November 4, 2011
National and regional public policy affects agencies and groups at all levels and CEOs have integrated the government relations function with public relations, sales and marketing. By obtaining a job in the fast-paced government relations profession, you can develop relationships with elected representatives and their staffs while also promoting your cause and association.
What follows are several tips to consider when applying for a government relations position — from presenting yourself to obtaining an interview to landing the job.
• Clean up your Internet profile as you prepare to search for a job. Social media can work for you or against you. I am a big fan of LinkedIn and recommend that job seekers use it, too. Inappropriate photos or language on your Facebook page can kill your chances — even with the most open-minded employers.
• Establish a Washington, D.C. address for your résumé if possible. If you’re applying for a government relations job in Washington, then consider moving to the nation’s capital. Perhaps you can stay with a friend or family member while networking and interviewing.
• Think above and beyond. I am impressed when someone shares their organized, well-prepared WordPress site with a bio and writing samples in one place. If they have done a good job presenting this information, then I learn more about the person and it shows that they’re going beyond the standard.
• Reach out to people in your school’s alumni network. Most schools have strong alumni networks in Washington with graduates willing to help out other graduates from their alma mater.
• Consider requesting an informational interview. Informational interviews are often better than interviewing for one specific job because rather than focusing on one position, you’re examining larger interests and brainstorming opportunities. Your contact may also be willing to make introductions on your behalf.
• Leverage your network. Keep in touch with the people who are the most helpful to you in your network. Say thank you and always pay forward job assistance once you land your job and are in a position to mentor others.
Obtaining an interview
• Do your homework like you want to receive an “A” grade. Keep meticulous records and do your research. Maintain a journal or log of all outreach, noting every application you’ve filed, as well as the date that you filed it, the response that you received (if any) and how you followed up (email, calls, someone interceding on your behalf, etc.). When you land an interview or an informational interview, research the person who you are meeting with and the organization and its history. Also, come prepared with questions of your own.
• Ask your potential employers questions about themselves too. Is this someone who you will be excited to learn from and work with for years? If this is not the case, then you may not want to take the first offer that you get.
• Be ready to face your political history. In government relations interviews, your political beliefs or lack of involvement will likely come up in conversation, so be prepared to address it head-on.
• Prepare a “career success portfolio.” Take your portfolio to job or informational interviews and make sure that it consists of a résumé, writing or work samples, and letters of recommendation. Do not wait for someone to ask you to provide these essential items.
• Prove yourself. More organizations are taking on college graduates or unemployed professionals as interns, fellows or contract workers before they hire them full-time with benefits. Try to remain flexible when accepting these opportunities because most people who have a chance to prove themselves will move into a full-time job within three to six months.
Landing the job
• Work well with others. You know the expression: “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.” You must learn to work in groups and teams in an office environment.
• Be professional. Treat everyone with respect because you never know when you might run into a former colleague.
• Get away from your desk. With your boss’s permission, join professional associations focused on public affairs and become active in them. Some popular associations in Washington include: the American League of Lobbyists, the Public Affairs Council and Women in Government Relations, along with organizations such as PRSA. Don’t just read the mailings — volunteer, get involved, take on a membership role and be a leader. Attend training sessions, webinars and read books. Find out if your company provides a training stipend for these activities.
• Become an expert in a specific area. Immerse yourself in industry literature. Try to establish yourself as an authority by writing articles or blog posts, sharing your expertise through social media, accepting leadership positions in related organizations, and presenting your thoughts at conferences, meetings or local events. Ultimately, always continue to learn. It’s important to keep moving forward in this continually changing profession.
C. Michael Fulton is president of The Arnold Agency’s Washington, D.C. office and teaches a public affairs elective course in West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program. He worked on Capitol Hill for nearly 10 years. You can reach him by email or at @hillrat1156.
Email: mfulton at arnoldagency.com