Voters aren't the only ones in the mood for change. December is often the time of year when consultants and staffers start questioning their career choices.
The pace of a presidential cycle, the daily information grind, the egos; it's all taken a mental and, in some cases, a physical toll.
But the tone of this year’s campaign, more than others in recent memory, has political professionals feeling restless. Many are now wondering if the grass may be greener in another line of work, or if this is the time to launch a side venture.
Jim Weinstein, a D.C.-based career consultant said his phone has been ringing more than usual in the wake of President-election Donald Trump’s surprise victory.
The problem many political professional encounter when looking to make a career change, he explained, is that its skill set is difficult to quantify for an employer in a different industry.
“Politics is not a field where you can cite a lot of deep, specific skills,” Weinstein told C&E. “But it is an area where people have developed very deep connections. And connections are the key to career transitions.”
While it seems counterintuitive, a political network can help consultants and staffers launch themselves into a new career or start their own business. Weinstein encouraged those looking to make a change to tap secondary connections, too. But be wary when approaching an entrepreneur you want to follow into business. “There are going to be people who say, ‘nah, I can’t help you.’ The secret is ask the right kinds of questions.”
Weinstein suggested lines like, “What do you love about it? What would you change about it?”
“Those kinds of questions tend to be more generative,” he said. “The good thing about exploration is it doesn’t require anyone’s effort except your own.”
Pia Carusone, who heads The Campaign Group’s Washington office, said her network was crucial to starting Republic restoratives, a whiskey and vodka distillery in D.C.
“Don’t underestimate your network — it’s probably stronger than you think if you’ve been working in politics for a while,” she said.
Carusone is currently in the midst of equity funding campaign for her distillery, which brought nearly $200,000 by late December. Many of her investors came from her professional network, she said.
The project has been a boon since the election, Carusone added. “Wednesday morning [Nov. 9] it was the doom and gloom because of everything that was about to happen. The only bright spot was that I could go into the distillery on Thursday morning. It was nice to have a lot of work to take my mind off the reality here.”
Moreover, it informs her pitches to clients, many of whom are entrepreneurs themselves. “Being able to speak from the first-hand experience of running a small business, and understanding those pressures and priorities, is really helpful,” she said.
Her schedule as a consultant also dovetails nicely with the business of the distillery. Now, she’s going through a slow period at her firm as the distillery goes through its busiest time of year.
Carusone said that some consultants have sought her advice on branching out into a second business. “There’s a lot of interest, but there’s a big barrier between interest and taking that big step,” she said. “Life’s busy, and we’ve all got the daily pressures of earning a living. This kind of snuck through.”
For those uncertain about fully committing to launching their own secondary business, it’s possible to enjoy some of the benefits without the responsibility by being an investor. That’s according to Richard Schlackman, a consultant-slash-investor who has put money into wine bars in San Francisco and D.C.
“I love wine and I love investing in wine bars, if they’re done right,” Schlackman said. “If you’re going to be an investor, you have to find something else you love, otherwise you’ll hate it.”
But for the entrepreneurial type, Schlackman noted that political professionals don’t need to apply those skills to a different industry.
“I’ve opened different political businesses over the years,” he said. “I don’t think I could have done one part of the industry for all of my life. I reinvented myself a number of times. I couldn’t own a mail business right now. I couldn’t do it. I do digital,” he said. “Find your passion. Whether you do it full-time or part-time, or invest in it, it should sound like fun.”