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How to Become a Lobbyist



Lobbyists have a keen understanding of how policy decisions can affect people and organizations around the world. These professionals advocate on behalf of corporations, industry groups, and other institutions in an effort to influence legislation. To advance their clients’ policy objectives, lobbyists meet with legislators, present research, organize grassroots volunteers, and provide other valuable services. Individuals who are eager to make a difference on the political stage, shape public policy, and advocate for the interests of others might find a career in lobbying to be highly satisfying.

What a Lobbyist Does

Successful lobbyists are skilled at building and maintaining productive relationships with decision-makers, particularly legislators and their staffs. They are often a visible presence on the first day of a legislative session, when they introduce themselves to newly elected members of the body and get face time with those they already know. They schedule meetings, lunches, dinners, and other events to speak with lawmakers about their priority issues and make plans for future legislation. Lobbyists frequently give presentations to persuade influential politicians to consider their positions and support or oppose specific measures.

Lobbyists also take action to influence decision-makers in more subtle ways. This indirect lobbying, as it’s sometimes called, resembles grassroots organizing and consists of activities aimed at persuading other community members to influence elected officials themselves. Indirect lobbying can involve encouraging supporters to phone bank, appear on television, or write letters and op-eds to galvanize interest in the lobbyist’s cause.

Lobbyists can work for individuals, or, more often, for a variety of industries and organizations. Major corporations, trade associations, nonprofits, and unions all typically employ lobbyists. The most visible among these organizations include the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Medical Association, Google, and General Electric.

Because a successful lobbying career rests on an individual’s ability to nurture relationships and persuade powerful people, those entering the field should be capable researchers and possess strong written and oral communication skills. Crafting persuasive, well-sourced presentations—and knowing how to tailor them to the interests of every listener—is crucial. The role requires also a firm grasp of domestic and international relations, an ability to see issues from diverse perspectives, and strong leadership skills.

Salaries in this field vary widely, and the highest-paid lobbyists often come to their positions with formidable experience and valuable connections. PayScale reports that lobbyists earn a median salary of about $71,500 per year, with the highest earners commanding six-figure salaries.

Suggested Steps for Becoming a Lobbyist

Though career trajectories vary, aspiring lobbyists typically take the following steps to get started in the profession.

 Academic Preparation

Future lobbyists’ educational preparation must begin with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as political science, journalism, law, public relations, or economics. From there, individuals may choose to continue their education by pursuing a graduate degree, such as a Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR). A MAIR program can provide students with a deeper understanding of international and domestic policy and teach them how to translate that knowledge into real-world action. The program can also equip students with qualitative and quantitative research methodologies that they can apply to their career when preparing presentations on the merits or drawbacks of a specific piece of legislation or gathering information about a lawmaker’s voting record, for example. Excelling in the classroom and displaying strong leadership skills in activities outside of the classroom—such as debate clubs, activism, or political organizing—can make students promising candidates for the selective internships and entry-level jobs they may seek after graduation.

On-the-Job Experience

After earning a degree, quality work experience is key to becoming a successful lobbyist. Many professionals entering the lobbying field get started in an internship at a government agency, congressional office, or lobbying firm. They may also seek entry-level positions as congressional staffers, political campaign workers, or employees of political organizing groups.

Once an individual has secured such a position, networking is crucial to build relationships that can help establish a thriving career. Taking every opportunity to meet and engage with politicians, advisors, aides, lobbyists, fundraisers, and organizers often increases the chances that one of these networking relationships could turn into a a higher-level role as a senior lobbyist for a major corporation, nonprofit, or industry group.

Registering as a Lobbyist

While there are no licensing or certification requirements for lobbyists, they must register with state and federal governments to conduct their work. Registration requirements and fees vary by state. To lobby members of Congress, one must register with the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives (a single registration form can be used to register with both the House and the Senate). Optional professional certifications are also available.

The Benefits of a Master of Arts in International Relations for Future Lobbyists

While a bachelor’s degree is the basic requirement for a career in lobbying, it is often helpful to pursue a graduate degree that focuses more narrowly on the topics and skills needed to thrive in the field. A professional who aspires to become a lobbyist can especially benefit from experience in areas that relate to various legislative issues. Norwich University’s MAIR program teaches students about these issues and gives them the option to choose one of five concentrations to tailor the degree to their interests while also building specialized expertise; concentrations include Cyber Diplomacy, International Security, Regions of the World, International Development, or National Security. Courses taken will depend on the selected concentration, but coursework could include some of the following classes:

  • World PoliticsInternational Relations. This course provides students with a foundation in international relations and world politics, giving them insights into the trends, theories, and methods of research that are necessary to navigate the world of politics and lawmaking.
  • Economics and the International System. This course covers the international economic system, modernization, globalization, and how economics influences diplomacy. It is available to students taking the International Development concentration, and can helps aspiring lobbyists develop an expertise in how issues like human rights, economic systems, and globalization impact nations and their laws.
  • Law and the International System. This course gives students a deep knowledge of legislation, international law, and the history of law. It is part of the Cyber Diplomacy concentration, which can prepare lobbyists focusing on issues of cyber warfare, cyber espionage, cyber terrorism, and other related laws.

For professionals with the right skills, lobbying is a career that offers the opportunity to help shape legislation on the most pressing issues of our time. The job requires lifelong learning, the constant sharpening of interpersonal and persuasive skills, and the confidence to engage powerful decision-makers. Individuals interested in becoming lobbyists can start building these necessary skills by investing in their education, gaining work experience, and building relationships with key stakeholders. While challenges are certainly a feature of the job, the attributes that can make lobbying a high-pressure career can also make it an incredibly rewarding one.

Learn More

Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich’s online Master of Arts in International Relations offers a curriculum that evolves with current events to help students face the future of international affairs. The MAIR program covers subjects that provide an understanding of the internal workings of international players, examine the role of state and non-state actors on the global stage, and explore different schools of thought. Students can further strengthen their knowledge by choosing one of five concentrations in specialized areas of international relations.

Recommended Reading

Political Science vs. International Relations: What's the Difference?

6 TED Talks for Students Obtaining a Master of Arts in International Relations Degree

Key Theories of International Relations

Sources

Nonprofits and Lobbying, American Bar Association

Working in Politics, Bureau of Labor Statistics

7 Things Highly Successful Advocacy and Lobbying Organizations Know, Bloomberg Government

Advocacy vs. Lobbying, Coalition Building and Public Engagement, Connecticut Association of Nonprofits

What Is the Pay Scale for a Lobbyist? The Houston Chronicle

Average Lobbyist Salary, PayScale

When a Congressman Becomes a Lobbyist, He Gets a 1,452 Percent Raise (On Average), The Nation

Lobbyist, The Princeton Review

Making it as a Lobbyist in Washington, D.C., The Washington Center

Lobbyist Registration Requirements, National Conference of State Legislatures