We've just witnessed one of the longest and most arduous job hunts in the history of job hunts. Thousands of interviews. A résumé-vetting process from hell. Reference checking you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
Not many people would or could work that hard to get a job. But Sen. Barack Obama did and, in the process, offered up valuable instruction to any job seeker.
Here are three career lessons you can pick up from President-elect Obama:
People hire people they like. One of the first questions a hiring manager considers is how well the potential new hire will fit into the existing team. A boss is looking for someone he and his employees wouldn't mind spending eight or more hours a day with. All other things being equal, jobs go to the candidates employers like the best. That's why so many hiring decisions come down to pure and simple chemistry.
So, your biggest task at job interviews is to get the interviewer to like you. How, you ask? You already know: To get anyone to like you, behave in a way that shows you like that person. People tend to like people who like them first. You do this by being engaged, paying attention, radiating goodwill, and showing you are happy to be there. Obama was very successful in creating a positive vibe overall. It reflected positively back on him.
People hire people who show they really want the job. Much of the hiring process seems out of your control. You can't help feeling that the employer holds all the cards. But you have a powerful tool totally within your power to exploit: persistence.
Persistence is as important as talent or brains. In fact, very often you can make up in persistence what you lack in talent or brains. Even better news is that unlike talent or brains, persistence isn't an inborn trait you either have or don't have. It's a learned behavior.
Does all of this sound easier said than done? Sure it does, because job hunting inevitably involves rejection, and no one likes rejection. You will have days when you're ready to just give up. There's only one cure for this: When you are feeling your lowest, your most dejected and rejected, do one small thing that moves you toward your goal. It will make you feel a little better. Then do another small thing. You will, in turn, feel yet better. Rinse. Repeat. The key to being persistent is realizing that action leads to success, which leads to more action.
Obama, along with all of the other presidential candidates, worked extremely hard for our votes. Admire his persistence and learn from it.
People hire people they believe in. This gut conviction, combined with chemistry and persistence, often trumps experience and qualifications, despite what most job seekers think.
The reality is that most companies recognize that any new employee, no matter how knowledgeable, will require a learning curve. Experienced bosses are frequently willing to train an intelligent, engaging person they believe will make a good member of their team.
Consider the election. At the beginning of the campaign, Obama's short résumé was an issue. Similarly, many thought Sarah Palin lacked the needed qualifications. Given the importance of both these positions, you'd think "lack of experience" or "insufficient qualifications" would have been deal breakers. But they weren't. People voted their guts. Potential bosses do, too.
May your own job hunt be as successful as President-elect Obama's.
And, let's hope, shorter.
Karen Burns, Working Girl, is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, to be released by Running Press in April 2009. She blogs at karenburnsworkinggirl.com.