Avoid These 5 Career Mistakes During the Presidential Transition

It’s easy to get derailed from your career path during times of drastic change. When new priorities and an uncertain future dominates your attention at work, it’s hard to remember think about you.

Yet, times of “really big, just tremendous” change like the presidential transition are a perfect reminder that you need to stay focused on your professional development goals and dedicated to moving forward on your career path.

To stay on track during the presidential transition, what potential career mistakes should you be sure to avoid?

1. Not having a plan

photo of Willy Wonka played by Gene Wilder saying There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going

The presidential transition means shifts in personnel, policies, and perhaps even agency priorities. Of course, this means your agency and team need to have a presidential transition plan. But, don’t overlook that you personally need a plan as well.

Take stock of your career aspirations, such as what you need to learn, who you want to meet, and your overall professional development goals. Craft this into a career plan with an outline of what you hope to achieve over the next four years and beyond. Remember that that your professional development plan will need to stay flexible during the transition, and you may need to be a bit more patient than usual.

2. Pulling pranks

an animated picture of a scene from the TV show The Office with the character Dwight Schrute saying He put my stuff in Jell-O again

Back when President Bill Clinton left office, a few White House employees allegedly made things a little messier for George W. Bush’s incoming staff, most famously by removing the “W” keys from some computer keyboards. While the pranksters may have thought it was a harmless goof, the General Accounting Office’s report estimated the damage cost taxpayers over $13,000 and the related media brouhaha was an unnecessary distraction from issues that mattered.

No matter your political views, resist the urge to pull pranks and cause destruction. Pranks are rarely funny at work. Besides the government waste it causes, depending on what you damage and where it happens, you could face charges for destruction of government property.

3. Not managing chaos

an animated scene of an anthropomorphic dog trying to assure himself that everything is fine, despite sitting in a room that is engulfed in flames. Taken from an issue of the webcomic series Gunshow illustrated by K.C. Green.

David Eagles, director of the Center for Presidential Transition, described these transitions as “like an epic corporate takeover, but the incoming company does no due diligence and 4,000 of your top employees quit on the same day.” No matter how hard people work and how much government agencies plan, the presidential transition will be a challenging, complex endurance test.

Even if the presidential transition descends into a state of chaos, it’s possible to reduce the negative effects at your agency, on your team, and on yourself. Most importantly, stay positive and keep an open mind. Encourage transparency at all leavels of your team, and support a culture of abundant, constructive communication. Don’t let daily dramas make you neglect your career or your agency’s important work.

4. Snubbing institutional memory

an animated scene from the movie Finding Nemo of the fish character Dory saying I don't want to forget

Whether you’re on your way out or are part of the incoming team, institutional memory is a critical piece of any successful transition, presidential or otherwise. In part, institutional memory is preserved through diligent records management, which must follow specific requirements at most agencies. Another component of institutional memory is the people who work at your organization.

If you’re new, reach out to current and former employees to understand and learn from their experiences. If you’re someone with deep experience in the day-to-day business of running government—what Chris Lu, deputy secretary of the Labor Department calls the “career workforce”—share your knowledge with newcomers and be patient as they find their way. If you’re a team leader, facilitate connections between new and experienced staff, and hold everyone accountable for supporting institutional memory.

5. Not being true to you

animated photo of a man saying Being who you are, is what's awesome

The presidential transition is far from over on Inauguration Day. Over the first 100 days and beyond, you’ll likely experience many successes and failures, frustrations and joys, professional development opportunities, and unexpected twists in your career path. It’s possible for you to thrive during this dynamic time.

Stay committed to your career path, especially your long-term professional goals. Mentally prepare yourself to rise above any petty disputes and the mess of wavering personal allegiances. Be ready to wait out rough patches and conflicts that are beyond your influence. Learn how to agree to disagree with coworkers when the conversation becomes political, overly personal, or devolves into an emotional, unresolvable debate.

Above all, stay on a career path you can be proud of by remaining true to yourself and your convictions.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

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