Career Development

How to Become a Lobbyist

September 3, 2020

Lobbyists are professional advocates who influence political decisions for organizations or individuals. Successful advocacy leads to new legislative proposals or amending existing regulations and laws. Although individual citizens can petition the government, companies often seek out lobbyists with a deep understanding of the law in areas such as health products, insurance, technology, electricity, oil and gas. In this article, we'll discuss what a lobbyist does, how much they earn and how to become one, and we'll answer frequently asked questions about a lobbyist career.

What does a lobbyist do?

A lobbyist is a political professional who advocates a particular side of an issue for a client. They're the ones who clearly communicate a company or organization's views to outside stakeholders, such as legislative bodies, trade associations and government agencies. Primarily, lobbyists must understand policy initiatives of governing agencies and come up with strategies in favor of the organization they represent, which includes convincing legislators to vote on public policy in favor of their client's interests.

The title "lobbyist" is broad, applying to anyone involved in a political campaign, a local community movement or a corporate merger. Regardless of the cause being promoted, a lobbyist's objective remains the same—to influence opinions, inspire ideas and elicit action. They persuade and sway politicians to vote for or against legislation.

Lobbyist duties vary, but they often include the following:

  • Gaining a thorough understanding of the client's needs, as they pertain to legislation
  • Clearly communicating the client's position on the specific issue
  • Preparing information and press releases
  • Representing the client in all forms of media including news conferences
  • Testifying and responding to regulatory inquiries at public meetings

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Average salary of a lobbyist

The average salary of a lobbyist varies depending on factors such as education, certification, years of experience as a lobbyist and additional skills. The following salaries are for some relevant positions that serve as lobbyists, as of November 2019:

Related: Choosing a Career Path in 9 Steps

Steps to becoming a lobbyist

Lobbyists require a degree to begin their careers. Although most disciplines are acceptable, beneficial degrees include social policy, business studies, law, language, public relations or politics. Many lobbyists also hold political, government and public relations postgraduate qualifications.

A specific skill set also makes for a successful lobbyist. Key skills include the ability to communicate well, perform research, analyze matters, show initiative and be diplomatic. Many people transition into lobbying from a variety of other occupations. Many lobbyists come from a political career, which allows them to capitalize on their experience in the government and network.

If you are looking to become a lobbyist, here are some beneficial steps to follow:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Although a person can become a lobbyist with a bachelor's degree in any field, having a bachelor's degree in political science, public relations, economics, law, journalism or communications is the best start.

For example, lobbyists with a law degree have a good understanding of legislation and drafts. In addition, aspiring lobbyists who plan on lobbying for a specific sector, such as the environment, may major in wildlife biology or environmental science and complement their major with a minor in political law or science.

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2. Complete an internship

Lobbyists need a good understanding of the legislative process. Therefore, a crucial step toward entering the field of lobbying is exposure to a government network or politicians and other lobbyists. To gain this experience, students can work as a congressional aide or as an intern for any state legislature, group or agency requiring legislative representation.

Internships are not always paid, but they provide essential experience and opportunities to learn about current political issues. An intern normally conducts research, takes notes at hearings, sends and reads emails and answers phones.

Completing an internship gives you the opportunity to form your first professional contacts and pivotal relationships, leading to great lobbying career opportunities. Success as a lobbyist is often dependent on knowing the right people and effective networking. Even low-ranking jobs in government organizations can introduce an aspiring lobbyist to the right contacts for success.

3. Get involved with local issues and form relationships

Before finding a fulltime lobbyist position, grassroots lobbying at the community level can help you accomplish much. This can be done with letter writing and phone calls to legislators regarding policies. Forming relationships with key persons and policymakers is vital. The sooner you build your networks and learn the art of persuasion and persistence, the more prepared you'll be for this career.

4. Find employment in a related field

At first, a lobbyist often works for an elected official such as state legislators, congressional representatives or local city councilors. The next step after gaining experience in one or more of these roles is to find an entry- or associate-level consulting role with industry associations or organizations with a lobbying or legislative branch. As the next career step, you may move up to mid- or senior-level government affairs consultations with organizations wanting to impact legislation or public policy.

5. Get registered

Anyone participating in lobbying activities must first register by filling out an initial registration form. Registration fees vary according to the state and may be reduced or waived for government lobbyists. Required registration information may include the filer's contact details, client information and the lobbyist's subject matters of interest. Some states also require ID photos, compliance and honesty pledges, lobby work compensation terms and more.

Every quarter, professional lobbyists are required to file a report listing their lobbying activities and current contacts. A registered lobbyist can work as an employee of a lobbying firm or work independently.

6. Keep networking

Networking never loses its importance in a lobbyist's career. Success as a lobbyist depends on your networking abilities with other lobbyists, policymakers and legislators. Dedicated lobbyists keep looking to create connections, establish trust and develop influence for advancement of their legislation, as well as to promote their career to the next level.

Now that you know more about the duties of a lobbyist and how to become one, you can determine if it's a good career fit for you. Indeed is here to help you prepare, and you can start with this Guide: How to Choose a Career.

Frequently Asked Questions

What personality traits should a lobbyist have?

Lobbyists are generally enterprising individuals, which is expected, as lobbying is a career built on persuasion. An effective lobbyist is creative, resourceful, innovative, adventurous and imaginative.

How long will it take to become a lobbyist?

You may spend a couple more years preparing to become a lobbyist after you're established in a related career. This depends on any internships and entry-level jobs you take. There are a number of pathways to becoming a lobbyist. For example, although many individuals transition from another career, a lobbyist needs a bachelor's degree, which takes at least four years to earn.

Who do lobbyists work for?

Lobbyists work for almost every interest group and institution, labor unions, colleges, churches, corporations, environmental groups and the government. Some common fields may include:

  • Health and pharmaceutical companies
  • Insurance
  • Utilities
  • Oil and gas
  • Hospitals
  • Air transports
  • Securities and investments