In the first of this two part series, Oliver Campion-Awwad, a former Parliamentary Assistant and Public Affairs and Communications Manager for the Advertising Association, offers some detailed advice to those choosing to leave Parliament and enter the world of public affairs jobs.
Look out for part two soon, and take it away Oliver!
Whether you’ve left your MP to jump into a public affairs jobs for a corporate multi-national, or you’ve moved on to a small charity because you wanted to save the world, one thing is for sure: the university halls-cum club experience enjoyed by the average young Parliamentary Assistant does not have much in common with the wider world of employment.
If you’re anything like the majority of young researchers, your stint with your MP was your first permanent desk job, and you’ll need a crash course in what jobs in the real world look like.
Even if you entered Parliament with bags of experience in another professional job, you might need to brush up on what life is like for those who don’t pass armed police on the way into the office.
So if you’re:
- a current researcher thinking of taking the leap to the private sector
- a public affairs exec wondering what’s going on in parliamentary assistants’ heads
- or even the manager of a new hire from Parliament, this article should have something for you.
1. You are no longer important
Parliament can feel like the centre of the universe.
Occasionally the nation – even the entire world – will hold it’s breath to see what Parliament decides. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama drop by to visit. The entire country rolls up to protest outside your windows every day. You see the PM on his way to Question Time and share a lift with Ed Miliband.
If you’re very lucky, you might be involved in something of genuine historical importance, and maybe your memoirs will one day be debated by future historians. Even if not, it’s difficult not to feel smug when your office is in the news and on front pages every single night.
Time for a reality check.
You no longer own a pass. Get used to the long sit of shame in Portcullis House entrance lobby, watching the minutes slide by, wondering if you have been forgotten by the backbencher you were meant to meet.
You are now one of those people who makes the kind of calls that you always tried to avoid. You will make meeting request after meeting request, and 14 year old interns will rudely tell you to send an email.
Remember how busy you were in an MP’s office, and how you used to wonder why lobbyists made so many annoying meeting requests?
Now you are on the other side of the fence, and wondering why the researcher doesn’t just answer your fifth email that week.
2. Think about what you are in this for
A lot of people end up as a Parliamentary Assistant because they did a couple of internships, were in the right place at the right time when a job opened up, and didn’t have any better ideas.
It’s an interesting place to work, offers flexible experience, allows you to pursue your own projects, and looks good on the CV. It’s a great job to fall into if you aren’t doing anything else.
For some reason, Parliamentary staff are often willing to put up with long hours and low pay. Of course they all sit around the Sports and Social moaning about their jobs, but once they are no longer there, they often find that it really was rewarding to work in Parliament because it is an interesting place to be at.
Making a truly successful move into public affairs requires resolve, backed by firm motivation. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a couple of years in Parliament is enough to make a job in public affairs easy.
Public affairs jobs can seem easy to those on the outside, but once inside they can be every bit as demanding as working in Parliament, coupled with the challenge of working in a very different environment.
If you can, think carefully about what it is that most attracts you to a job and will keep you motivated, such as
- day to day work you genuinely enjoy
- insight into a sector you find interesting, with people you want to work with
- a chance to remain a part of the Westminster village
- potential for career development
- good pay
- work life balance
This list isn’t exhaustive, and sometimes, particularly after elections, there’s a lot of former Parliamentary staff who don’t have the luxury to be picky. But if you can take your time over your decision, do make sure to ask yourself what you are looking for by embarking on a public affairs career.
Want to know how to really make an impact at your shiny new public affairs job? Want to know how things will be different, and how they will stay the same? Keep an eye out for part two, coming soon!