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How to get a job in the Obama administration

If Barack Obama inspired you so much that after voting for him you now want to work for him, there are thousands of jobs to be had in the new administration.
Image: Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel
President-elect Barack Obama talks with Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., in this June 6, 2008, file photo. Obama’s first choice for his new administration was Emanuel, who accepted the position of White House chief of staff.Alex Brandon / AP

If Barack Obama inspired you so much that after voting for him you now want to work for him, there are thousands of jobs to be had in the new administration.

There are coveted presidential appointments and a huge array of staff positions. But you have to start the ball rolling right now, especially if you weren’t an integral part of the presidential campaign.

You can head over to the newly minted Web site for the Obama transition team and fill out an application for a job right on the site. But like traditional job sites, this strategy probably won’t get you very far. Getting a job with the new administration is pretty much like getting any job: It’s all about connections.

Samuel Mok landed a job as comptroller for the Treasury Department under President Reagan, and he also went on to work for both Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush.

He had worked in corporate America and then became a foreign service officer prior to applying for the comptroller’s job after spotting it in a newspaper ad in the late 1980s.

“It’s a highly competitive process,” Mok says. “For every position, there are countless numbers of people wanting the job. The more allies you can bring to table, the better chance you have.”

Work those connections
Those allies come from connections you may have established working or volunteering for the Obama campaign, or the ones you make now using some detective work and your existing network of contacts.

Strategies to land a job with the administration are varied depending on where you are in your career trajectory.

If you’re just out of college, some experts suggest heading to Washington and volunteering for any position you can get.

“My advice to 20-somethings is to move to Washington, D.C., and work for either the presidential transition or the inauguration,” says Michael Gordon, who worked on President Clinton’s transition team and now runs Group Gordon, a public relations firm. “You generally have to start off as a volunteer, but if you’re persistent and patient, those volunteer jobs turn into paying jobs and then administration jobs.”

For midlevel career types, the key is working your contacts, connecting with key local presidential campaign organizers, and clearly linking your experience to your desired position or department.

Find the job you want, says Mok, “and then figure out who you know and work the channels and openly lobby for that job.”

Last week, the Obama camp released information about its transition team, including names of key staff members.

Knowing this information gives you an inside view of who will be running the show. Now you can figure out if you have any connections with these individuals by using sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. You can try to contact them directly or contact one of their friends, or friends of friends.

Another key is figuring out what Obama will be concentrating on when he takes over the White House, says Kathryn Troutman, president of The Resume Place Inc. and author of the “Federal Resume Guidebook.”

“Typically, presidents write a whole plan on what they plan to do, their big ideas, and that’s included in the president’s agenda that’s published on the White House Web site,” she says. (Take a look at President Bush’s agenda to get a feel for how this works.)

Troutman estimates that an Obama agenda will show up on the Web site within the first 90 days.

So where do you find what jobs are available?

The jobs may pop up on basic job listing sites, but there are specific portals with the bulk of these federal positions.

One of the best sources, Troutman says, is USAJOBS. “These are not presidential appointee positions, they are federal civil service positions, but all of the people who hold competitive service positions perform services in support of the president’s agenda,” she says.

Troutman expects there will be numerous financial jobs within the government given the recent call for more regulations of the financial sector. So that means federal agencies will be hiring for various positions, including inspectors, auditors, accountants or compliance officers.

Health care jobs will also be in abundance, she predicts, in everything from Medicare to Veterans Affairs.

Another source for federal jobs, according to Matt Eventoff, communications strategist with PPS Associates/Princeton Public Speaking in New Jersey, is something called the “Plum Book” released at the change of each administration. Although this has not been updated for the new president, you can see past ones here.

The Plum Book includes job descriptions and even pay scales for different positions.

Since the party running the White House has changed, Eventoff expects that there will be lots of turnover in a host of government jobs.

Revamp that resume
Don’t expect Obama to make the job selections himself, Eventoff adds, aside from the highest-level posts.

The ones making the decisions for the thousands of other positions will be the president’s transition team. There will also be advisory committees named for particular federal agencies and departments, Eventoff says. If you can find someone who knows someone in these groups, you’ll have an advantage over the thousands of other applicants that will surely be vying for the jobs. If you have contacts who know any of the early Obama appointees, now is a good time to send them your resume.

Speaking of resumes, it’s time to revamp yours if you’ve only worked in the private sector.

“The average federal resume is three to four pages, while a private sector resume is two or less,” says resume expert Troutman. “You have to put in more details in a federal resume to demonstrate you have specific qualifications for the job.”

Resumes for federal jobs, she says, have to clearly spell out specialized experience at a salary level that was equal to what the federal job will be paying.

Once your resume is sent and your contacts are milked, patience will indeed be a virtue as you try and secure a job with the new president, says Gordon.

During the Clinton years, he says, about 3,000 administrative appointments had to be filled. The process took months to complete.

“If you have any relevant policy experience, or political experience, or a particular skill set the administration can draw on, that will give you a leg up,” Gordon says.

The first thing you have to ask yourself is if you’re committed to the new commander in chief’s legacy, says Mok, because government work consists of long hours for not great pay.

“There are two reasons worth serving,” he continues. “You want to understand how the American government works, and you want to help Obama be successful.”