But regardless of who wins this November, one thing is certain: Lots of people who currently work in Washington--staffers at the White House, dozens of federal agencies, and for members of the House and the Senate--will all be looking for a job.
Some will go the traditional route and work for a D.C.-based law firm, lobbying shop, or think tank. But many will want to work for an established tech company, an old-guard company, or a startup.
As a reformed political operative and as someone who interviews and hires people from politics and government both for my own companies and for companies we advise and invest in, here are some do's and don'ts, both for interviewers and interviewees.
Tips for those interviewing:
- Do think about how your particular expertise translates into solving specific problems and creating specific opportunities for the company you're interviewing with. People who have never worked in government or politics do not really understand what you do or how it works. They're not going to see your value on their own. Make them see it, and make it directly applicable to their business.
- Do not confuse political friends with real friends. The people you work with are often your friends. But the donors, lobbyists, and other big shots you've become friendly with are not going to just take care of you (and absent a few really remarkable politicians, neither will your current employer). You're useful to them in your current job. That doesn't translate to your entire career. It's fine to tap them for advice or connections, but don't expect them to find you a new job.
- Do not confuse your bubble with their bubble. People say you live inside the Beltway bubble, and they're right. But everyone lives in a bubble, whether it's Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, the media, or anything else. Realizing that and translating your experience so it's relevant to those you want to work for is really important. Making them do all the work both risks your coming off as arrogant, and even worse, they may fail to appreciate just how much you have to offer.
- Do not have a voicemail message that includes something like, "The best way to reach me is by email." You're neither so busy nor so important that you can't check your voicemail. All a message like that does is send an even worse message to potential employers.
Tips for those doing the hiring:
- Do not confuse someone's recent experience with an ability to automatically solve your problem. The days of someone making a phone call and your issue magically being fixed are long gone (and if it does still happen, assume the FBI is on the call too). Hire someone from government or politics because you like her skill set, personality, and experience--not because you think she'll be your fixer.
- Do not confuse your view of government (inept, dysfunctional, corrupt) with the person you're interviewing. Working at high levels of government and politics is really hard. It takes a lot of intelligence, talent, street smarts, work ethic, and hustle. And those are exactly the same qualities that predict success in most businesses. Your colleagues and rivals will likely underestimate the talent coming out of the public sector. Not making the same mistake gives you a competitive advantage.
- Do not hire an ideologue (even if it's your ideology too). People on both the far left and far right in politics are frequently happier feeling right and righteous than getting something done. That's why our government is so broken. Don't infect your business with the same disease.
- Do not relegate people coming out of government to jobs in government relations and public relations. Running campaigns or shepherding major legislation is often more complex than your businesses' operations. Selling awful candidates and sham legislation is often a lot harder than marketing your product. So if someone really talented and likable comes your way, be willing to think creatively and broadly about where and how he can fit into the organization.
All in all, a lot of talent will be on the market over the next six months. For an employer who understands what to look for and what to avoid, you can add a lot of human capital at a relatively modest cost.
And for someone coming out of government, making some modest adjustments to your approach, attitude, and preparation can give you a major advantage over those who won't and don't.
The opportunity is there for both sides. Go take it.