With the campaign to see who will be the next president of the United States now well under way, President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney are currently in the midst of the world's toughest job interview. The prospective employer (i.e., the American public) is known for putting its candidates through the ringer. After all, the job itself is no cakewalk. The interview process is rigorous for a reason.
While most of us won't experience anything near this level of intensity in our own job-search efforts, we can still learn quite a bit from watching the candidates as they make their way through the process of trying to get the country's most important job:
1. Every interaction matters. Everything the candidates say or do in a public forum is fair game for media dissection. In deciding who they think should get the job, the American people can consider every action and every word (past and present) whether on television, in a speech, or even in a private, unscripted moment caught on camera phone. Nothing is off limits—no matter how obscure or irrelevant it may seem.
Lesson: Big or small, significant or insignificant, every interaction you have with your prospective employer matters. Each is an opportunity to "wow" or, alternatively, disappoint. Your actions today may very well come back to haunt you years from now. So, whether you're talking to the secretary in the lobby or the CEO in the corner office, always put your best foot forward.
2. Choose your endorsements wisely. Both candidates have to pump up supporters, raise funds, and just generally get the voters on their side. But they also have to be discerning about the people and causes with which they align themselves. Campaign surrogates are out every day speaking on their behalf, officially and unofficially. If one of those folks "goes rogue," it can reflect on the candidate very poorly.
Lesson: When someone offers to give you a recommendation for a job, that person automatically becomes a reflection of you (and vice versa). For better or worse, he is now your most influential advocate. There must be a high level of trust between you both; you must know this person is representing you well and you must also feel confident that you can do the same for him should you get the job. It's a delicate relationship that shouldn't be taken lightly.
3. Gaffes happen; don't dwell. Any politician can tell you that, the more you talk, the more likely it is that you'll say something stupid. Even the best and the brightest among us make mistakes. Just watch Obama and Romney for a few days and you'll catch a handful of regrettable statements at least. And you'll also notice that it doesn't slow them down for even a beat. They know how to recover quickly and turn attention back where they want it.
Lesson: You're human. You're going to step in it sometimes. Don't let that throw you off course. Smile, address it quickly if needed, and move along. Nothin' to see here. Remember that confidence is one of the most compelling attributes for any job candidate.
4. Focus on results. Candidates always run on their record of past success and there's a reason for that: Most people believe the past is a pretty decent predictor of the future. It's not just about what the candidates will do or want to do; it's about what they've done already. The more the candidates talk about their past experience and share specific, measurable results that reflect on their work positively, the more we trust that they have the capability to do the job.
Lesson: Don't speak hypothetically; share specific professional achievements that demonstrate the skills you'll need in the new job. If you did great things in the past, it's much easier to believe you can and will do them again in the future.
5. Share your plans. While the past certainly matters, the future is equally important. The American people want to know the vision each candidate has for the country, the specific policies he will back, and the major initiatives he will take on. They want to know how each candidate will fix the problems facing our great nation. In short, they want to know what to expect.
Lesson: Prospective employers want to know the successful candidate has a reasonable idea of how he or she will contribute to the organization. It's helpful to have a sense of the challenges facing the company currently and an outline of improvements you'd like to make. But remember to tread carefully; you don't want to insult anyone unintentionally by pinpointing potential weaknesses.
Politics is a messy business. It requires a keen understanding of human nature—and, some would argue, a dash of insanity. But, at the end of the day, politicians are just like us. They're looking for a job and playing the game.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.