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Advice for New Lobbyists: Who Do You Want to Be? Can You Escape Burnout?

This next series of posts is intended to help new lobbyists find their places in their organizations and in the lobbying world.  For each reader, your answers set the foundation for your professional future, success, job satisfaction, and longevity. Let’s consider some questions that should be considered before you take a job. Those of you already employed must consider these same success-defining foundational questions.

  • Who do you want to be in your organization?
  • Are you strong enough to avoid burnout?
  • How government affairs (GA) sophisticated is your employer?
  • How committed is your employer to an effective GA program and to you?
  • Can you do well in a logical but often wholly irrational environment?
  • Are you prepared to protect your integrity?

 Who do you want to be in the organization? Your first step to finding your “place” is to define your “self,” that is, who you want to be and how you want people to see you. Settle this in your own mind before the interview. Think of yourself, regardless of organization size or your age, as being in the C-Suite, even if your employer doesn’t have one as such. This will require an effort on your part, especially if you are female.

A female tendency is for lower status women to try to make you “one of the girls” in order to share in your power and simultaneously diminish the status gap between you and them. The net result can be a reduction in your organizational gravitas which will carry over to your sense of self and presence in the capitol. You must keep firmly in mind that you are your organization’s face to the legislature, influencing and meeting with lawmakers, negotiating bills with powerful special interests, and in a real sense holding your organization’s wellbeing in your hands. Of course, you are professional with everyone in the office, but in your position, you cannot let yourself be just one of the girls.

Male or female, you will be known by the company you keep and the professional image you project. Act like who you want to be in five years. This prepares you and your management for that moment and in the meanwhile, you will do better in the office, with your colleagues, and with the legislature.

Are you strong enough to escape burnout?

Will you be the only government affairs professional or one of many? Most, but not all, organizations are lean on in-house government affairs staff. If it looks like you will be worked to death for lack of depth in your organization or lack of contractor support, think twice if this is what you want to do.

How long was your predecessor on the job? Why did he or she leave? Was it because of the job burnout? I was once hired because the person currently in the job was exhausted. I took the job not really knowing the toll extensive travel takes. For six grueling years, I was in the top one percent of the top one percent of Delta’s frequent fliers. And I was flying other carriers, too! Expect this if you are doing multistate lobbying on hot topics.

If you work for a one-state profit-making company or an association thereof, during a session you may be expected to work the same long hours as contract lobbyists do – start at 6 am and home by 11 pm.  Such expectations are seldom the case for grant-funded or dues supported membership organizations. Will your employer make time for an end-of-session rest period?

If your new employer wants you to be a real lobbyist, that is, doing your job, then you will be traveling the state off-session meeting with lawmakers and potential political supporters and opponents. In either case, determine beforehand how much travel you are willing to do. Their travel expectation can be estimated by the travel budget they have for the position. If it’s anemic, you may find yourself working as a part-time meeting planner or membership coordinator rather than a full-time lobbyist.  I tell lobbyists that if they are in their offices for more than two days a week they probably are not doing the job they were hired to do.

In our next posts, we discuss employers’ sophistication and examine their commitment to government affairs.

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