“Sad fact: Sucking up helps get jobs more than credentials or ability do,” says a former State Department official. That’s why there are plenty of political appointees out there who — while undoubtedly smart and capable — don’t necessarily have the most relevant background for the work they’re doing. They didn’t have to be the most qualified of all the possible applicants out there — they just had to be the most qualified of the well-connected applicants.
Do not waste time sulking about this. (“I can’t believe they appointed Joe Schmo to be deputy assistant to the deputy assistant for Nagorno Karabakh affairs just because he used to be an intern for Senator Moneybags! That idiot can’t tell the Karabakh from a calabash, whereas I’ve written six policy reports and five scholarly articles on gender issues in Nagorno Karabakh!”) It is what it is. Get over it.
This doesn’t mean you have to be super-connected to get a job — really, truly, you don’t have to be rich or famous — but it does, unfortunately, mean that it’s very hard to get a job if you have no connections at all. And it’s virtually impossible to get a political appointment without putting in some significant effort. Unless you’re already prominent and well-connected, no one’s going to seek you out.
Being a wealthy donor, connections, and old-fashioned sucking up are your best bets for getting a job with a presidential administration. Maybe that’s why so many parts of government seem to be managed incompetently – the process has almost nothing to do with whether or not you’re actually qualified.