How to move from corporate finance to public affairs?


This week’s problem

I graduated with an MBA with a background in corporate finance, exploring options in public affairs, particularly when lobbying professionals connect with clients and governments around the world. It’s not a typical path, and the opportunities are even fewer due to the coronavirus pandemic. How can I take this turn without having to start my career all over again? Are transferable skills enough to get a job? Male, 30 years old

Jonathan’s response

While public affairs lobbying may not be your typical path, you are right to explore the options before embarking on a new career direction. You want to understand your chances of success and whether your existing skills will be of use to you. Before this exercise, analyze your motivation for wanting to explore this path.

Do you want to actively quit corporate finance and public affairs seem like the best alternative, or are you drawn to it? Perhaps you have been exposed to lobbying, as part of your MBA classes, your classmates, or your current job, and that brief experience inspired exploration. While as a lobbyist you have the opportunity to exert influence on behalf of clients, keep in mind that you may need to represent your client when you disagree with their goals.

You may be motivated to relocate so that you can use your strengths of empathy with clients, a willingness to build relationships over time, and embrace a wide range of goals. You may not have developed these corporate finance skills because there are often short time horizons and a (profit) goal.

Unless you are planning this as your last career change, it is also worth identifying which job comes after the public affairs lobbyist. After being in a secondary position while watching the principals have the decision-making power, how will you position yourself if, perhaps, you want to take a seat at the table? A well worn path is the revolving door of politics or public service.

As you begin your exploration to assess your transferable skills and if they are sufficient, hold informational interviews to find out about the typical career path, how the industry is structured, and whether there are any large companies where you can learn on the job. .

You already have valuable industry knowledge and experience that clients would appreciate; some industry insights from current practitioners will confirm whether you also have sufficient skills to make yourself a credible public affairs lobbyist.

Advice to readers

You have to ask yourself, at this point in your career, are you ready to be the raw talent that has to run faster than the competition prepared to catch up and ultimately overtake them? If you are, then I say no problem at all. Aardvark

Where are you working now? Does your employer have a public affairs function that you could be featured in? Like you, I was interested in getting into public affairs in my early 30s, after completing an MBA, and found that my current employer, a large tech company, was more than happy to entertain it. Ruairidh

Volunteer somewhere on the public affairs side (charity, political party, special interest group) to build contacts, skills and experience that can be used in any application process. The hands-on experience and the network will be more appreciated than any formal training that can be provided. Mr. Blister

Jonathan Black is Director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight, he answers your questions about personal, professional and professional development. Do you have a question for him? E-mail [email protected]


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