January 07, 2021

Are You Ready to Serve in the Biden Administration?

By Bishop Garrison

This post is part of the Partnership’s Ready to Serve series. Ready to Serve is a centralized resource for people who aspire to serve in a presidential administration as a political appointee.

The chance to work in a presidential administration is an experience like no other, offering a unique opportunity to serve the nation and its citizens.

From my experience in various positions during President Barack Obama’s administration, I gained insights into issues candidates should consider when deciding whether to pursue a political appointment. The following advice will help you decide if a presidential appointment is right for you.

Before accepting a position, ask yourself about your motivation to join and if now is the right time to serve.

An offer to serve your country can be one of the highest honors of an individual’s professional life. Securing such a position is a competitive process and can lead to more prestigious jobs in the future. However, there is a thin line between a true desire to serve and an interest in furthering your career. If you are offered a political appointment, make sure you are accepting it for the right reasons. Ensure it is the right fit for your own interests and career. You will need to give your all every day, so make sure it’s a position that can make you happy.

If you accept a position, seek out new challenges that may not have been part of your original career goals.

A presidential appointment will lead to opportunities for professional development and for learning new skills. When circumstances allow, seek out new challenges, especially ones you did not anticipate. Many of the best opportunities to grow will come from tasks outside of your primary responsibilities. It may be supporting a project in another directorate serving as an extra pair of hands or joining optional professional development sessions. There is no one true path to success, and exploring less obvious avenues will provide unexpected, yet rewarding experiences.

Prepare for difficult times and view them as opportunities to learn and grow.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “All work is admirable.” While Powell’s statement rings true, not every part of your job will be like the inspiring television episodes of The West Wing or Madam Secretary. There will be times of exhaustion and frustration, but they can be buoyed by the opportunity to accomplish important work and rebuild faith in our government. Meet with your career colleagues and learn from them. They can provide a wealth of knowledge based on their varied experiences. They understand these institutions intimately and what it will take to engage the public through smart, thoughtful policy and action.

The Bottom Line

Before accepting a political appointment, make sure you consider all potential factors that may affect you, such as personal motivation, work-life balance, financial concerns and the demands of the position. Many appointees do not think about these questions until it is too late, and they should play a role in in whether to accept a presidential appointment.

At the end of the day, however, serving in a presidential administration is an honor and a unique opportunity to make a difference. Whatever you choose, ensure it is the right decision for you.

Bishop Garrison served in various national security positions in the Obama administration and as deputy foreign policy adviser for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign. He is currently director of national security outreach for Human Rights Watch.