Seven key skills that staffers bring when they leave the political workforce

In a few days, there will be an election in the Province of Ontario. And as Kathleen Wynne conceded over the weekend, that means there will soon be hundreds of Liberal political staffers — and a few MPPs — looking for work.

Now, if you’re not a fan of the Ontario Liberal government — and not a lot of people are right now — you’re probably not going to lose a lot of sleep if they’re voted out of office. If you’re a Liberal political staffer, you’ve probably already lost sleep — and you’re about to lose a lot more — as you try to figure out what to do next. But if you’re an employer, you should probably be very excited — though you may not know it yet — because a lot of very talented people are going to be available to you very soon.

That’s because political staffers come with lots of skills that are valuable to companies and leaders. Unlike officials in the bureaucracy, political staffers don’t have job security — they serve a minister or premier and get fired when their party loses an election. After an election loss, these highly skilled people all hit the workforce at the same time — creating a temporary smorgasbord of talent.

While private sector employers may not be aware of the qualities that political staffers bring, they are incredibly valuable. They include:

Work ethic: When your job depends on the government being re-elected, you have a built-in incentive to work as hard as possible to help your party succeed at the polls. So, political staff are used to working long hours and being on call — and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

Communications skills: Politics is one of the biggest employers and incubators of communications talent. Again, when your job depends on persuading people, you get pretty good at crafting a message, managing issues and dealing with the media.

Analysis: Every day, even very junior political staffers give advice or make decisions involving millions of taxpayer dollars. To do this properly, staff need to be able to analyze the risks and rewards of a project from all sides. As a result, people who have made a career in politics usually have excellent decision-making skills.

Flexibility and adaptability: Consider all the branches of government – education, health care, infrastructure, transportation, natural resources, environment — each of these has its own dedicated ministry. Most political staffers have worked for multiple ministries, meaning they can quickly adapt to new files and new projects.

Fearlessness: Right away, political staffers are thrown into morning briefing meetings with government ministers and senior leaders — all the way up to and including the premier or prime minster. So even the most junior staffer has a lot of experience dealing with big personalities and high-stakes meetings. Policy staff, in particular, are used to high-level meetings with companies, governments and other stakeholders who work with the government.

Networks: Though you might think it was more advantageous to hire a staff person from the same party as the current governing party, it can be even smarter to hire staff from a party just out of power. In Ontario, where one party has been in charge for 15 years, staff turnover has meant that many former staffers now have key and senior positions in organizations all over Ontario. These people — thousands of them — are all connected through LinkedIn and Facebook. This massive and very loyal network can be helpful when you’re looking for a vendor or a contact or information about an issue — and they all have relationships with senior government bureaucrats.

In the next few weeks, when these talented people hit the market, some private sector employers will gloss over their resumes, thinking that they’re typical “government” workers. But that’s a mistake your competitors are going take advantage of. Bankers – take a good look at Finance ministry staff. Corporations and startups – kick the tires on some Economic Development staff. Run a clean-tech company? Environment staff. Universities? Education staff. And on and on it goes.


Originally published in the Financial Post.
Image: Financial Post