Career Advice: Lessons for job candidates from presidential candidates


Some time ago I asked my congressman if he were running for re-election in November. His quick and simple response that he’s “always running” spoke to me. As executive search coaches, our career planning philosophies encourage our clients to seek the next opportunity based on how much it will be leveraged in the future.

We teach our folks to seek mentors and affiliations, and to specifically pursue experience based on desirability to the next employer. This also applies to volunteering and community service.

Fortunately for our clients, that’s where similarities end.

This coming election season will no doubt be contentious. Compared to the vitriol of a presidential election, competing to be a corporate CEO is a piece of cake. We encourage our executives by reminding them of things they won’t have to face, including:

Opposition Research

This is the practice of collecting information on a political opponent or other adversary that can be used to discredit or otherwise weaken them. It doesn’t have to be true or correct, but only send a message that where there’s smoke there’s fire. While, unlike politics, an executive job seeker normally won’t be aware of any competitors, each individual under consideration with be subject to a reference check. Reference checks traditionally have been benign. (We did have a reference check generate an offer to the referenced individual once she showed interest.)

Succession Planning

From the moment a U.S. president is inaugurated, the world begins to speculate on their replacement. These days the political party that did not prevail does not tend to bow out gracefully, and though nothing will happen for four years, their search for a replacement begins immediately. The new president will be scrutinized hourly and the media, depending on the network, will offer 24-7 performance evaluations. Most will be unflattering; no one has immunity.

Hiring Managers

With a population of 329 million comprised of many different backgrounds, value systems and priorities, presidential candidates have many hiring managers. And with debates, town halls, media interviews and stump speeches, opportunities to both communicate and miscommunicate abound. With such negativity it is amazing anyone ever gets elected. Nevertheless at the conclusion of each election cycle, in spite of suffering their share of abuse, a new president takes office. In a presidential election the winner does not have to bring a unanimous decision.

Much like in election campaigns, hiring decisions are made by emotion and justified by logic. Handlers (known as career search coaches in our world) are paid to dress candidates and teach them everything from how to enter and work a room to facial expressions, vocal intonation and the least damaging way to spin answers to the toughest questions.

Despite expected attacks, whoever somehow delivers the most convincing message with the best delivery will be our next president. Wise careerists will be taking notes.

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