Hiring government leaders: Lessons from the private sector

November 10, 2020 | Publication

Selecting the individuals to build a president’s cabinet and lead executive agencies is one of the biggest challenges facing a newly elected president and likely one of the most important sets of deci­sions the president will make in his or her presidency. Cabinet structure and candidate selection will set the stage for how the president will formulate his or her agenda, implement policies, lead millions of federal workers, and effectively govern the country.

Our half century of research in industrial and orga­nizational psychology; our over 25 years of professional practice in assessing tens of thousands of candidates for hiring, primarily in large private-sector organiza­tions but also large not-for-profit organizations; and our experience working as advisers across five cabinet and senior staff selection processes for several sitting governors have demonstrated a more robust approach to selecting cabinet leaders and senior administration staff. The keys to successful selection are figuring out what you want the person to do on the job, generat­ing a list of candidates, collecting valid and reliable data to be able to select a person who has at least a 90 percent chance of performing the role successfully, and convincing the person to accept the job offer. We illustrate how each step can be used in senior govern­ment hiring and suggest how it can be implemented through straightforward process changes.