We recently hosted a panel with speakers and LSE alum who shared their experiences of working in public affairs. The speakers have all followed different paths to successful careers which led to an engaging and lively discussion for LSE students considering a career in the sector. Getting experience in public affairs, the importance of networking through social media and the positive difference you can make were just some of the topics of discussion.
It’s clear that working in public affairs is a genuinely interesting career. You’ll gain experience across different policies and you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself to one area. Equally, if you want to concentrate on a certain policy, working in-house will allow you to focus on your passion, where you can make a positive difference.
Social media can be harnessed as a tool to help network and build your career. One panellist was advised to build her network on LinkedIn early on because “one day it will get you a job”, advice which proved correct soon after. When applying to a job, candidates could find the hiring manager on LinkedIn and try and meet them for a coffee to get a better understanding of the company culture and the role itself.
Applying with a traditional CV and cover letter is not the only way to get a job these days, exemplified by the “hidden job market”. Face-to-face interaction is a dying art so if you demonstrate this in your job search, you make yourself a more attractive candidate. If a hiring manager mentions they are willing to have an informal conversation with candidates in the job description, take them up on it. The point was made that “you will never know what public affairs is until you try it”, which just highlights the importance of networking and demonstrating you have a good understanding of the role.
Coincidentally, all panellists had done a master’s degree and they discussed whether students need one to be successful in public affairs. Most agreed the skills gained through doing a master’s were more valuable than the topic they studied. Students can however, demonstrate their expertise in a particular policy area by using their dissertations to build suitable networks and find synergies with academic knowledge, personal interests and the job market.
Transferable skills are so important in public affairs. Students should get more experience while at university to help when it comes to making applications. Volunteering with a charity, assisting your local MP or even attending fringe meetings at party conferences will give you a broader perspective which will help in your career. Ultimately, if everyone has done well academically, your experiences will be the difference so “make yourself more than a name in a stack of applications”.
Once you enter it you will find there is a clear career path in public affairs. You may start as an intern but quickly progress to public affairs officer, manager and on to director further down the line. Not all moves will work out so don’t be afraid to take a short term opportunity and use it as a stepping stone to something more suitable.
There are useful networks which may help start and continue a career in public affairs such as; Women in Public Affairs and CIPR. Institute for Government also arrange events that could be of interest.