Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader of board and CEO services at Korn/Ferry, also did a stint in presidential personnel. His practice has filled some of the biggest jobs in Washington, including the recent search for the new CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, which installed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the helm.
Jackie Arends, who leads the government relations and aerospace and defense practices at Spencer Stuart, also logged time in the Bush administration recruiting Pentagon and other officials. Her shop recruited former Sen. and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to run the American Council of Life Insurers and nabbed recording industry lobbyist Mitch Bainwol to lead the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Perhaps of more interest to departing lawmakers, she is looking for the head of global government relations for the beer conglomerate AB InBev. Spencer Stuart is also on the hunt for a global government relations chief for Albemarle Corp., a chemical company.
When Arends, an attorney by training, phones from her office, an odd “101” or just “unknown” pops up on the caller ID. And candidates who cycle through her downtown office for interviews might find themselves waiting in a private “holding room,” a windowless office with a desk, chair and phone. That way they won’t bump into their peers in the lobby, she explained.
Denise Grant, a former Hill staffer who leads the government affairs practice at Russell Reynolds, agreed that confidentiality is essential.
“We snuck somebody in and out of a hotel using a freight elevator once,” she recalled.
Grant, just this week, filled an opening for the CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association with Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican whose Missouri district just voted her in for a ninth term. Last year, Grant recruited then-Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Most headhunters retained to fill top slots say they typically identify 40 to 150 candidates and present a client with a list of about five to a dozen names for potential interviews.
Julian Ha, government affairs practice leader at Heidrick & Struggles, filled the top government affairs post at Toyota Motor North America this year with Stephen Ciccone.
Ha said many of the searches he’s involved in have an international focus because lobbying isn’t just a Washington pursuit. A self-described recovering attorney and former State Department legislative affairs aide, Ha said he’s seen an uptick in business since Election Day.
But since he doesn’t represent the job candidates, he often limits his meetings with departing Hill denizens to members and the most senior staffers.
Most headhunters like Ha say they work to find job candidates from both sides of the aisle. But the market can be tough, especially for those who got voted out or whose bosses lost their seat.
Leonard Pfeiffer, who runs his own firm and has been in the search business for 30 years, previously with Korn/Ferry, said the onslaught of résumés this time of year can be overwhelming. “We do meet with people that are recommended to us,” he noted.
And Wright, who said she spends much time meeting and networking with Hill folk, admits that “most of the candidates, to be honest, that we recruit are not actively in the market.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.