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UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Applied in Focus. Global in Reach


Careers Advice for STEAPP Career Changers

By Siobhan Pipa, on 22 July 2021

By Pablo Costa and Amy Lourenco

Many of our UCL STEaPP MPA students are hoping to make a career change to work for a range of policy/strategy focussed organisations all over the world after a successful career in another field. As MPA students approach the end of their courses we wanted to share a few tips for those who are embarking on this career change.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

You are not alone

You might be career-changing, but you are certainly not the first nor the last to do so. In fact, it is becoming more and more common.  According to an Aviva 2021 report, the number of people in the UK planning a career change has increased from 53% to 60% since July 2020. This same report states that over UK 700,000 workers plan to switch to a role that helps others; much like the reason why many MPA students choose to find roles within the public sector. Making a career shift can be challenging but remember you are not alone in this journey and support is available up to 3 years after graduation from the UCL Careers team.

What makes me happy?

This question has become particularly important during the pandemic and could be one of your reasons for making a career change. In recent years we have seen an increase in public sector employees, rising by 160,000 in the UK between December 2019 and December 2020 (ONS, 2020). Many of these new workers have been directly influenced by a desire to help during this unprecedented era. Helping others or society can provide a greater sense of meaning or purpose in your career and has been linked to increases in happiness and wellbeing (Seligman, 2002).

So how can I make a career change?


  • Geography – where in the world can you work? What is the labour market like for your chosen roles in your region? Do you need to relocate? What is realistic for your personal circumstances and family commitments? Do you want to take advantage of the new Graduate Route visa to stay in the UK for a period? GoinGlobal is a great resource for visa requirements and job search techniques for countries all over the world.
  • Salary – salaries may well differ from your previous experience and you may need to take a pay cut initially. Research expected salaries on Glassdoor or by scanning through job descriptions, where the salary is specified, to consider if your career change is financially viable.
  • Work environment – consider your preferences with regards to work environment. The dynamics of your new role may require a new way of working that is different to what you have previously experienced e.g., hierarchy, communication flow, decision-making speed etc.
  • Type of role – consider what aspects of your MPA programme you have enjoyed and what issues you have developed expertise in. Did you take a particular stream of the MPA programme and could this give you clues about the type of organisation or policy issues you are keen to be involved in? For example development, digital technologies, energy, sustainability, sustainable infrastructure or urban development. Or are you interested in broader issues around science and engineering policy and governance? In one of our careers sessions’ this year we showed a mindmap with some ideas.
  • Type of organisation – consider where you would like to start your career change. Ideas for policy related roles could include academia and university mission groups or policy institutes, think tanks, charities, international organisations and NGOS, learned and professional societies, public-facing organisations, government departments, parliamentary organisations, business or business representative bodies.
  • The volume of roles – in industry there are hundreds of similar roles in hundreds of different companies whereas in government and policy related roles the volume of roles in your area of specialism may not be as high. Given this it might take a while to be employed in your chosen policy area, so you may need to consider a potential interim or temporary role beforehand. It is often the case that once you have made the first move and have some experience under your belt it is easier to get your next role.
  • Career development planning – even if you have successfully applied for your dream policy role, this does not mean that the journey is over. Understanding your very first role in your new career is the starting point but mapping out your developmental path is just as essential.

Understanding your future new career

  • Whatever role you wish to apply for, it would be good to research past governmental policy projects in your area of knowledge. Understanding the background will give you a better affinity and connection with the role and responsibilities and be great background knowledge for when applying to a related position.
  • By using the UCL alumni network (UCL Bentham Connect) and LinkedIn, you can search and contact former students who work in your chosen sector
  • Keep up to date with the sectors that interest you through governmental social media networks, the news and related podcasts.
  • Follow policy influencers on LinkedIn and Twitter. Be active – don’t just follow or like a comment – reply, add your opinions, share your thoughts.
  • Reach out and connect with individuals currently working in a role that you want in the future. Conduct an information interview with them to find out more about their role and responsibilities. We have introduced you to a range of policy professionals on the MPA course who could be useful to reach out to for further discussions and advice.
  • Read related case studies and job profiles. Here are two examples Policy Advisor, Policy Officer
  • Ideally, when you apply for a role, it would be useful for you to have already begun networking with current or past staff members to give you insider information.

Understanding the Policy Recruitment Process

  • Understand the public sector recruitment process in your country. In the UK these can sometimes be extensive and require you to have references. Depending on the nature of the role, the application process may also involve some form of psychometric testing.
  • If you haven’t already, start looking at job adverts now and see which skills (these can be both technical and non-technical depending on your area of policy) consistently appear. LinkedIn’s Career Explorer tool can also help with this as it ranks skills need for different job titles in various countries. Consider whether there are any skills you need to develop further before applying. There are free courses you can take through UCL using LinkedIn Learning or through the UCL Digital Skills Development
  • Proactively begin to write out an overview of examples from your own career. If these are very technical, we can practice writing these out in a tailored way that would be understandable by non-experts.
  • Crucially, if you are currently in the process of applying for a role, use the UCL Careers Service for support. This can be in the form of CV/cover letter/application form checking as well as interview practice.

Final Thoughts

Making a career change can be one of the most inspiring choices you make in terms of the unique work projects you will face. Career changing is often life-affirming and you will experience a way of working that is inherently different to where you have come from. We wish you all the best with your future career and are here to support you in whatever way we can.

Amy & Pablo, Careers Consultants, UCL Careers


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