Having worked through every presidential transition since 1992, Nels Olson has a keen sense of how Washington changes every four (or eight) years. He’s currently working as the Head of the Global Government Affairs Practice at Korn Ferry, and we spoke with him to pick his brain on career transition tips and what to expect as the Trump administration moves into Washington.
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How do you see the change in administration affecting government affairs professional’s career paths?
This transition is unlike any presidential transition Washington has ever seen and will clearly have an impact on the government affairs function. Specifically, the way advocacy has been practiced in the past is changing dramatically. Those involved in advocacy will need to evolve their approach over the next year to adapt to this new administration.
Three tips for firms looking to hire during the transition:
1. Don’t make long term business decisions – i.e. hiring of senior government affairs executives – solely based on short-term political realities. It’s still a long-term game.
2. Policy depth and deep understanding of the issues needs to be balanced with relevant relationships. Understanding the impact the digital age has on advocacy is also key – especially in the Twitter age.
3. It is best to find an individual who possesses both government and private-sector acumen – the transition to the private sector can be bumpy straight from government.
What types of organizations can we expect Obama administration officials to gravitate toward after Jan 20?
It varies greatly – for individuals coming out of the Obama administration there are clearly roles in healthcare, environment and interesting roles in the not-for-profit space as well.
What advice would you give Democratic lobbyists as they prepare to navigate a Republican-controlled Congress and administration?
It is essential that you keep your wits about you and understand that the political winds do change in this town. As always, having bipartisan relationships is key. Everyone has their own personal political leaning – however – professionally it is always wise to have a broad network to reach out to. As the transition to the new administration and congress plays out, there may be a temporary challenge for those in the opposite party. However, once things settle down, political appointments are made and cabinet vacancies are filled, other opportunities will present themselves.