Unlike the elected officials with whom lobbyists most engage, the career path to becoming a lobbyist is not as strictly defined. It is true that many of the most prominent professionals in the industry are attorneys, but a degree in law is not required for lobbying, nor will it alone provide you with the tools necessary to be impactful in the field. Rather, those interested in joining nearly 13,000 other influencers in the industry should work to ensure that she/he possesses and develops the following skills:
At the heart of the work lobbyists do is communicating with lawmakers on behalf of special interests (large and small) and organizations. Thus, it is the most primary skill necessary for meeting the objectives of this role. Communicating involves being able to articulate clearly and professionally through written and oral means. Furthermore, you should be skilled at speaking publicly and comfortable engaging more than one type of person or group, in ways that most interest and connect with them. It’s very important to note that communication doesn’t end at your ability to speak or write well, but also your ability to listen intently and genuinely. Every interaction should be an exchange. If you’re only hoping to speak your piece without hearing what either your client or the lawmaker has to say, you’re in the wrong business.
As a lobbyist, especially in Washington, you will come in contact with a lot of very important people, even when you’re not actively on an assignment. You should be a people person, someone who’s approachable, friendly, and capable of using the aforementioned communication skills to build a rapport with the person about their own skills, connections, and relation to what you do in one way or another. The first rule of networking is making sure that you’re offering to address a need rather than asking for a favor. Keep business cards with you at all times, and expect one from your new contact. Then, make it a point to follow up with that person, reminding them of your conversation or connection, and if you can help one another, remember to follow up, make further connections, and build a list of potential advocates, mentors, and supporters. Who you know is the key to all things.
Another key factor of the job is strategy. In other words, you have a task, how do you go about completing it? This requires analytical and critical thinking skills, which encompass a thorough understanding of proper timing, tools needed, and ways to navigate your way through the sometimes opaque process. Consider that many of those that congressmen with whom you will meet, will also be meeting with others, in addition to managing their own careers, serving their constituents, and working on a number of other tasks. Before you’ve picked up the phone to schedule a meeting, you should already have a game plan and action steps to reach the finish line.
In order to create a strategy, you will also need to be adept in research. Study everything about your cause and how it works in tandem with the goals or needs of the congressperson. You should know it like the back of your hand, but also come prepared with visuals, such as graphs and charts, and other necessary materials to put the pieces of the puzzle together for your audience. Anticipate all questions and study the correct answers to provide data that will help influence a final decision.
Still, merely providing research is not enough to make impact. A great lobbyist must also be convincing, able to truly persuade and influence decisions in the favor of his interest. This is a fundamental part of politics, and the cornerstone for all of the work you will do. Be able to show policymakers why your interest makes political sense and how it benefits them as well as the public.