A outplacement transition guide to life beyond Washington
for former members and associates of Congress
Losing a job can be a challenging and stress-filled time. Especially during the holidays, and especially for someone like you - the soon-to-be former team associate of the United States Congress. At this moment, you may be packing boxes and moving vans with the cherished mementos and petty cash of your career in Washington. You may be wrapping those last-minute trillion dollar gifts and holiday earmarks for loyal supporters, phoning final farewells to your Washington colleagues, lobbyists, and "escort services." In many cases you may find that they, too, have lost their jobs -- and, if they haven't, will no longer return your calls. And in those lonely moments between, you ask: why me?
Whether you're a recently displaced 23-term committee chairman or a formerly smug unemployed staffer with $180,000 of Georgetown student loans, it's important not to give in to despair. Psychological studies tell us a lost re-election campaign is the single most stressful event in the life of a congressional incumbent, even topping the indictment of a campaign contributor or an appearance at an unscripted town hall meeting. Also, a ballot box layoff is, next to death, the second-leading cause of leaving Congress. The good news is that there are positive, proactive steps you can take to reduce stress and smooth your transition to your new life in the great unknown outside I-495.
And that's where this brochure comes in. At Iowahawk Congressional Outplacement Services our primary goal is to orient, retrain, and mainstream former employees of Capitol Hill for productive careers outside Washington. While we can't get you back your seniority, your perks, or your mahogany-paneled office in the Dirksen Building, we can give you the tools you'll need after your ignominious rejection by those bastard ingrates you'll soon be living among. Follow this step-by-step guide and you'll be back on your feet in no time! Probably.
Step 1: Assess Your Skills and Competencies
The road to your new non-Washington career begins with an inventory of your personal strengths and competencies. Read the critical skill list below, and circle the ones that you possess.
- Telling other people what to do
- Demanding money
- Peddling influence
- Talking loudly over others
- Condescension / arrogance
- Threatening, browbeating, arguing
- Evading responsibility
- Spin control
As a former Washington professional, you probably circled four or more of the above. Yes, there are some private sector industries where these skills are valued - such as journalism, bill collection, professional wrestling, higher education, and carnival barking. Unfortunately, these are all declining industries with low wages and/or fierce job competition. In order to maintain your standard of living, you will probably have to seek employment in other industries where you will find surprisingly little demand for your skills.
FAQs (frequently asked questions)
Instead of seeking a job, what if I decided to leverage my congressional skills in my own business?
While entrepreneurship can sometimes be very lucrative, it is a good idea to check with law enforcement officials. Under some federal and local statutes your new business may be interpreted as organized crime.
Step 2: Familiarize Yourself With Your New Industry
In order to land that good job back in your home district, you first need to understand the ins and outs of the non-Washington economic system. Unlike Washington's easy-to-understand system of leveraging raw unbridled rulemaking and police power to extract tribute from fearful and/or favor-seeking constituents, non-Washington industries are largely based on the production of "goods" or "services." It sounds complicated, but the basic idea boils down to making things or doing things that other people will pay for. The complicated part is to remember that they must pay for them voluntarily.
For example, let's consider a hypothetical barber, and let's call him 'Joe.' Joe does something - namely, he cuts people's hair. The people whose hair Joe cuts enter his barbershop voluntarily, and pay him for his service, also voluntarily. Why? Probably because they desired a haircut, or possibly because they enjoy his amusing patter and racy magazine selection. The important thing to remember is that they paid for the haircuts voluntarily. Obviously, with his sharp implements and razors, once a customer is in his chair Joe could threaten to stab him or slit his throat unless he forks over his wallet and jewelry. Unfortunately, this would probably reduce the number of customers coming to Joe's barbershop.
As a former member of Congress the challenge for you is to identify those things you can make, or things you can do, and target employers accordingly. List them in the spaces below.
Things I can make*: ____________________________________________________________________
Things I can do*: _______________________________________________________________________
*remember, list only those things that people will pay for voluntarily
Are you finished? If your space is blank, don't worry. This is true of most Capitol Hill professionals. There are ways you can gain these skills which we will cover in Step 3.
I have been told I was a good legislative salesman when I was in Congress. Does this count as a 'thing I can do'?
There is always demand for good salesmen and saleswomen in the private sector, but peddling influence and selling goods and services often require different skill sets. For example, you will not be allowed to persuade customers by outlawing your competition.
What if Joe hung a big sign on his barber pole announcing expensive fines and penalties for people who stop coming to his barbershop?
In principle this is a good idea, but Joe will need someone to voluntarily enforce his fines. He could subcontract enforcement to the Mafia, but even if this was legal the Mafia would probably demand a large commission of any fines they collect for Joe.
