Are transferable skills enough to land a new job?
Are transferable skills enough to land a new job? © DigitalVision/Getty

This week’s problem

I am an MBA graduate with experience in corporate finance, exploring options in public affairs — particularly where lobbyist professionals connect with clients and governments around the world. It is not a typical path, and opportunities are even fewer due to the coronavirus pandemic. How can I make this shift without having to start my career all over again? Are transferable skills sufficient enough to land a job? Male, 30s

Jonathan’s answer

While public affairs lobbying may not be a typical path, you are right to be exploring the options before committing to the shift along a whole new career direction. You wish to understand your chances of success and whether your existing skills will be useful. Prior to that exercise, analyse your motivation for wanting to explore this path.

Is it that you want to actively leave corporate finance, and public affairs looks like the best alternative, or are you drawn towards it? Perhaps you have been exposed to lobbying, through your MBA classes, your fellow students, or your current work, and this brief experience has inspired the exploration. While as a lobbyist you have the chance to influence on behalf of clients, remember that you may have to represent your client when you disagree with their aims.

You may be motivated to move so you can use your strengths of being empathetic with clients, wanting to build relationships over time, and embracing a wide range of objectives. You may not have developed these skills in corporate finance since there are often short time-horizons, and one (profit) objective.

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

As you start your exploration to assess your transferable skills and whether they are sufficient, set up some information interviews to learn the typical career path, how the sector is structured, and if there are large companies where you can learn on the job.

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

Readers’ advice

You have to ask yourself, at this point in your career are you prepared to be the raw talent who has to run faster than the prepared competition 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 introduced into? Like you, I was interested in moving into public affairs in my early 30s, post MBA, and found my present employer, a large tech company, was more than happy to entertain this. Ruairidh

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


Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email dear.jonathan@ft.com

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