CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a lobbyist.
Is becoming a lobbyist right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Decide on the type of lobbying you wish to pursue
All lobbyists work hand-in-hand with legislators, advocacy groups, corporations, organizations, and/or industry associations to achieve certain political goals. The specific parameters of their jobs, however, can differ. For information on the various types of lobbying, click here.
Although lobbyists can launch their career with Bachelor’s Degree in any field, those with a degree in political science, law, public relations, communications, journalism, or economics generally have the strongest employment prospects. Lobbyists who earn a law degree are well equipped to interpret and draft legislation.
Aspiring lobbyists who intend to lobby for a specific sector may choose to earn a degree directly related to it. For instance, an environmental lobbyist may major in environmental science or wildlife biology and complement the degree with a minor in political science or law; or vice-versa.
Lobbyists must possess a working knowledge of the legislative process. Exposure to a government network of lobbyists and politicians, therefore, is a crucial step in entering the field. Students can gain this exposure and learn how to actively advocate and influence politicians by working as a congressional aide or as an intern for a state legislature or agency or group requiring legislative representation.
Interns primarily conduct research, attend and take notes at hearings, answer phone calls, send out e-mails, and read mail. While these positions are often unpaid, they provide the best opportunities to learn about issues that are at the heart of a constituency.
Even at the intern level, pivotal relationships and professional contacts can be established, ones that could potentially lead to lobbying career opportunities. As the saying goes, it’s not always what you know, but who you know.
Get involved with local issues and network
Even before you land your first fulltime lobbying job, you can accomplish some grassroots lobbying and gain experience at the local/community level. Make phone calls, write letters to legislators to sway policy, and learn to fundraise.
Much of your job as a lobbyist is about forming relationships with key people – with policymakers – who can help you achieve your goal. So the sooner you begin to get social and network, learn the art of persistence and persuasion, and learn to lobby other lobbyists, the more prepared you will be for the demands of this profession.
Lobbyists often start off working for elected officials such as local city councillors, state legislators, or congressional representatives. After getting some experience in one or more of these roles, many seek entry-level and associate-level consulting positions with firms and industry associations that have a legislative or lobbying arm. In the next stage of their career, they may work as mid-level and senior-level government affairs consultants with private consulting firms, large corporations, or other organizations looking to impact public policy and legislation.
You can find information about lobbying firms and individual lobbyists and their clients at https://www.opensecrets.org/
According to the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, anyone defined as a lobbyist, or who participates in lobbying activities, must register by filling out an initial registration form. Professional lobbyists are also required to file a quarterly report listing their current contacts and lobbying activities. Once registered, a lobbyist may work independently as a self-employed lobbyist or as an employee of a lobbying firm.
Certification (recommended / optional)
For certification and other relevant information, visit The National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics.
Keep on networking
Career longevity for lobbyists is unequivocally dependent upon networking with legislators, policymakers, and other lobbyists. Dedicated, devoted lobbyists never stop seeking to create connections, develop influence, and establish trust that could advance the position of their legislation and propel their careers to the next level. Lobbying is non-stop networking.
How to become a Lobbyist
Lobbying is a profession full of people who have transitioned into the career from a wide variety of other occupations. This is because relevant knowledge and experience are all that is really needed to work as a lobbyist.
Therefore, it is not necessary to follow a specific educational track to become a lobbyist. However, there are certain strategies which will facilitate entry into the field. A Bachelor’s Degree in political science is particularly common among lobbyists, but many succeed with an undergraduate degree in law, public relations, communications, journalism, or economics. Although rare, some thrive in the field with no degree at all.
Practical experience for the job can be gained via a number of paths. In the U.S., becoming a congressional staffer or a legislative intern – which entails performing research required to draft legislation – is one of the best ways to learn how the legislative process works. Working for or volunteering with a trade organization that influences policy or working on political campaigns can also bring invaluable knowledge and networking opportunities. Many lobbyists come from careers as politicians, allowing them to capitalize on their years of government experience and on their connections to former colleagues still in office.
Voluntary certification, awarded to individuals who complete the required five core seminars, is offered by The American League of Lobbyists.
Lobbyists are required to register with both state and federal governments.