The job market is changing, and the transition away from long-term careers of growth within a single organisation is no longer a phenomenon unique to younger generations seeking to find their place in a dynamic workforce. Senior figures across many sectors, but particularly from associations and small to mid-size consultancies, have begun to embrace new roles more frequently, and with a new mindset that brings the time horizon until the next change closer with each career move. Where once it was overwhelmingly the habit of millennials, seeking new opportunities every few years may very well become increasingly common among Brussels and EU affairs office leadership, many of whom have decades of experience in their fields.
As recruitment specialists and public affairs practitioners, we diligently track emerging trends as they surface in the mainstream job market. Our conversations with both employers and candidates have been especially useful in framing potential shifts in the job market that go beyond the changing nature of either the PA function or the broader Euro-bubble ecosystem, and these cases raise important questions as to what kind of teams can be effectively built to pursue policy and advocacy goals – and how traditional assumptions of how to build them must be revised.
The EU affairs bubble has grown and matured significantly over time, built on a combination of seasoned PA experts providing stability and guidance, and a steady influx of diverse, highly qualified talent from across the continent. As the number of offices and the size of established teams grew, so too did the capacity – and the demand – for greater staff rotation: more ambitious activities required expertise across multiple issue areas, and the necessary networks and know-how became less concentrated in the hands of individual senior experts, of which there would have been only one or two in a given staff.
While the increasing demand for experienced public affairs professionals is not unique to Brussels as a political hub, the combination of this growth with the international nature of the market and the particularly high barriers to entry for talents have compounded to turbo-charge turnover, which ultimately filters through all levels of an organisation. In particularly competitive markets like the European quarter, candidates need stand-out experiences or qualifications to successfully gain traction and a foot in the door to advance their careers. With such a competitive starting point, it follows that the capabilities and qualifications of today’s senior leadership, having come up in such an environment, have scaled accordingly. Coupled with years of actively building strong personal relationships and networks across the close-knit community of the Brussels bubble offer multiple paths for tried and tested professionals to seek new opportunities.
The growth of the PA ecosystem did more than just create push factors for experienced practitioners, however – newly opened offices created novel leadership opportunities within the deeply interconnected EU quarter, offering senior figures the chance to do more than just manage a well-established team, but to shape a new one from the ground up. Similarly, in the corporate sphere the increasing number of on-the-ground teams enticed greater numbers of experienced figures with the chance to move “in house”, a transition that has long been seen as the traditional “promised land” for consultants as they advance in their careers. In both cases, senior leaders are making use of more frequent career moves to avoid hitting a ‘ceiling’ to their internal growth opportunities, and to expand their range of both responsibility and management experience.
While there seem to be increasing similarities in the career change patterns across multiple levels of seniority, in practice the same conclusions are reached by fundamentally different calculations. Whereas changing jobs is seen as par for the course when it comes to staying competitive for junior or mid-career professionals, who seek “greener pastures” as an avenue for career advancement, for senior positions more frequent changes are an increasingly effective tactic for avoiding stagnation, while maximizing the value – and opportunities – that arise from deep experience and broad networks.
The trend in growing job markets, especially in the network-driven world of PA, is increasingly moving towards dynamism and change as the norm across all levels, rather than as the exception that diminishes over the life of a single career. This carries with it significant implications for both long-term and near-term talent management and organizational planning, and requires conscientious accounting for new expectations and practices internally and externally. Finding the right balance of senior and junior staff, and securing strong pipelines for new talent to invigorate or challenge teams, is now a far more complex equation than ever before, and something that organisations of all sizes need to proactively anticipate in order to remain effective in pursuing their policy objectives and delivering success in the public affairs arena.