Step 3: Get the Skills You Need
Fortunately, America has thousands of colleges, technical institutes, and trade schools that can teach you the skills you currently lack. However, it is important to avoid coursework in fields like political science, critical studies and journalism. Remember, you are trying to gain skills. And if the previous section confused you, you should also probably avoid barber school.
Unfortunately, gaining skills in high demand fields can take years of study and mastering puzzling topics like math and ethics. One useful shortcut is to pick an interesting job, identify someone who is good at it, and study how they do it. For example, let's say you were interested in working as a Walmart greeter. Go to the local Walmart and observe the greeter as he does his job. When customers enter the Walmart, does he demand a contribution for directing them to the appropriate section of the store? When customers leave the Walmart and the greeter checks their bags, does the greeter remove items as an honorarium for himself? If not, then this job is probably not for you. If you answered yes, you should probably report this greeter to the Walmart manager.
What's the best strategy for picking the right school and getting accepted?
The best schools tend to have competitive admissions and require high SAT or ACT scores. There are many inexpensive courses that can help you to prepare for these exams. Also, if the school you are applying to has a center or sports arena named after you, this will likely be seen in your favor.
Step 4: Finding Job Openings
This is probably the easiest part, and at the same time the hardest part, of your job search. Despite the economy, thousands of job listings can be found in your local newspaper and online sites like Monster.com. The difficult part is finding one that will not laugh you out of the room. If this is impossible, return to Step 3.
Will I have to declare an exploratory committee before I search the want ads?
You can, but it is not mandatory.
How about a employment action fund?
You're new at this, aren't you?
Step 5: Preparing Your Resume
An effective job resume should be no more than two pages, with sections devoted to your education, employment history, and references. There are hundreds of online resources available to help you. But remember, under no circumstances should you list anything to do with your time in Washington.
I removed my Congressional experience from my resume. How do I explain the 28-year gap?
Claim you were in prison.
Step 6: The Job Interview
Congratulations! You're almost there in your new non-Washington job. You've gotten a callback from a prospective employer who wants to interview you for an opening. This can be daunting, but it's important to remain calm, relaxed, and prepared. Before the big interview, make sure you are neat and clean, and wearing appropriate business attire. In many ways your job interview will be like an important televised Congressional debate, and your main goal is to sell yourself. But remember -- always think of your interviewer as an undecided voter, not your opponent. It's a common mistake, as recently experienced by one ex-Capitol Hill layoff victim:
Job Interviewer: so, Mr. Grayson, I see here you would like to join the cast here at Disney World. Tell me about yourself. What is it about Alan Grayson that qualifies him to wear the Donald Duck costume?
Alan Grayson: You're in no position to question my fitness for this position. The people of the Magic Kingdom already know why you want the Donald Duck constume.
Job Interviewer: I... uh...
Alan Grayson: You want to wear the Donald Duck costume because it gives you the cover you need to kill people. That's right - you want to kill people! Face it, beneath those feathers and behind that bill, you are no different than the Taliban.
Job Interviewer: now just a minute, I...
Alan Grayson: You be quiet, you murderous webfooted terrorist! I have the floor.
Job Interviewer: Is that a gavel?
Alan Grayson: You are out of order! [bang] Out of order!
Job Interviewer: Security!
In order to avoid an embarrassing episode like this, it helps to picture your interviewer as an election year swing voter. Play up your strengths. Use flattery. List the many things you will do for your prospective employer once you are hired. Be careful, though - unlike a swing voter, a job interviewer may actually write down your promises and expect you to do them.
Is it too much to ask the interviewer to address me as 'Senator'? I've worked so hard to get this job.
Yes. And you are no longer a senator.
Are their any local community groups who can bring in buses full of extra interviewers before my big interview?
No. Don't take the "voter" metaphor too far. For instance, don't sue for a recount if you lose your interview. Also, if you are Bob Ethridge, do not attempt to strangle the interviewer.
Step 7: Going on Public Assistance
After a few months of job interviews, you will likely find that you are still unemployed. Even if you somehow manage to get a job, it is only a matter of time before your employer observes your performance and you find yourself back on the street. In either case, your next stop is applying for public assistance.
Yes, there once was a stigma associated with being "on the dole," but that is largely a thing of the past. Today, more Americans than ever are receiving unemployement checks, food stamps, and welfare -- in large part thanks to your years of hard work in Washington. So don't be embarrassed, go for all the goverment funded gusto you can. That's what it's there for! After all, haven't you really been on public assistance since you were first elected?
Is it too much to ask my benefits caseworker to address me as 'Senator'? I've worked so hard to get this job.
Uhh... sure, whatever. Senator.