Print Friendly, PDF & Email

ivan adler

Government relations specialist looks for candidates with passion and ability to articulate value; happy to give jobseekers advice.

By William Ehart | March 8, 2013

Name-dropping doesn’t do it for executive recruiter Ivan Adler, who himself is plugged in to the political scene and widely quoted in national and inside-the-Beltway publications.

Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group who specializes in finding top government relations talent, notes that Washington, D.C., can be a small place.

“Everybody in this town, if you work long enough, you should know the people,” he told CEO Update at the firm’s Arlington, Va., office.

“It’s not really enough to know somebody; you have to have those people be willing to do something for you and you have to have accomplishments.

“Just because you’ve been in a place like a certain committee or the White House or some agency is not enough. You have to demonstrate that you’ve accomplished something. That’s more important than saying you know the Speaker [of the House],” Adler said.

And people do call and say they know House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or President Barack Obama, he said. (Adler himself was once a driver for then-Sen. Al Gore.)

“I try to take the time to explain that just because they met John Boehner once 20 years ago doesn’t make them a lobbyist, or just because they’ve been to Chicago doesn’t make them connected to the Obama White House,” Adler said.

“Even though people say these horrible things about lobbyists, lots of people apparently want to be one,” he said.

Show passion
Still, Adler has no problem with phone calls from job seekers.

“If people reach out to me, I give a lot of free advice and I’m happy to do it,” he said. “If people tend to email me I’m fine with that. … I try to get back to everybody who reaches me. It’s not a hundred percent, but I think it’s important.”

Candidates who interview with Adler should show passion and be able to sell themselves.

“They have to be able to demonstrate what their value is,” he said. “They have to be able to articulate why somebody should hire them. It’s not just the people who are the most qualified who get the job. It’s oftentimes the person who articulates ‘why them.’

“People like to hire people who are passionate about what they do and I like to hear some amount of passion. You don’t have to be jumping up and down in my office telling me how great agriculture is, but you have to be passionate about what you do,” Adler said.

“The first question that I ask everyone who comes in to interview with me is tell me a story. I want to hear your story. I’ve seen your resume and I’ve heard what other people have said about you, but I want you to tell me a story,” he said.

Adler appreciates stories about leadership—reading histories and biographies is his biggest hobby, other than following his 14-year-old daughter to all her athletic events in basketball, soccer and ice hockey, he said.

Be honest
But make sure your story is honest.

“What you learn [from reading biographies] is how people make decisions,” he said. “I think the biggest thing I try to pick up on, and follow this in my own question-asking, is ‘What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from it?’”

“My boss has always said, ‘Find me somebody who’s never been fired and I’ll show you somebody not telling the truth,’” he said. (Adler was referring to Brian McCormick, executive vice president of The McCormick Group.)

“If you’ve been in Washington long enough and you’ve been out and have done in the arena … somebody doesn’t like you. At some point you’ve been fired and [I want to know] how you came back from that. Or you failed. What did you learn from that?”

Don’t be offended if Adler tries to rein in your compensation expectations—which for some candidates are inflated, he said.

“A lot of times I have to do a ‘value-ectomy,’ which is explaining they’re not going to make $5 million because they happen to be so-and-so. I don’t set the salaries, the market sets the salaries. So I have to go through a little capitalism exercise and a value-ectomy and say, ‘I’m happy to ask for a million dollars but you got to give me some really good reasons why I can do that. And let me just tell you that the last 10 people that I placed who were like you made between X and Y. So if you can convince me that you’re worth that much more, I’m more than willing to ask for it but the reality is this.’”

Adler said the growing importance of government affairs—“Washington can take a bigger bite of your behind than it ever has before”—puts his services more in demand.

“Where people didn’t use a recruiter in the past, they are now choosing to use a recruiter because the positions are just more critical and they can’t afford to make a bad hire.”

To read the article, go to | CEO Update

To contact Ivan Adler, go to | Ivan Adler


The McCormick Group is a national executive search consulting firm that since 1974 has delivered high-qualified candidates to fill key positions across a diverse range of industries and all functional disciplines.

As the largest executive search firm based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region, The McCormick Group has superior knowledge of federal Washington and its impact on the nation’s business community and non-profit sector.