Trump administration officials looking to escape to the private sector are getting a rude awakening: No one wants to hire them.
Companies and firms who used to recruit from presidential administrations and brag when they were successful in poaching an aide are making the calculation that the risks of bringing on a Trump administration official outweigh the rewards, according to interviews with 10 current and former administration officials, top recruiters, and lobbyists who did not want to be named to talk candidly. BuzzFeed News reached out to them after previously reporting during an especially chaotic stretch for the Trump White House that some officials were trying to leave but finding their job prospects to be “pretty bleak.” That’s especially pronounced for more junior staff.
The leadership at a prominent, bipartisan Washington public affairs firm went as far as to make an active decision not to hire from the Trump White House because of the "reputational risk" associated with it, a former White House official was recently told. The official asked BuzzFeed News not to disclose the name of the firm.
In another case, a White House official said he was rejected out of the blue for a job after being given indications he would be hired and was explicitly told his affiliation with the Trump White House had been a problem for some at the company.
The realities of the grim job prospects have also become clear to two associates who worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign but never went into the administration. They told BuzzFeed News they’ve been offering some of their former colleagues who now work at the White House regular advice in recent months on how to land job opportunities, but so far those colleagues have been unsuccessful. Both also said they were glad they ultimately chose not to join the administration after seeing their friends struggle.
“[Companies] are all worried about public backlash,” said a top recruiter who has been trying to place administration officials in new jobs. “That's more real with these guys than I've seen with anyone else.”
Most firms don’t have a blanket policy against hiring Trump staff, but they have rejected or not expressed any interest in having hiring discussions when approached by administration officials or recruiters representing them. A partner at one bipartisan, public affairs firm said his firm evaluates on an individual basis when approached about jobs, but acknowledged that the stock price for people working in the administration slides drastically the longer they stay there.
“It's going to be more challenging than ever before for folks coming out of the White House,” the top recruiter said. “There seems to be more of a visceral reaction — there's no question that's true.”
Although the Trump administration has already seen unprecedented turnover, many of the departures have been firings or resignations. Some who have left on their own accord have just gone back to their previous jobs and not exited for lucrative outside offers.
Several sources said it has been especially hard for mid- and lower-level aides to find new jobs, but even some senior-level staffers are struggling — particularly those who either got their jobs after working for the campaign and were new to government work or those who have gotten dragged into the Russia investigation.
The dark cloud of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe hanging over the administration has made those in the private sector wary of doing any hiring from Trump world.
“There's a legal risk there," said another leading Washington consultant who specializes in placing government officials in the private sector. "There's a certain level of uncertainness around the toxicity. Generally, there aren't a ton of jobs waiting for those people.”
Companies are also associating staffers, especially those who came from the campaign and don’t have much other experience, with anti-immigrant, anti–free trade views because of what the president has said and the policies he has enacted, three sources said.
Those who stay closely wedded to policy work or serve as lawyers in agencies are getting more interest from the private sector, according to recruiters and lobbyists, along with senior aides who have had long careers in the private sector or government — for example, deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell or National Economic Council deputy director Shahira Knight.
Knight, who has has a strong pre-Trump résumé of working on the Hill and as a lobbyist, in particular, has drawn no shortage of interest and offers and is reportedly mulling leaving the administration.
“A lot of the people in the White House don’t realize how tight the market is right now for their services,” said a former White House official. “Any job they can hope to get on the outside will have to be because of their work before being in the White House.”
Keeping their future career prospects in mind is also one of the reasons why Republicans are turning down opportunities to work in the administration. Middle-aged Republicans who would typically jump at the chance to work in a GOP administration are foregoing the opportunity in part because they don’t want to jeopardize their future career options.
“I have another 15–20 years of working in town,” said one prominent GOP lobbyist. “The risk is just not worth it.”