London, 28 October 2014
I’m often contacted by graduates asking for advice on what skills are necessary for a career in public affairs.
The advice I give to young people is that your degree subject and whether you have a Masters matter less than your personality and enthusiasm. People skills and the ability to relate to others are just as important in as in-depth policy knowledge or the ability to recite the names and majorities of every MP.
If you’re looking to join the world of public affairs you could do a lot worse than ask yourself how your skill set aligns with the following requirements of the industry.
Enthusiasm for politics. Public affairs isn’t a nine to five job where you can switch off at the end of the day. You have to immerse yourself in politics. Being involved in Conservative Future or Labour Students, or a think-tank or research organisation, will give you the contacts and experience to be a credible operator.
Being good with people. Westminster can appear full of self-important people who are convinced that they’ll be Prime Minister by the time they’re thirty. These people make bad public affairs consultants. Most agencies are small offices where it’s important to be able to get on with everyone, while clients generally don’t appreciate being talked down to. You need to be likeable as well as driven and professional.
Not being afraid to thrust forward. You don’t need to be a shameless self-promoter but you do need to be able to walk into a room full of important people and be able to introduce yourself and get your points across. If the thought of presenting your ideas to senior executives at a large company, or working the phone to find an MP who’ll put down a Parliamentary motion, fills you with terror, then public affairs isn’t right for you.
Understanding the needs of clients. Many people express an interest in getting into public affairs without thinking about what the industry does or why companies hire consultancies. If you don’t understand your clients’ business or why they’re hiring you, then you’ll only ever be able to deliver a sub-standard service.
Creativity and spontaneity. Public affairs is about using politics to advance your clients’ interests and find practical solutions to their problems. Being organised, diligent and hardworking will get you far. Being able to spot opportunities as they arise and act on them will take you over the finish line.