This blog is about transferable skills. When setting out the agenda for our trainings, I was asked by a few fellow lobbyists, if I couldn’t offer anything on how to be successful outside the „EU-Bubble“. Some want to get in – others want to get out, and they all face the same difficulties: what am I capable of aside from my core qualifications, and how do I market myself?
So let’s talk about transferable skills. They are hard to pinpoint because they seem much more vague than, for instance, 4 years of experience in telecommunications lobbying, or a training as a competition lawyer. But they are what makes you unique.
How to find your specific skills set beyond your immediate CV
First, there is no such thing as a uniform set of transferable skills – every person has different strengths and weaknesses. And these strengths and weaknesses determine what someone takes an interest in and puts time and effort into learning and mastering.
Which means that searching for your transferable skills means first and foremost, taking a good look at yourself. What have I always done, from my early childhood days onwards? What have I really had fun doing? Or what was I trained to do, which role did I always take, just by being a member of my family? For me, for instance, it’s always been about mediating, debating, communicating with the goal to achieve consensus amongst different views in the family or amongst friends. And that’s probably why I have stayed in the lobbying profession for so long – that’s exactly what you do as a lobbyist.
There are other skills as well that a lobbyist may develop. You may have always enjoyed team sports, and organising this team. Which got you into leading an association, where you dealt with managing the team and the association members from CEO to junior manager. Or you have become an absolute specialist in planes – you know every single part of a Boeing 737 by heart because you have taken such a great interest in your hobby. Maybe that’s your industry then, and a job where you can do meticulous analysis could be the place where you can apply your skills.
Specific skills sets of EU lobbyists that you can expect from their CV
At the same time, lobbyists of course do have a specific skills set. Although contesting studies show that practice isn’t everything, you need to do something for about 10 000 hours to master it, says Malcolm Gladwell. Lobbyists concentrate on reading vast amounts of very dry literature and filter out the really important elements. The longer they do so, the faster they are at spotting pitfalls in large documents.
Lobbyists are born communicators. With differences between them of course, but most of those EU folks are good at developing and communicating convincing arguments. At relating to their counter-parts and finding that piece of information of interest to a policymaker – that “sells” the argument.
They are extroverted – no fear of approaching people of every hierarchical level. They want to network and they are good at it. They connect the dots quickly if necessary: they link people together who are interested in a common cause. They make an effort finding or creating common causes and to rally stakeholders behind that interest. They know how to convince the soft way, and how long it takes to be successful when doing so. Skills that are not only useful at the political stage – they help you survive in any large corporate organisation.
How to market yourself out of the EU-Bubble (or into it)
You may think to yourself – yes, I know all that. But who on earth needs these skills, and how do I convince these employers that I can do the job, despite my lack of contacts and not having worked in this area?
Well, first of all, you need to start early. It’s like a sales job – just that you sell yourself, not a product, a service, or a lobbying argument. Research on sales expects the average customer to buy only after a minimum of 3-12 (!) contacts.
So what does that mean? It means that one direct application to a concrete job outside your area of obvious expertise is unlikely to be successful. Just like you don’t sell a lobbying argument with just one email, you need to build momentum around your application. So you need to plan ahead. Start with your goal, not with your skills. What IS the job you really want? In which sector, city, domain? Next, start building your network into that place. You should be prepared to invest a certain amount of time and money to do so.
For instance, if you want to work in the financial sector in Frankfurt, seek out a regular, open event where the stakeholders of your dream industry meet. You will need to go there on a regular basis (once a month or at least every two months) – and that’s where you first just want to learn about how these people think, what they value most and what they need. Based on that knowledge, you can develop your “sales pitch”: what is it that you can contribute to solve their problems?
And then you need to find out whom to pitch to. That’s what you need your new contacts for. It may be more difficult and different from how networking is in Brussels, but you will eventually find one, two or three contacts that know someone you can introduce yourself to. If you hang around regularly, chances are that at some point someone thinks of you when a position comes up.
But that does take time, and there is no guarantee. The guarantee is your persistence. If you have a long breath at securing your dream position and if you remain determined to get it, you will eventually get there. If things are urgent, you may need a plan B for a certain while – maybe a position lower than you had hoped for, or working as an independent or interim consultant for a certain period of time.
By the way, all these suggestions also work the other way around – when you come from outside the “EU Bubble”, and you want in!
If you want to find out about your particular transferable skills and understand which jobs you should aim for, join us for our High-Intensity-Lunchtime workshop on 29 June 2016: http://www.leadershipworkouts.eu/transferableskills
Don’t forget to register with the politjob job alerts on http://politjobs.eu/ and participate in the raffle for a free place!