Job Search Lessons from Presidential Campaigns

Imagine conducting your job search in public, where your actions and words were reported for all to comment on. That’s probably a nightmare scenario if you’re shy or introverted (and maybe even for some who are extroverted).

Yet that’s pretty much what politicians endure when they run for office – and we do the hiring. Leaving aside our opinions about individual candidates, we can learn a lot from looking at some of the stumbles politicians have made.

Why Do You Want This Job?

In 1980, Senator Ted Kennedy decided to challenge the incumbent President, Jimmy Carter, for the nomination as the Democratic candidate for President.

A now-famous television interview with Roger Mudd derailed Kennedy’s candidacy, when he gave a rambling and unfocused answer to the simple question about why he wanted to be President. This 100+ word sentence was excerpted from the transcript of the interview on the Fox Forum (Fox News Blog) by Rich Galen:

“We, uh, we’re facing complex issues and problems in this nation at this time, but we have faced similar challenges at other times and the energies and the resourcefulness of this nation, I think, should be focused on these problems in a way that brings a sense of restoration in this country by its people to, uh, in dealing with the problems that we face, primarily the issues on the economy, the problems of inflation and the problems of energy and I would basically feel that it’s, uh, imperative for this country either move forward, but it can’t, uh, stand still or otherwise it moves backward.”

He never answered the question. He never got the job.

The Takeaway for Job Hunters:
Job seekers must be able to explain why they want the job they’re applying for. And the answer must include why it’s in the best interest of the company to hire them, rather than why the job suits them.

For introverts, who may have difficulty thinking on their feet, it helps to anticipate this question and prepare an answer ahead of time so you’re not fumbling for an answer on the fly. Consider writing the answer out, perhaps even practicing it out loud, not to memorize the answer but to organize your thoughts in advance and engage several of your senses to help you remember the key points.

Why Should We Hire You?

Just after the 2009 Presidential election, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain President and niece of Senator Ted Kennedy, announced that she was interested in being appointed to replace Hillary Clinton as Senator from New York. When asked by two New York Times reporters about her qualifications for this position, she replied with a wordy statement punctuated by an excessive number of “uh” and “you know” hesitations. She was widely criticized for her inability to explain what in her background prepared her to be a U.S. Senator. She said,

“I can tell you what I think I’d bring to this, which is, you know, I’m not a conventional choice, I haven’t followed the traditional path, but I do think I’d bring a kind of a lifetime of experience that is relevant to this job. I think that what we’ve seen over the last year, and particularly and even up to the last – is that there’s a lot of different ways that people are coming to public life now, and it’s not only the traditional path.”

Like her uncle before her, she didn’t answer the question and subsequently withdrew her name from consideration.

The Takeaway for Job Hunters:
Being able to explain why you’re qualified for the job and what sets you apart from the competition is essential throughout your job search – while networking, in your cover letter and resume, and during your interview. You will have many opportunities to explain what you’re seeking and why you’re the person for the job.

As an introvert, you can decrease the likelihood of becoming tongue-tied by preparing and practicing your answer. If you’re caught off guard by a question, ask for a minute to think and collect your thoughts before answering. [“That’s an interesting question. Let me think about that for a minute.”]

Imagine if Caroline Kennedy had said something like this (which I’ve made up based on what I’ve read about her):

“I’m not a conventional choice, but I have considerable experience that is relevant to the job. As a fundraiser, I’ve had to use my strong persuasive skills to enlist support for various projects and causes, something that will be immensely useful in the Senate as I reach across the aisle and collaborate with the opposition. In addition, my training as a lawyer prepares me to handle the sometimes complex legislative matters that I will be dealing with. Finally, discussions on all matter of policy questions were routine in my family, and I bring a comprehensive knowledge of the issues that most concern the people I’ll be representing.”

Remember that hiring managers (or voters) aren’t going to take the time to figure out why your background is a good fit. You need to make the connection for them.

Tell Me About A Time…

In her much-reported interview with Katie Couric, Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin wasn’t able to provide examples to support statements she made about her running mate John McCain’s accomplishments with regard to reforming Wall Street. Part of the exchange was as follows:

Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? …Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?

Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.

Couric: I’m just going to ask you one more time – not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I’ll try to find you some and I’ll bring them to you.

Palin was widely ridiculed as unprepared for the interview.

The Takeaway for Job Hunters:
You can expect to be asked to provide concrete examples, and generalities won’t cut it. Be able to articulate some success stories that illustrate the key points you’re trying to make.

If you’re shy or introverted or dislike being in the spotlight, focusing on the stories and examples actually takes the spotlight off you and redirects it onto the circumstances of the story – the problem you addressed, the actions you took, and the results you achieved.

Bottom Line

Fortunately, your job search is not subject to such public scrutiny, but you can learn from the mistakes of those we hire/elect for public office.

About the author…

Wendy Gelberg is a Career Navigator at JVS CareerSolution in Boston and author of The Successful Introvert: How to Enhance Your Job Search and Advance Your Career. She is a certified career coach and resume writer whose expertise is in helping people who are uncomfortable “tooting their own horn.” Wendy writes resumes, gives workshops, coaches individuals, and writes articles and blogs on all aspects of the job search process. Samples of her resumes and career advice appear in over 20 books. Wendy has been a career coach and resume writer for over 15 years. She has been an introvert her whole life. Contact Wendy at [email protected].

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