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Public policy analysts help shape the debate over government policy on everything from education and health care to nuclear proliferation and national security. They conduct research, compare policy proposals and prepare reports of their findings. Some analysts evaluate existing policies and programs to gauge their effectiveness. People interviewing for a policy analyst position should be prepared to discuss their education, experience, policy knowledge and technical proficiencies.
Be prepared to summarize your educational background, explaining how it qualifies and prepares you to work as a policy analyst. Most jobs in policy analysis require an undergraduate or graduate degree, often in a social science field such as economics, political science, international relations or public administration. Regardless of your major, however, you should be able to describe to a prospective employer how it qualifies you to analyze policy proposals. For example, a degree in social work may qualify you to research and analyze social policies related to poverty, homelessness and care for the elderly.
Summarize your professional experience, especially in policy-specific work, such as prior experience analyzing or developing public policies. Other professional experience is important as well, because it can qualify you to better understand public policies in these areas. An experienced schoolteacher, for example, will better understand policy related to education. As with your educational background, you should articulate how your professional experience prepares you to be a policy analyst.
Although some policy analysts, especially beginners, are generalists, analyzing a wide range of public issues, many analysts develop expertise in a particular area. Some analysts become experts in health care, foreign policy, environmental regulations, tax policy, education, criminal justice and other areas. Interviewers are likely to ask about specific areas of public policy in which you are interested and how you developed this interest. In some interviews, you may even be given a short written test that assesses your public policy and current events knowledge.
Collecting and analyzing data, preparing charts and tables, and writing reports are part of a policy analyst's work. Interviewers often ask applicants to list the database, spreadsheet, statistical and other software programs in which they are proficient. Occasionally, an interviewer will ask a question designed to test statistical and research methodology knowledge, such as explaining the difference between correlation and causation.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.