Navigating the Political Landscape: Recruiting Professionals with Government Relations Expertise

by Donna Burnett on October 16, 2023 in Direct Hire, Hiring


Washington, DC—where power and policy converge—demands a special breed of government relations professionals. In our nation’s capital, government relations professionals must be agile, adaptable, and unwavering in their commitment to advancing their organization’s interests if they’re going to handle everything from complex legislation and regulation to lightning-fast news cycles and deep-seated partisanship. After all, the effectiveness of their advocacy often shapes the course of policies and decisions far beyond the nation’s capital.

Yet, finding individuals who are personally invested in your organization’s political interests poses a unique hiring challenge. How can you uncover this alliance without probing too far into personal beliefs? In an era of polarized politics, maintaining a neutral approach to hiring in government relations is not just prudent; it’s essential to building effective, results-driven teams that effectively navigate the complex terrain of DC’s political landscape.

Read on as we explore proven strategies and best practices for recruiting government relations professionals while fostering an inclusive and collaborative work environment—and how a DC staffing partner like Contact 1 can help along the way.

10 Must-Have Skills for Government Relations Pros

The right government relations experts possess a unique blend of abilities that empower them to navigate the complexities of policy and advocacy effectively. Here’s a snapshot of the essential hard skills you need on your team:

  1. Legislative Savvy: Government relations pros should have a holistic understanding of legislative intricacies, from bill tracking to committee dynamics, enabling them to analyze proposed laws and predict their impact.
  2. Regulatory Mastery: Keeping abreast of industry-specific regulations is a must for these experts if they’re going to effectively decipher and react to regulatory shifts impacting your organization.
  3. Policy Prowess: Proficiency in exhaustive policy research is vital. These professionals excel at data gathering, trend analysis, and spotting opportunities or threats based on current events.
  4. Stakeholder Engagement: Building and engaging a broad network of stakeholders, including lawmakers, officials, industry peers, and advocacy groups, comes naturally to them—it’s a core skill for furthering your organization’s mission.
  5. Artful Advocacy: The right candidates are skilled advocates who persuasively represent your interests. They know how to craft compelling messages and strategies to sway decision-makers.
  6. Issue Command: These experts manage multifaceted policy matters adeptly, juggling multiple priorities and tailoring strategies for each unique challenge.
  7. Compliance Expertise: They ensure your organization stays on the right side of the law, with a keen eye for regulatory updates and the ability to create and implement compliance strategies.
  8. Data-Driven Insight: In today’s data-centric world, their proficiency in analysis is paramount to drive you organization forward. The best candidates will use data to guide advocacy efforts, measure progress, and assess impact.
  9. Crisis Control Concern: Always expecting the unexpected, they handle any bumps in the road with finesse, mitigating potential harm to your company.
  10. Global Acumen (If Needed): For organizations with international interests, seek out professionals with an understanding of international relations and diplomacy.

Cracking the Culture Code

While tangible skills are indispensable in government relations teams, culture matters too. Recruiting solely for skills risks hiring individuals who excel on paper but disrupt your team’s harmony or contradict your organization’s political views. Conversely, emphasizing cultural fit without considering expertise can hinder effective navigation of DC’s political arena.

Striking the right balance means finding experts who not only meet their role’s requirements but also seamlessly fit your organization’s ethos. Walking this tightrope requires hiring managers and HR professionals to evaluate candidates neutrally enough to remain fair and unbiased, but with enough discernment to assess an individual’s personal (and possibly political values if your organization has a staunch affiliation), work style, and ease of team integration.

Hiring With a Fair Hand

Recruiting government relations professionals while preserving neutrality is an art. Here are a few strategies to gauge a candidate’s political awareness without crossing into invasive territory:

  • Focus on Skills and Qualifications: In your job descriptions and postings, emphasize the skills, qualifications, and experience required for the role rather than prying into political affiliations. For instance, “strong advocacy and communication skills” instead of “extensive experience in [political party] political campaigns.”
  • Use Inclusive Language: Craft job descriptions and interview questions using inclusive language that doesn’t assume or exclude candidates based on political beliefs. Avoid terms like “liberal” or “conservative” and instead use neutral terms such as “policy-savvy” or “government affairs experience.”
  • Reference Past Actions: Inquire about a candidate’s past work or advocacy projects that demonstrate their political awareness and problem-solving abilities. Ask about their involvement in bipartisan efforts, coalition-building, or collaborations across the aisle.
  • Engage in Cultural Fit Discussion: Make time in interviews to discuss your organization’s values, goals, and approach to government relations. Encourage candidates to share how they align with these principles, allowing them to reveal their political awareness or affiliation organically.

The Art of the Interview

With a balanced approach, you can assemble a government relations team that not only excels in skills and expertise but also complements your organization’s culture, values, and goals effectively. Here’s how:

  • Probe for Skills and Experience: Design interview questions that are structured to assess skills, experience, and cultural fit without prying into personal politics. For example, ask candidates about their experience working in politically diverse teams and how they’ve navigated differing viewpoints.
  • Ask Behavioral-Based Questions: Use behavioral-based interview questions focusing on candidates’ actions and experiences rather than their beliefs. For instance, ask candidates to provide examples of situations where they successfully built relationships with government officials on both ends of the political spectrum.
  • Abstractly Assess Values and Ethics: Explore a candidate’s alignment with organizational values and ethics without asking about specific political views. Inquire about their commitment to transparency, integrity, and accountability in government relations work.
  • Gain Insight from The Past: When conducting reference checks, ask about a candidate’s professional conduct, teamwork skills, and ability to navigate political complexities.
  • Utilize Collaborative Assessment: By including team members from different departments in the hiring process, their diverse input can gauge a candidate’s cultural fit and suitability for the organization without bias.
  • Form Objective Evaluation Criteria: Create objective evaluation criteria for assessing candidates based on their skills, experience, and potential contributions to the organization. This ensures hiring decisions are based on merit rather than personal political affiliation or beliefs.

Remember, Recruitment is a Mutual Selection Process

The good news is, even the most junior of government relations professionals are often acutely aware of the importance of value alignment in working effectively with organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders. If your company has a clear political affiliation, and the candidate perceives a misalignment of values, they likely won’t pursue the opportunity in the first place.

For those who do apply, encourage them to ask questions about your organization’s culture, values, and expectations for the position during the interview. Reinforce the message that your company doesn’t make assumptions about candidates’ political beliefs based on their professional background; assure them the focus of the recruitment process is on their skills, experience, potential contributions, and long-term success on the team.

Ready to Elevate Your Government Relations Team?

At Contact 1, we specialize in helping government organizations throughout the DMV area build exceptional teams from an inclusive and neutral standpoint. We focus on finding professionals who not only align with your company’s values, but also possess the skills and know-how required to drive your initiatives forward and achieve your advocacy goals.

For a stronger, more culturally aligned government relations team, Contact 1 has your back. Get in touch with us today to kickstart your journey toward a more influential presence in Washington, DC.