So, Government Relations…. and do I wish to pursue a career in this area? I thought it was time for me to get down to the nitty-gritty and interview an industry professional who works within the government sector. I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Connor Syddall, a recent Public Relations Graduate, who landed his first government job this year as an Electorate Officer for the Parliament of Victoria! He told me about his role, how he landed his job, the interviewing process and his advice for someone who is interested to work in a government role. In this blog post, I discuss my interest in this area, share Connor’s fantastic insights and answers from the interview and also how my recent internship with Broadspectrum has guided me.
I had a Government Relations unit which acted like a capstone unit for my degree, tying in key terms and knowledge in the realms of Government. A lot of concepts came up such as civil society, public opinion, and of course, Habermas’ public sphere within a Government context. We looked at why open, transparent Government communication is vital in order to maintain accountability. We focused on current topics and debates and how they unfolded in the media. I had the opportunity to follow the same-sex marriage debate as well as delve into the airport rail link to the Tullamarine airport!
As the weeks went on, I realised that the Government relations arm of public relations is probably the most challenging, complex, yet rewarding functions of public relations. This unit was brilliant, as it unpacked the relationships between corporate interests, government interests and civil interests. I started to develop a strong interest in the work undertaken by communications professionals who work within the government sector.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Connor Syddall to find out more about his role as an Electorate Officer for Simon Ramsay MLC, Shadow Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Member for Western Victoria. I wanted to find out about Connor’s role and what it is like to work as an Electorate Officer. Connor has been in this role for two and a half months and believes this role is a good way for him to step through the political door.
[image supplied by Connor Syddall]
I asked Connor questions about his role, career path and advice he would give someone looking to work within a government role:
1- How did you get your job?
“I was recommended the role through my course co-ordinator at University, I submitted my application online and completed two rounds of interviews before being offered the position. The first interview was with a communications strategist and second interview was with Simon to see if I would be a good fit for the team. I also completed an internship which has a strong focus on social media, it was apparent that my social media internship was one of the main reasons why I landed the role. My part time work throughout university also helped me for the interview process for answering questions.”
2-Have you always had an interest in the Australian Political Landscape/System?
No, I haven’t always had an interest. I would say later in high school, watching American elections sparked an interest for me. As I the years went on, I explored other areas, even Science, but when I competed a Lobbying unit… that’s when I realised that I really enjoy the political environment and began to pursue work in that area. I’m interested in the environment in which they run in, in terms of strategy and managing situations to achieve desired results. That’s also why I took this job, as it was a really opportunistic way for me to get my foot in the door and into a political role.”
3-What does a typical day look like? Can you please describe your day-to-day tasks?
“I go into work and I pick up the newspapers, read the papers and identify opportunities that might be of interest to Simon. It’s mostly topics he can speak about in Parliament. So issues that have been raised. I usually write up a report and send it to him through an email and mention these are the certain trends that are in the newspapers that he can talk about”. For example, a crash on a rural road – we can use that opportunity to talk about a lack of funding for rural roads. Following on from this, I also work on Simon’s advertisements, compile his media releases, liaise with the media and craft speeches if it’s a parliamentary sitting week.”
4- How well did your schooling experience prepare you for this role?
“Reasonably well. They do a lot of the groundwork. For example, how to write a media release, and also time management, which is really important in an office environment. My role is quite autonomous meaning they expect me to be proactive in finding opportunities and following them up. With only two people in the office – three when Simon is in, I have a lot more responsibility than most of my peers as such the time management and organisational skills I developed throughout university are helping me to succeed.”
5- What abilities/personal qualities do you believe contribute most to the success in this field?
“I would say being proactive, having a positive attitude and a desire to achieve something. You should want to constantly improve on yourself, that involved criticism which can be uncomfortable to hear, that way you can build a career and learn new things. A willingness to say, “yes I’ll do that for you” is also essential, as are strong writing skills and knowledge of the parliamentary process.”
6-Do you have any advice for someone who is interested to work in this field?
“Don’t lie in an application process, if you say you can do something, they are going to expect you to do it. You’ve wasted your time and you’ve wasted their time if you say you’re really interested in politics or government but it’s not true. Make sure that if you are interested, mention it, but don’t overplay. And…Expect the unexpected. Just roll with the punches.”
After my interview with Connor Syddall, I realised that if I wanted to pursue a career within the government sector, I would need to develop a thorough understanding of the political landscape and keep up-to-date with what’s happening in government. He also mentions that strong organisational and time management skills are key, to perform well in a government role. Reflecting on my recent internship with Broadspectrum, I had the opportunity to manage my time wisely, work independently, set personal deadlines and stay organised. For example, my interning days would usually consist of my mentor giving me tasks for the day. I worked on these allocated tasks and would ask questions when I needed clarity, editing/proofreading, and later sending my work to my supervisor. I had to be confident in my ability to develop professional documents. This internship allowed me to take control of my work, be proactive, and trust my ability. The autonomous aspect of this internship has allowed me to basically “grow into my own” emerging practitioner, developing skills which can be applied to a role similar to which Connor has described and also to many other roles.
As I start to think about where my own career is heading, Connor’s advice about not lying during the interview process or overplaying something is extremely important. I would never lie during an application process and have never done so in the past, but I think that staying true to what I truly want will make me extremely happy in my future role. I certainly know now that after my internship with Broadspectrum, I can see myself working within a Community Engagement space because I see it as fulfilling and an extremely important part of an organisation’s reputation.
I sometimes wonder what my thoughts and perspectives would be if I didn’t complete this internship. Theoretical units sparked a deep interest for me, but I hadn’t completed a community engagement internship previously. Would I have developed a deep understanding of community engagement when it was a theoretical concept in the textbook? Probably not! Practical and theoretical knowledge is the only way to get a real taste of it. I’ve had a real opportunity to learn and engage in an organisation’s community engagement and Indigenous Participation approach. I learnt how social responsibility is approached in a corporate environment as opposed to just reading CSR theory. Guidelines I have developed are: researching and fact checking is extremely important and knowing what projects are appropriate for a client, by finding out what’s important to them. It’s vital to understand the culture of an institution or a corporation. This will be important for me to put these principles in practice when I break into the industry.
This internship has opened my eyes, showed me what it is like to work within a community engagement function, and desire to work towards a job which is community focused.
Do I think government is the place for me? Yes, I might explore this area later down the track. But for now, it’s important for me to keep an open-mind and explore a wide variety of different areas of public relations as I try to break into the communications industry.
Thanks for reading!