You Worked for the White House. Now What?

Thousands of government workers lose their jobs as Donald Trump becomes president. What’s their next move?

As Donald Trump takes the oath of office and settles into the White House this weekend, a much different scene will be taking place just west of the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The massive 550-plus room edifice is the workspace for the president’s immediate staff and multiple tiers of support staff, and the hundreds of people who work there are currently cleaning out their desks. “Other than the Secret Service, just about every office in that building is going to turn over this weekend,” says Wendy Monsen, senior client partner and president of Korn Ferry’s federal government practice.

While much of the focus is on Donald Trump and whom he’s bringing into his administration, thousands of employees are now leaving government and many of them are looking for work. Indeed, in December President Obama asked every one of the political appointees in his administration to offer their resignations, effective today (Trump has asked about 50 Obama appointees to stay on to help smooth the government transition).

The turnover isn’t unique to Trump’s takeover; it’s the nature of Washington, DC. The people that the outgoing president appointed to run agencies, develop policies, and even manage the White House mail out of a job when the new president takes over. The president either directly appoints or nominates candidates for about 4,000 roles, from the high-profile jobs such as cabinet-level positions that require senate confirmation, to far-less visible positions (for example, the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks within the Department of the Interior is a presidential appointment).

Already there have been stories recently of Obama appointees and staff members worried that they will be unable to find work, but Monsen says they shouldn’t be concerned. Any role that is appointed by the U.S. president is prestigious. “Typically, these folks have the choice of whatever they want to do,” she says.

Many of those people will go into an industry that relates to the agency with which they were involved. When they do enter the private sector, however, the former government workers should understand that while they possess many traits for success, their particular skillset might not be a perfect fit right away. For instance, a high-ranking official at a government agency probably developed a budget, but he or she may never have had to manage a P&L statement, a basic business skill. Monsen says it’s an experience some service members and veterans have transitioning to civilian roles.

And the ex-government employees should be cognizant of how the new political climate affects the job market. Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader of Korn Ferry’s Board & CEO Services practice, says that in a few searches in which he was involved during the fall, the recruiters were looking for candidates with ties to Democrats. That changed after the election. “There’s a knee-jerk reaction to say, ‘We don’t want to hire someone out of the Obama administration because we don’t want to upset the new administration,” Olson says.

But that initial reaction is usually temporary. Indeed, the next three to six months will be the time private organizations will look to bring on the Obama administration’s best talent. Businesses, Olson says, will ultimately make decisions on long-term business priorities, not the short-term political environment. “It may take a little time, but don’t lose faith,” he says.