Given the current swirl of election news bombarding the airwaves, I got to thinking the other day about what the average job hunter might stand to learn from some of the masterful political figures that we’ve had the chance to witness lately in debate after debate, stump speech after stump speech. Politicians, after all, are formally chasing a job, themselves, in every sense of the word — and have to not only triumph over fierce competition, but conduct a “running interview” for months or years at a time!
So after thinking through some potential comparisons, here’s the list I’d put forward:
• Stay on message; the most successful politicians memorize their key strategic talking points and stick to them at all times, knowing that over time, these points will eventually “sink in” and position the candidate in the most desirable way relative to their competition. Job candidates should therefore practice the same messaging discipline in their elevator pitch and similar communications. Don’t be a flip-flopper! :)
• Be a great debater; when politicians approach a debate situation, the odds are that they’ve spent hours preparing with their staff for the event, working on anticipating/neutralizing their potential weaknesses as well as on projecting their key strengths via clear, compelling sound bites. In a similar vein, savvy job hunters should put an equal amount of time preparing for interview situations, focusing on how best to hammer their key strengths home while addressing their vulnerabilities in graceful, relaxed fashion.
• Use stories and examples for emphasis; ever notice that when politicians give speeches, they almost always stud them with colorful little anecdotal stories such as “the other day I met a woman in downtown Little Rock who had just lost her home…or her job…or her arms” or “I’m fighting for people like Jorge Vasquez, a factory worker I met in El Paso, Texas, who works for minimum wage, but said that he’d give his tax cuts back to the government to help us reduce our national debt…”? Well, these examples didn’t just creep in there by accident! Great politicians, just like great job hunters, are excellent storytellers and realize that nothing makes a point better or engages the listener’s mind more than providing specific, real-life examples to back up certain claims. So when you’re interviewing, make sure you’re not just droning on at a high level about your skills; share some down-in-the-trenches examples, as well!
• Smile, make eye contact, and project energy; while we’d probably recommend you stop short of a Howard Dean-like primal scream, you’ll notice that gifted politicians seem to have a way of projecting positive energy and connecting with people on an individual basis, even when amongst a huge audience. The keys to making this type of impression are to employ the universal “caring” signals of a friendly smile and strong eye contact, backed up with open, energetic body language.
• Sell pain relief; you know how public officials always tell you that they can “feel your pain” and will promise again and again that if you elect them, help, hope, and solutions will be on the way? Smart job seekers practice this exact same technique and realize that employers want to hear a positive vision of the future, not a rehash of the past. Companies will be most excited about you if they hear in no uncertain terms that you understand their needs and can quickly solve their problems, if hired!
• Thank your supporters constantly; this one kind of speaks for itself. The best politicians never forget to “dance with those who brung ’em” and have developed elaborate systems for tracking contributions, returning favors, and making sure they know who played a part in helping them reach their goals. Job seekers should adopt these same practices, as well, and create a system for building, maintaining,and communicating with their network throughout the course of their job search — and beyond.
• Be totally honest and practice straight talk at all times; just seeing if you were paying attention… :)