I was a bit apprehensive initially about the prospect of an informational interview, due to my generally shy nature. However, over the course of the first two weeks of my internship I came to know the Chamber’s Public Policy Department relatively well, and began to have substantial conversations with one of the figures in the department, who for the sake of anonymity will be referred to here as Susan Doe. Susan had given me many tasks in my first two weeks, and often took the time to explain to me the significance of these tasks, and how many of these simple “errands” often contributed to larger and crucial work. Therefore, I chose to have my first informational interview with Susan, as I strongly believed that she would be able to provide me with a key perspective on what a potential career/academic pathway into public policy would be like.
The primary takeaway that I took from this conversation was that experience, more than anything else, was what mattered for a career in politics and government, particularly. This was accentuated by the fact that Susan started her academic career as a biology major; it was a visit to the College’s Young Republicans Club that marked a transition for her academic career and professional aspirations, and led her to pursue an in internship, which eventually became a job WHILE she was still an undergraduate at her local state senator’s office. The experience of doubly having a full time job while still maintaining regular coursework was not lost on Susan, as she shared her belief that the coursework of political science and public policy often does not reflect the practical nuances of an actual career. For example, courses in political science often don’t reflect the nature of negotiations or, as she put it, the “wheelin’ and dealin’” of real world political operations — rather, they reflect the theory of politics in general. Moreover, a lot of career pathways in politics and government are based off of who you know and why you know them – i.e., networking, making connections, and having a good, open personality are crucial in this profession. You cannot be a shy person. You have to have a good personality, and must be able to get work done efficiently and effectively — in a way this almost casts aside the stature of the university you may have attended.
This interview opened my eyes to the greater reality that has befallen many professions – the fact that you have to make connections early if you want to succeed. While education is one of the most valuable assets that you can have in a career, maintaining connections and getting better experience is perhaps the most important attribute of a profession in government, and a position for an elected official. In a way, this parallels politics in general — people by and large are not going to vote for a candidate based on their alma mater — they will vote for a candidate based on their experience, their policies, and what they have done and what they will do.