security in the long-run.

Government roles also give you the opportunity to grow throughout your career. The GS system is a (somewhat) standardized system that defines the education and experience levels you need to be considered for a job. Most government jobs are posted with a GS range, which means that even if you enter at the lowest level, you’ll be able to regularly move to a higher level (and higher salary) within the same role! There are also a huge number of government jobs that are only open to current federal employees, so whenever you’re ready for a career change, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Featured Opportunities

Social Justice Internships

Applications Now Open!

Want to make a positive impact in local communities and get valuable experience? We’re helping to connect UW-Madison students with internships at local social justice non-profit organizations.

Learn more about current opportunities here.

Wisconsin In Washington

Want one of the best experiences to learn what it’s like working on politics, policy, or international affairs?

Spend a semester or summer on an internship in Washington, DC, focusing on domestic or international policy issues while living in the heart of the nation’s capital. As you earn academic credit for your internship, you’ll gain first-hand experience in the political sphere of Washington, DC, connecting with UW alumni and other professionals. Semester students will have the option to take a course taught by our Ambassador in Residence.

Learn more about the Wisconsin in Washington program here.

Boren Awards

The Boren Scholarship provides funding to students who study abroad including studying languages and in countries around the world determined to be of importance to U.S. national security interests. Recipients of these awards commit to working for the Federal Government for at least one year after their graduation working in positions critical to U.S. national security throughout the Federal Government, including the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and USAID. This opportunity provides an excellent gateway into a career in the Federal Government for students with variety of academic and career interests.

Students interested in applying for this excellent scholarship opportunity can contact the UW-Madison campus representative Matt Geisler

Jobs & Internships on Handshake

Set up your profile in Handshake to take care of everything you need to explore career events, manage your campus interviews and apply to jobs and internships from 200,000+ employers around the country.

SuccessWorks now offers an exciting resource for you called Big Interview. This great tool helps you learn, practice, and analyze your interviewing skills.

It’s easy to sign up, it’s free, so check it out and help your future self ace your next interview!

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Looking to get started now? We have made a specialized assignment for you to practice the four most common interview questions. Just go to the “Assignments Tab” and enter code: 3237e2

Check out these courses


Prerequisites: Students who have taken POLI SCI 103 prior to Fall 2017 may not enroll in this course.

Covers the major issues in international relations since the end of World War II including: the causes of war; civil wars and ethnic conflict; economic development; international trade; exchange rates and international monetary relations; international capital flows and financial crises; foreign direct investment; globalization and the environment; the UN, the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and other international organizations; and international law and human rights. The focus is on states’ relations with each other and the factors determining the nature and outcomes of these international interactions. The course seeks to develop analytical tools for thinking about important questions in world politics regardless of the countries or issues involved, to examine international affairs in a systematic way.


Prerequisites: Sophomore Standing

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