Five reasons to hire a former political staffer.


Let me paint you a picture.

It's just after an election (be it municipal, provincial, or federal).

Because it's politics, there are winners and those who lost. Now there is a bunch of politicians and their staff in the job market. They come from every party, place, and position.

Some folks, depending on their own personal politics, are happy to see them lose their jobs.

Others aren't thinking much about this forlorn group, as often times there are layoffs in the hundreds of people, rather than the thousands that can grab the attention of the media. It also happens on a cycle and is expected: which is the opposite of newsworthy. So it's normal. And so it's a hidden conversation that is often missed.

But, for the enterprising HR manager, non-profit executive, or Chief People Officer, it's an opportunity to pick up some real talent.

Let me tell you why.

The neat thing about "big 'P' politics" is that it's connected to everything.

The public discourse is something open to everyone and intersects with so much of our society. So you get to meet everyone - from all faiths, walks of life, and places. And that brings to bear a set of very unique skills that prepares an employee to do well in many environments.

So, what does that say about former political staff? If you're in the market for an employee, what is the value add to your organization from bringing on those with experience in the political and government sectors?

Let me give you five reasons why to hire a former political staffer.

(1) Adaptability.

Politics is pressure.

It's not just the news or on social media that are stressful, unaccommodating environments now. The arena of politics is about pressure - from constituents, organizations, and constantly shifting nature of our shared discourse. The world has shifted and politics is often one of the first places where you see many trends.

And how someone reacts to those pressures makes them a great political staffer.

Being able to react to pressure creates adaptability. It's knowing crisis management, change management, and aligning passions to the practical. This is a highly prized soft skill for any new hire.

(2) Team work is a requirement.

They have to be excellent with teams because nothing - absolutely nothing - in politics is done without a team.

If it's managing volunteers, communicating with the public, organizing teams, and relying on others in a campaign team or ministry, building relationships is key. And to manage and build those relationships is a sign of a skilled political staffer. That means teams and a team-building mentality.

Sometimes a solution isn't in the manual. Creative thinking is required. From being in those meetings, making their bosses relevant, and organizing locally in their communities, these staff have a outsized network across multiple industries. The key is how to find the one person that can help your organization with their network... and activate those connections.

Again, this is a soft skill like the above point: and one that positions someone to be a great addition to your team.

(3) Hard workers.

Because they have to be.

There's an incredible thing that happens to a person when not only do they want to work hard (they believe in the core mission of an organization or politician), but have to (if their boss loses an election they're out of a job - and political staff are often readily expendable between elections).

Politics calls for above and beyond a 9-5 work ethic. I myself had a stint of working 14 hour days for weeks on end. Come campaign season, it gets worse.

Obvious issues arise from this: like exhaustion. The good staffers find their work-life balance and their own hacks for success. Others don't survive long. Samara Canada, while looking at Members of Parliament, has an interesting look at the flip side of this work culture. For a hiring mangers looking at former political staff this may require a work plan to assist new employees from this sector to adjust to a different work-life balance.

(4) They don't give up.

In politics, even the most basic things have opposition.

If it's a new bridge, building affordable housing, or advocating for a new policy direction, there are forces at play at the opposite end of every argument. It's inside your organization, from the outside, and inside the houses of power.

After knocking on some 100,000 doors in the last ten years (I wrote a blog post about this), I have spoken to more non-supporters than supporters for the causes I believe in. It's about returning to those doors, again and again, and asking for their support. That's just one example of how tenacity is a pre-requisite for many in the political realm.

This creates a sense of resiliency.

(5) An opportunity to build.

After an electoral loss there often isn't an immediate ability to make a return to the political arena. It could take years.

And in politics you're going to lose just as much as you win. Basic math shows that this will winnow out the field of political staff very, very quickly.

It's not a career for a life.

So political staff trend younger.

You're typically getting someone at the start, or at least mid-way, in their career. Add in the training they received at the beginning stages of their career, some formal and much of it informal, you have opportunities to take some of the most passionate and hardworking candidates available.

It also means they can be molded and mentored into leadership roles.

That's an opportunity, and one you can take advantage of as an employer. It may take a bit of work in sourcing that former staffer and then a bit more to get them into the right place in your organization, but the benefit is huge.

Further Reading:

  • Professor Ian Brodie, a former Chief of Staff to then Prime Minister Harper and lecturer at the University of Calgary, wrote an article in Canadian Parliamentary Review, in a defence of political staff. He delves into the various roles, attributes, and a discussion about political staff.
  • Samara Canada's "Beyond the BBQ" report, which looks at the skills, abilities, and proffers solutions to local political staff and constituency offices in the Canadian context.
  • Australian lobbyist Sean Sammon wrote about his own personal journey post-politics. He gives some advice to both employers and newly redundant political staff. You can read his blog post here. Half of his article speaks to moving into government relations - but with multi-year lobbying bans at various levels of government in Canada there's some irrelevant content at the end of it.
  • Brian Epstein wrote in the Financial Post a numbered list as well after the Ontario provincial election of 2018. You can read it here.