Often referred to as lobbyists, public affairs practitioners enjoy a highly rewarding and varied career that sees them at the frontline of policy development. These professionals draw on their understanding of the changing media landscape, as well as an in-depth understanding of the political system and its impact on industry to advise clients ranging from private sector firms and not-for-profit organisations to government think-tanks and trade unions.
If you’re interested in public policy and have your sights set on a role that puts you at the intersection of the public and private sectors, there’s no doubt you will find career satisfaction in this role, but how can you break into the industry?
You may have studied politics, economics or public affairs, but when it comes to landing your dream job in public affairs, experience matters. While graduates aren’t expected to have accumulated years of experience, the ability to demonstrate a passion that goes beyond an interest in politics can put you in good stead to secure a role of your choice.
Fortunately, many large public affairs companies are always looking for interns and entry-level executives who are ambitious and motivated to learn. We recommend keeping your eyes peeled for a consultancy graduate scheme, which can help you build up a basic knowledge of the responsibilities of the role and give you the work experience needed to move up the career ladder. Check the PRCA and APPC who have registers of their members online in order to research a company.
Once you have some essential work experience under your belt, your career will either take you to an in-house role within a company or towards a position as an advisor for a political consultancy. While an in-house public affairs role will see you specialising in a particular market, building your network and developing in-depth knowledge of your industry, a consultancy role will give you the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients, for a trade association or union, a political or issues-based organisation or for a government agency.
If you are keen to explore the world of consultancy, we suggest you do this early in your career to rack up experience within a broad range of fields before specialising in one sector.
Specialising gives public affairs practitioners a chance to cement their knowledge in a certain field. Swapping between these different, specialised areas is possible. However, it depends on the industry and also the mindset of the company you’re applying for. In some sectors, such as energy, health care or finance, it can be helpful for businesses to take on people who haven’t worked in the industry before. In these sectors, a fresh perspective can be highly attractive to firms as candidates come with new ideas and insights.
That said, there are times when top candidates can get pipped to the post by another person who already has experience in that particular industry – and there are certain sectors (such as pharmaceuticals) where a detailed knowledge of the industry is absolutely essential.
That said, your career path isn’t be restricted to linear progression with same firm. Some public affairs practitioners start their careers in consultancy but move into in-house positions while others explore full-time roles for political parties or as advisors.
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