Should I Become a Consumer Advocate?
Consumer advocates cover a wide range of consumer issues and needs. Broadly speaking, a consumer advocate looks out for the interests, safety and values of consumers against fraudulent practices, dangerous products and overcharging. A consumer advocate can assist in creating arguments for consumer's rights in courts, bringing lawsuits on behalf of harmed consumers; a consumer advocate can help in shaping legislation to protect consumer interests; or in offering information to the public about goods and services. Consumer advocates operate in both the private and public sector.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field||Legal studies, accounting, finance, business|
|Key Skills||Legal knowledge; strong reasoning skills; organizational; excellent networking|
|Experience||Internships with public interest groups; grassroots organization|
|Salary (2015)||$42,612 per year (Median salary for customer advocates)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor.com
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Aspiring consumer advocates might choose a major based on their desired specialty. For example, advocates who plan to work against predatory lending could major in business, accounting, or finance. Consumer advocates also might study civil justice to develop a background in areas like intellectual property and housing safety. A major in political science could be applicable to prospective consumer advocates because it could help them understand policy-making and government processes.
Step 2: Gain Experience
Pursuing internships or volunteer opportunities with consumer organizations could help prospective consumer advocates choose which role they'd like to play in advocating for consumers. Examples of consumer advocate positions include grassroots organizer, policy analyst, and outreach coordinator. Consumer advocates also might test products for safety or work in administrative positions at nonprofit and government organizations.
Step 3: Consider Graduate or Professional Education
Many professionals who work as consumer advocates need only a bachelor's degree. However, those pursuing work as legal advocates or seeking employment through the state or federal government might be required to possess a higher degree, such as a Master of Science in Family and Consumer Science or a Master of Arts in Healthcare Consumer Advocacy. Additionally, some lawyers work as state consumer advocates; these positions require a Juris Doctor and licensure as an attorney.
Step 4: Get Involved in Consumer Activism to Advance Your Career
Consumer advocates are employed by social, civic, and political organizations. Advocates who want to work for nonprofit organizations might begin as volunteers before moving into paid positions. Similarly, consumer advocates who aspire to work on the state or federal level often gain experience working at private organizations before pursuing government jobs. As government employees, consumer advocates might work to protect citizens from unfair utility rates and practices or to protect consumers by providing education about predatory lending, credit reporting, insurance, and banking. The key to career advancement is to be as active as possible in your area of advocacy interest.