Four things I learned after four months as a Public Affairs Consultant
In January 2022, I secured an internship in one of Brussels’s leading public affairs consultancy. I took over this role after several years of experience in communications and administrative positions. I decided to shift to Public Affairs to live my passion for politics, the European Union, and European policymaking.
I learned so much in so little time that I wanted to write a feedback note. The experience I gathered on the job could be useful to aspiring public affairs consultants, students, or any business person interested in the skills needed to strive in a competitive environment.
Don’t assume — Just ask
This is the number one piece of advice. The one I urge anyone to pick up quickly and improve on. You don’t ask enough questions. I didn’t. My career history and my personality had me believe that a successful person should not ask much. I was wrong.
I realized that asking for clarity, explanations, and intelligence — even trivial — is welcomed and necessary. In the competitive and fast-paced environment of consultancy (and so much more in public affairs), one cannot guess and assume. You have to know to precisely understand.
If you don’t, you will lose time and waste effort. It’s bad for the client, it’s bad for the company, it’s bad for you. You don’t want to spend two hours on a tedious task only to rework it last minute because you understood the assignment wrong.
Furthermore, I found out that the people who ask the most questions are often the most thriving professionals. They succeed in gathering intelligence and understanding complex issues faster than the competition. This is an essential skill in a world where information is the most valuable commodity.
It’s all about time management
Let me start with a postulate: there is not enough time in the day to do everything on your to-do list. You have to prioritize.
Which task gets priority? What assignment is the most urgent? The most important? Did a recent event change your perspective on the work at hand? All these questions are crucial to close the day with a sense of completeness.
What helped me immensely was to make the most use of the tools at my disposal. For instance, on your e-mail software:
- Use automatic rules to sort out the less-necessary messages from the important ones. Send newsletters or news alerts to specific folders for later review.
- Change the color of an e-mail depending on whether it is sent directly to you or to a group. This way, you can quickly identify if you are the relevant person to deal with it or not.
- Archive e-mails when they don’t bring value anymore. They remain accessible for reference. Do not hesitate to delete the ones that are not relevant.
On your calendar:
- Be sure to book some time for administrative tasks (declutter your mailbox, review your priorities, exchange intel with your colleagues, meet with key people, etc.),
- Indicate, in flashy colors, the upcoming deadlines,
- Book daily or weekly blocks of time for recurring tasks, etc.
Here are some tips off the top of my head. Another one: train yourself on the tools at your disposal. There are hundreds of free videos on Youtube for free. It’s a crime not to use them.
Valuable skills for life
The consultancy world is competitive, incredibly fast and demanding. It’s tough at times. But the rewards are here. One of them was to learn so many skills that I get to keep, whatever happens.
Note-taking is one of them. So is e-mail and calendar management. Assertiveness is another. This internship pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was encouraged to talk and chat with my colleagues, something I am not naturally inclined to do (that is a euphemism). I discovered and created specific tools of the trade: policy trackers, specialized media, policy timelines, reports, etc.
When I compare these four months to my past work experiences, the amount of knowledge I gained in the last three months is colossal. If you are considering a career in consultancy and public affairs, know you will learn more in a month on the job than in a year at university — at least that’s how I felt.
A note on public affairs
During these four months, I learned the inside-out of policymaking: the European legislative process, the technical terms of policymaking in Europe, the important files and hot topics discussed at the European level.
My understanding of Europe changed: I see it now as a world of expertise and complex administrative and legal procedures.
Nonetheless, it is a world where courageous young professionals can strive. Europe — and the world of public affairs around it — needs passionate individuals. Give it a try.