Public Affairs Jobs: Tips For Interview

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    Nov 13, 2013
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Public Affairs Jobs: Tips For Interview Photo by Tim Connolly

Public affairs jobs can be hard to come by. It’s a competitive industry. If you have been invited for an interview try and purge your inner Prescott well before you say hello to your very own Jeremy Paxman.

To that end, in this post, we’re going to run through some tips for giving a great interview for your first public affairs job.

Maybe you are coming from one of the many jobs in Parliament that would give you a head start – Parliamentary Assistants and Clerks to Committees, for example, usually have a good grounding in Parliamentary procedure.

Or maybe you are a seasoned lobbyist with significant agency and in-house experience. Either way, you have already done a lot of the hard work, but the final hurdle remains.

So how can you make sure you perform as well as possible in an interview?

Public affairs jobs are the same, but different

Just like an interview for a job in any other industry, the quickest way to communicate to an interviewer that you are serious about a job is to demonstrate that you have invested plenty of time into understanding as much as possible about your potential employer.

For a public affairs job, your research should include any recent influencing activity you prospective employer has done, which can usually be found through a combination of the employer’s website, Hansard, some creative Google searches and keyword searches using Be aware of any relevant trade or specialist press titles that are of particular interest to the employer.

By joining the dots between particular Parliamentary mentions, you should be able to build a decent sketch of the lobbying priorities and issues of interest to your potential employer.

Are there any Parliamentarians who seem particularly engaged on your prospective employer’s issues?

Is there an All-Party Parliamentary Group which would be of interest to them?

Speak to any contacts you have who have knowledge of the employer and its public affairs activity. Even if you are able to learn a great deal through indirect research, be sure to pick up the phone and speak to someone at the employer about the position.

Being willing to initiate contact with the employer has the potential to send a good message about confidence and a desire to build relationships that anyone hiring for a public affairs job will be delighted to hear.

Once in the interview, seize opportunities to demonstrate that you have done your research. If the opportunity doesn’t arise, it’s always possible to create one by asking a question at the end of the interview which is essentially just an excuse to show off what you have taken the time to learn.
Public affairs is a people business

People want to employ people they like and trust – particularly in a business which relies on persuasion. If you can’t convince an interviewer you are credible and competent, why should they let you loose on a client or politician?

Establishing your credentials in the interview is as simple as judging what the key messages your interviewer will want to hear from the ideal candidate are, identifying the experience you have that best communicates those messages, and wrapping those messages up in bite-sized, memorized segments that can be used to respond to particular questions. Practise speaking your ‘lines’ until they sound natural and authentically conversational.

If you aren’t naturally confident in interview situations, fake it…

Public affairs jobs will frequently put you in unpredictable positions where you have to make and stand by snap judgements but an interview has enough predictable parameters that full preparation will help you seem and act more confidently.  The ease with which you answer an obscure question on a particular element of the employer’s business might look like inspired ad-libbing to the interviewer, but it could just as likely be the result of methodical preparation.

People in public affairs jobs need opinions. Lots of them.

There is nothing more appealing than someone who knows their own mind and has the confidence and ability to communicate their thoughts eloquently.

This extends to job interviews too!

You may have some qualms about appearing dogmatic but in a public affairs job interview it makes total sense to commit to a position on political issues. No interviewer will think poorly of you for having a different point of view from them, but they may think poorly of you if you aren’t able to say what you think in a compelling way.

What do you think of the latest changes to the team at No.10?

How do you think Ed Miliband did at Prime Ministers Questions the other day?

Why do you think Nadine Dorries MP continues to recieve opportunities to speak in the media?

The issues discussed might not be the great political debates of their day, but if you have the opportunity make it clear you have thought things through and come to a conclusion. This isn’t an interviewer trying to catch you out, but rather an opportunity for you to show that you are someone who follows political affairs and can offer intelligent analysis.

As well as knowing and having a view on political gossip of the day, unless you are applying to a politically restricted post you should make a virtue of your membership or support for a political party.Besides demonstrating your commitment to a career in public affairs, informal party networks are often great sources of value for the lobbyist. Knowledge of the structures and day to day realities of local politics can be worth their weight in gold, whether the vagaries of the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee or the process for selecting the next Conservative candidate in Enfield Southgate.

In essence, public affairs job interviews involve showing people that you can talk intelligently and eloquently after understanding the key issues. You can do that, right?

Do you have any other tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

Author's Profile

Tim Connolly is a public affairs professional and the publisher of Public Affairs Jobs HQ, a magazine for people in public affairs and policy jobs with all the latest industry news and gossip

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