Carl Thomson: Seven tips for moving into public affairs
How to make the journey from political researcher to public affairs consultant.
An election campaign is often a time when parliamentary researchers start to think about moving on to their next role. For some, an election can be a milestone that prompts them to consider their next move, particularly if they’ve worked for an MP for several years. For others, it can be involuntary, as they’re forced to find a new job due to their boss retiring or losing their seat.
Public affairs is seen as a natural next step for those who have spent time working in Parliament. But a career in public affairs requires a broader skill set to that gained working in an MP’s office, and many researchers struggle to make the transition.
If you’re currently working in Parliament and trying to break into public affairs, then you might find the following advice helpful.
1. Make sure you have specific achievements you can talk about.
Many researchers have engaged bosses who involve their staff in their parliamentary activities. Others, however, can be left to languish with little in the way of responsibility beyond routine correspondence and fending off phone calls from constituents. If your boss doesn’t give you meaningful policy work, then you need to create opportunities for yourself. Ask if you can help them become more involved in an All Party Parliamentary Group that fits your interests. Suggest a constituency campaign that you can take on and run. Offer to provide speaking notes for a Public Bill Committee session. Do something that will allow you to show you were really involved in the proper business of legislative scrutiny.
2. Network, network, network.
If you want to find your next role in public affairs, you need to get yourself known. Parliamentary staff get invited to all sorts of fun events, from terrace receptions to think tank discussions, as well as networking events hosted by the likes of PubAffairs. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities to meet and talk to people who work in a field you want to get into.
3. Build a bigger profile for yourself
Think about what else you can do to stand out and add value to your CV. Getting involved in a campaign group, supporting your party’s candidates at election time, or standing for your local council is a great way of broadening your circle and gaining insights that can translate into a public affairs role. Similarly, if you’re interested in a specific policy area, why not write informed commentary for websites such as ConservativeHome or LabourList.
4. Avoid the temptation to inflate your job title
Almost all public affairs professionals have worked in Parliament at some point. They know how it works, and they know the limits of the role. Don’t pretend you were responsible for things where you had little involvement. You would be amazed at the number of people who put ‘speechwriting’ on their CV, but when asked at interview are unable to talk about a single speech that they contributed towards. Also, understand that if you work for a backbench MP and insist on using the job title ‘Chief of Staff’, you are inviting anyone who receives your CV to treat you like a joke.
5. Be helpful to public affairs professionals who contact your office
Working in Parliament, you’ll frequently be approached by lobbyists, usually enquiring whether they can set up a meeting with your boss, inviting them to an event, or seeking help in getting an amendment or Parliamentary Question tabled. Be aware that word of rude or unhelpful behaviour by parliamentary staffers travels around the industry very quickly. If you’re the kind of researcher who doesn’t bother to pass requests on, fails to come back with an answer to whether your boss can meet or not, or doesn’t action things your boss promised to do, then you are burning a lot of bridges with people who might be able to help make a decision about your next role.
6. Recruitment consultants are your friends
Get to know the recruitment consultants specialising in the public affairs industry. Even if they don’t put you forward for a job you want, they can be a great source of knowledge about what’s out there. While you might not appreciate critical feedback on your CV, you’ll be grateful for it when you get your next job
7. Don’t give up, but re-evaluate if things aren’t working
The competition to get a parliamentary researcher role is tough, but it can be similarly difficult to transition from Westminster into public affairs. Don’t be disheartened if it takes several interviews before you find something. At the same time, if you’ve been searching for a while and it’s not going anywhere, maybe it’s time to re-think your approach.
This article first appeared on the PRCA website.