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How to Become a Lobbyist

If you enjoy communicating, understanding legislative issues and advocating a point of view, a career as a lobbyist can be very rewarding. Lobbyists play an important and sometimes controversial role in our legislative structure. The job of a lobbyist is to impact the outcome of legislative initiatives. Lobbyists champion their causes through speaking with lawmakers, written communication, and involvement in political activities and educational campaigns.

Where do lobbyists work?

Of course Washington DC is a hub for lobbyists. However, lobbying occurs at the federal, state and local level, so lobbyists live and work across the country. A lobbyist may work for a corporation or industry association, a non-profit organization, or a group dedicated to tackling an issue. Lobbyists working in these environments tend to have specialized knowledge, while those who work for lobbying firms that take on many clients and issues may have more general backgrounds. Some lobbyists also work independently, offering their services to organizations.

What skills help make a lobbyist successful?

Successful lobbyists are persuasive communicators, who work the room at political events, speak one-on-one with legislators, and give presentations at meetings or events. A lobbyist also needs strong written communication skills and the ability to research facts and issues. For example, a lobbyist for an environmental agency may need to distill very complex ecological issues into a one-page brief written in layman’s terms. When a bill that impacts a lobbyist’s employer is being written or passed through the legislative bodies, the hours can be grueling, so a passion for the issues at hand is also helpful. Confidence, resiliency and perspective are also important, as lobbying is often a win-some, lose-some game.

What type of education is required?

There is no particular college major needed for a career as a lobbyist, although higher education is generally necessary. Many who hope to work for a lobbying firm will pursue degrees in political science. However, many lobbyists also have specialized knowledge in a particular field. Biotechnology, the environment, health care, education, aging services, the arts, community development and criminal justice are just a few of the areas that need lobbyists who have an understanding of their work and the issues they face. Therefore, a degree in many related subjects can help a lobbyist’s career.

What type of work experience can help one become a lobbyist?

Lobbyists come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many lobbyists begin their careers in public relations or community outreach. Others may have honed their skills at communicating and persuading through careers as fundraisers. Still others move into lobbying because of their specialized knowledge regarding a field or issue.

What actions should I take to become a lobbyist?

Whether you are a college student embarking on your first career or a seasoned professional looking for a new venture, there are steps you can take to move closer to a lobbying career. Below are a few ideas:

  1. Hone your writing and public speaking skills and refresh your knowledge of the political system through either returning to college for a few classes or, if you are already a student, taking related courses as electives.
  2. If you are currently a working professional, think about how your knowledge and expertise could translate into a lobbying career. What issues and legislation impact your business? If you aren’t already, get involved in the organizations that lobby in your field and show them how your specialized knowledge could be an asset.
  3. Start local. Many successful lobbyists begin by working with community organizations, advocating policy at the city or county level. Find an organization or group that is tackling an issue that is meaningful to you, and offer your assistance.
  4. Find a mentor. Working under the guidance of a talented and experienced lobbyist can give you valuable insight into the profession. Your mentor could be a lobbyist who works for your employer or someone involved in a community organization.
  5. As you get started, remember that most lobbyists are required to register with the federal government. In addition, you should make yourself aware of state and local laws governing lobbying activities in your area.