Policy analyst positions fall into that category of jobs that many people don't understand -- you almost have to be in the field to get a good handle on what exactly a policy analyst does. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics succinctly describes your job, which is to "influence political and social decisions." Your research capabilities, the ability to synthesize materials, confidence in your recommendations and analyzing outcomes are just part of your job, whether you work in Washington, D.C., with the nation's lawmakers or community grassroots organizations in your hometown.
Background and Interests
The order of questions during a policy analyst's interview might be slightly different than for other cut-and-dry positions in public service. It's likely the interviewer wants to understand your background and what you find interesting about public policy. Many aspiring policy analysts have personal interests or experiences that underlie their desire to get involved in policy making or government and legislative processes. Your political leanings might be evident, based on the job you've applied for, but the interviewer might ask questions such as, "What inspired your interests in politics?" and "Have you ever been a campaign volunteer or have you ever worked for an elected official?"
Core competencies, such as verbal and written communication talents and analytical and critical-thinking skills, are essential for policy analysts. Still, your academic credentials and qualifications could strengthen your candidacy for this role. For example, if you have a degree in political science, law, international relations or public health, you might be better positioned than a candidate with academic credentials in business, literature or psychology. During the interview, match your qualifications to fit the job. For example, questions such as, "What kinds of responsibilities did you have during your internship with the mayor's office?" and "Why did you choose political science as your major?" could be among the inquiries the recruiter or hiring manager asks to determine whether you have the foundation necessary to become a policy analyst.
An effective way to gauge how you would handle actual policy analysis is to ask questions about actual or hypothetical policy development. For example, the Employee Free Choice Act generally is starkly divided along political party lines. The hiring manager might ask for your impression about the fallout that could occur as a result of the EFCA passage and what it could mean for employees and employers. You might be asked, "What do you think should be the employer's first step in lobbying for policies related to National Labor Relations Board proposed postings or the Employee Free Choice Act?" or "What do you say to small-business owners who oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?"
Whether you fit the workplace culture could be the tipping point in your interview. Policy analysts often work in fast-paced work environments, so you have to embrace that type of organizational culture. In addition, your commitment to constituents must be clear because being a policy analysts suggests that you're personally invested in what happens as a result of legislation or public policy. The only cyclical nature of the work might be when the lawmakers aren't on Capitol Hill. But even then, you'll be expected to take advantage of the downtime with constant work, so expect questions such as, "How do you enjoy your time off?" or "What are the advantages of summer recess -- how do you fill your time?" The interviewer might ask how you feel about connectivity via technology and meetings, impressing upon you that policy analysts are among the busiest in the office.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.