Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’ and we are taking a political twist with this one.
Switch on the news and politics is frequently the main focus. It affects all our lives. And this is one of the reasons why thousands of students every year choose to study politics at university. (I, myself, was one of them back in the 1990s).
But what happens to these students after graduation? The answer is that the majority of them will opt to follow a whole range of non-political employment options (even careers advice ;-)). But today’s case study is from someone who has continued their interest in politics through to a successful career as a lobbyist.
Our mysterious contributor, wishing to be known only as ‘London Girl’ gives us a fabulous account of her role working for a trade association and gives great advice for others wishing to break into the competitive arena of public affairs.
Many thanks, London Girl, for the very informative insight into your career.
So, briefly, what is your job?
“I’m responsible for Government relations for a trade association - this means that I work on trying to ensure that the policy and legislative environment is favourable to our members’ needs.”
How did you get into it?
“I did politics at University, and knew I wanted to go into it in some way. I first worked in Parliament itself, then moved across to a consultancy. After three years there I realised what I wanted to do was the same job but in house. I literally saw an advert for this one - on the work for an MP site and applied.”
Describe a typical day.
“I get in around 9-930 and start off by checking my emails to see whether anything immediately needs dealing with. During work on a Bill we only have a couple of hours between amendments being issued and the vote - as we want to put together voting guides for Parliamentarians this means a pretty quick turnaround!
I’m normally in Parliament meeting with MPs or Ministers about three times a week. Otherwise it might be meetings with Civil Servants or internally - as I head up the Government relations side I spend a lot of time in internal meetings talking about our strategies and campaigns.
As a trade association it’s important everything we do is communicated to our several hundred members and we have regular member meetings. I also might need to put together reports for them on our latest campaigns or respond to particular queries they have on a latest piece of legislation or a particular MP.
We also issue regular briefings to Parliamentarians so some of my time might be on that.
There’s no clocking off time - it can be anything from 530 to about 10 depending on how much work there is at any one time. I normally try to get out by 7 though…”
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“The chance to really make a difference - I know that policy and legislative changes that I’ve made have made a real difference to my members and whether they proceed with projects.”
And the least?
“It’s a public affairs sin to admit it but I’m not a huge networking fan and therefore I hate the hassle of events and things like Party Conferences.”
What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?
“That it’s some kind of shadowy undercover influencing of MPs. Actually I see what I and similar people in other areas do as essential - you’re providing MPs and Peers with specialist knowledge to enable them to see the ramifications of the decisions they’re making. So long as Parliamentarians see a range of interests on a given area and contact is transparent I think it’s key that we have a public affairs industry in this country.”
What are the main skills you need to be a lobbyist?
- “An eye for detail - you need to be able to sift through a lot of information very quickly and work out what’s relevant for your area, even though it might not seem relevant.
- Relate-ability - you’ll meet a range of different people and you need to be able to relate to them all.
- Ability to formulate arguments - crucial for written and one-to-one briefings.
- Ability to see the big picture - you need to work out how your demands fit in with other Government priorities, and able to tailor this for each different audience.
- An interest in politics - same with any role, you need an interest in the area. However, I don’t belong to any political party and I think that can actually be a help.”
Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.
“Working for a trade association means I’m on one of the lower rungs of the salary ballpark - consultancies pay the most, then in-house. However it does give benefits in terms of access - being able to say you represent a number of companies gives you a bit more kudos in terms of arranging meetings.
Generally industry pay is fairly reasonable but once you get past entry level jobs it varies a lot! - around £20-25k for entry level positions, £26-£35K for a Public Affairs Manager and for a Head of Public Affairs role from £35k - £60k. Director roles can be anything from £45k - £150k. The finance industry pays the most.
With an interest in politics it’s great for me to be able to meet the people I would otherwise be watching on TV - I’ve met people like Ed Miliband and George Osborne, and it does give me satisfaction to know that things that I personally do can mean changes in the law.”
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
“A lot of people want to get into public affairs, and it normally comes down to experience.
There’s an awful lot of unpaid internships in the sector and unfortunately for entry level jobs they will count. If you can’t afford to do these full time, try and get some experience at your local MP’s constituency office, or volunteer for a third sector or campaigning organisation.
It’s useful to have a politics degree, but not essential - the main thing you need to demonstrate at entry level is an interest in and engagement with politics.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
“In 10 years I would like to be Director of Government Relations or Communications, preferably at a large corporate - as that’s the one area I haven’t really worked in!”
AND JUST FOR FUN…
First in the office or last to leave?
“Been both, but normally last to leave - I’m not a fan of early mornings.”
Tea or coffee?
“Coffee first thing, tea in the afternoon.”
Staff canteen or packed lunch?
“We don’t have a canteen so I normally bring in a sandwich which I’ll have at my desk unless I’m meeting a consultant or MP in which case it might be lunch out.”
The lift or the stairs?
“Stairs - we’re on the 2nd floor so I can’t justify the lift!”
Out after work or straight home to bed?
“Normally straight home (see above re Public Affairs sin) but I’ll sometimes go to evening receptions.”