Political Scientist Interview Questions
Political scientists are hired by businesses, governments, and universities to study both emerging and existing political theories and their execution. Much like economists predict patterns in markets, political scientists study political trends in an attempt to predict political events and their consequences.
Using historical and current socioeconomic data, political scientists study the workings of political systems and the interactions they have with each other on a global scale. Any predictions made are then offered to political campaigns, businesses, and current government officials. This allows them to anticipate social and political trends and use them to their favor.
A political scientist’s responsibilities include:
- Keeping track of current events and quantifying them
- Relating historical events and their consequences to current events
- Identifying patterns in different aspects of the political system (i.e., voter demographics and political parties)
- Examining interactions between governments with similar and dissimilar political systems
- Putting political systems into context in the larger sphere of global politics
- Advising businesses, politicians, and journalistic institutions on political trends and their outcomes
A political scientist’s skills should include:
- An analytical approach to thinking
- Being well-versed in both political theory and history
- Well-refined research skills
- Quantifying both qualitative and quantitative information
- Building predictive models based on gathered data
To work in political science, an applicant must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in political science or a closely related field. A doctorate in political science will give an applicant a competitive edge and training in statistics.
Salaries for political scientists range between $30K and $102K with the median being $54K.
Factors impacting the salary you receive as a political scientist include:
- Degrees (associate's, bachelor's, master's, PhD)
- Size and Type of the Organization
- Reporting Structure (seniority of the administrator or supervisor you report to, size and type of the organization, and number of staff you manage)
- Level of Performance - exceeding expectations
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Political Scientist Interview Questions
Question: How would you define political science?
Explanation: This is a general or opening question the interviewer will ask to start the conversation, get you talking, and learn more about your background. Your answers will also give them material for additional questions.
Example: “Political science is an academic field within the social sciences that investigates political processes, systems, behavior, and the structure and purpose of government. It also looks into related topics, including public policy as well as political theory, the economy, and international relations.”
Question: Do you believe government employees are effective, or does a bureaucracy result in a decrease in the effectiveness of a government?
Explanation: This is another general question. During an interview as a political scientist, you can anticipate that the majority of questions will be either general or technical. Questions like these are best answered directly and concisely. The interviewer will ask you a follow-up question if they need additional information.
Example: “I believe that government employees can be effective if they are left alone to do their jobs. Creating a large bureaucracy with many rules and regulations and a very formal reporting structure lessens the effectiveness of government employees and the services they provide.”
Question: How do democratic countries select their politicians?
Explanation: This is an example of a technical question. Technical questions ask you to define terms or discuss processes characteristic of political systems. Like general questions, technical questions should be answered directly and succinctly. You can anticipate follow-up questions for most of these types of inquiries.
Example: “Democratic countries select their politicians in several different ways. The first is a direct vote where each citizen can vote for specific officeholders. In a parliamentary system, citizens vote for a party which has identified individual members to fill specific offices. The final system is a referendum where the entire population of citizens votes for measures which then identify individual officeholders who will be responsible for implementing them.”
Question: Can you define laissez-faire and discuss the key characteristics of this policy?
Explanation: This is another technical question. You are being asked to define a term and then discuss some of its key elements. The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to review your role, the keywords and terms, and any jargon used in your profession.
Example: “Laissez-faire is a leadership style or political policy which is opposite of most autocratic governments. The key concept is to make as few decisions as possible and allow the economy and the political system to dictate the direction the entity moves in. Government and leadership only step in to make small corrections or in the case of a national emergency which would have negative impacts on the citizens.”
Question: What is the function of an autocrat, and how do they influence a country’s political system?
Explanation: This is yet another technical question. Keep in mind that you should answer this with a brief definition and any impact this term would have on the topic you are discussing. Anticipate follow-up questions in which the interviewer will seek additional information or clarification.
Example: “An autocrat is a leader who has full and absolute power and authority over the government they are the head of. Autocrats can exist in a variety of different political systems, including monarchies, democracies, and dictatorships. The key concept is unlimited and absolute power to act as opposed to how they obtained the office.”
Question: What does the term sovereignty mean to you, and how does it impact a political system that is considered to be sovereign?
Explanation: You probably already recognize this as a technical question and know how to respond. Another way to be prepared for these types of questions is to practice answering the ones in this list. You should ask the question and answer it out loud, recording it if you’re able to.
Example: “Sovereignty is the absolute and legitimate power of a government over itself without any external interference. It also defines the supreme legitimate authority over the members of the entity in question. In the context of international law, sovereignty defines the ability of a state to exercise power over its people.
Question: Can you define unitary political science and discuss some of its factors?
Explanation: This question asks you to define a specific type of political science. As a political scientist, you should be aware of all different types of government bodies, theories, and systems, even if you don’t actively participate in or deal with them.
Example: “Unitary political science studies systems in which a single entity governs the entire political system. This contrasts with federal states in which there is a government entity that is senior to the individual entities which make up the entire body of the system. An example of a unitary political entity would be a monarchy or dictatorship. The United States is an example of a federal system in which there is a national government, state governments, and local governments.”
Question: What are some factors that would result in underdevelopment of the countries that are developing?
Explanation: This is a more complex technical question. It asks you to discuss some factors which could impact the process occurring within a specific political body. It would be best if you continued to answer these types of questions directly and briefly.
Example: “Some of the factors that would impact development in a third-world country include corruption, illiteracy, the failure of an economy to move from agrarian to industrial, the lack of infrastructure, and inaccurate or misleading communication from the governing entity.”
Question: What are the characteristics of a country that is considered a satellite country?
Explanation: The concept of a satellite country is more of a historical one. There are few examples of this type of arrangement in modern politics and government. However, you should still be able to discuss and define this.
Example: “The term satellite county refers to individual and independent governments which are heavily influenced by another country which is considered to be superior to them. Examples of this are Eastern Bloc communist countries when the Soviet Union existed. The satellite countries had similar political systems and were subject to the rules and regulations of the USSR, even though they were independent and had their own governing bodies.”
Question: What are some reasons a military coup may be required in some countries?
Explanation: While military coups are generally considered to be negative events, sometimes the outcomes can be positive. Even though the military initiates them, they can, on occasion, lead to independent and democratic governments. Your answer should address the reasons behind a military coup and the possible positive outcomes.
Example: “Military coups can occur for several different reasons. Typically, they are a result of either civil unrest or a popular movement that is trying to overthrow an autocratic or dictatorial leader. Military coups are initiated by the senior leadership of the military organizations of the country. The leaders of the coup can assume power and maintain it or immediately transition to a civilian government. If the military leaders elect to remain in power, they are often subject to additional coups or popular uprisings to overthrow them.”
Additional Political Scientist Interview Questions
What experience do you have in statistical analysis?
How much experience do you have in studying current and past political theories?
What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of the state of our current political system?
What is your experience in predicting trends in global politics as a whole?
Have you ever worked for a political think tank? Describe the experience.
What research skills do you use when beginning a new analysis? Describe them.
What actions do you take to stay up to date on current events?
Have you ever had your work published? If so, in what subject?
What are the most basic ways politics affect economies and vice versa?
What effect have you seen the study of political science have on real-world politics?
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