What the Presidential Campaign Can Teach Us About Picking Better Talent


Because I write about hiring more effectively a lot, I got to thinking about the craziest job selection process there is: a presidential campaign in the United States.

Maybe other countries have just as crazy elections, but I’m just not that familiar with them (although the Italians and some of the Eastern European countries seem to get pretty hard core about it.)

There are clearly are some similarities and some other things an employer could learn.

What’s similar?

  1. The primaries weed out the weak candidates. It’s sort of a first round of in-person interviews, isn’t it? Some candidates look good, sound good, and present a coherent and compelling narrative. Others stumble, and some just creep you out.
  2. It has more to do with personality and a human connection than we want to admit. We all like to think that we can see beyond the BS and slick presentation and make solid decisions after weighing the evidence. We all know that we are all full of the previously mentioned BS. Human connections, whether with a candidate for the highest office in the U.S. or a junior staffer in marketing, mean a lot … and they should. Gut feel plays a part in making a hiring decision; we just need to know we have down-selected to the right candidates first
  3. Sometimes, it just comes down to who wants it more. We have all seen election candidates and job candidates who just kind of meander along. Either they think they are somehow entitled based on past accomplishments, or they have another agenda all together. They never show us the passion we want to see. We have all seen the contrary as well. Maybe they are not the most qualified candidate, but they you can feel how much they want/need/whatever this job. How can you not root them on?
  4. A bit of negative information can have a multiplier effect. Seeing negative commercials non-stop in a campaign is agonizing to watch. We have all made some decisions or had some past associations at some point that we could have done without. When they are brought to light, it can get messy. Hiring decisions, whether for elected office or a job at your company, are hard, and bad judgment way back in a career can haunt you for a long-time.

What we can learn from the presidential campaign

So, what can an HR professional learn from the U.S. presidential race when it comes to selecting better talent?

  • Sometimes, you just need to ignore the noise. There is a lot of useless chatter when making a hiring decision. Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to express it. Tuning it out and focusing on the issues that are critical for success on the job is most critical. Listening to every dissenting voice and ill-conceived opinion isn’t.
  • Know what issues matter and what don’t. This is a follow up to No. 1, but in order to cut through the noise you need to know what to listen for. By this I mean, what issues will really determine success on the job and what are just an obstacle in making a good decision? Those “issues” are really the objectives that the company/country are facing and need to achieve. If you can really grasp those couple of traits or performance metrics that will get us the results we need, it becomes much simpler to focus on only what is important.
  • Make the candidate work for it. Hiring shouldn’t be taken lightly. We get so focused in recruiting around the all-important “candidate experience” and not throwing too many hurdles in front of a candidate, that we forget our main task: identify the best fit. A great job at a great company or a prestigious elected office in a great country should be hard to get. Candidates without incentive to work hard to get the job have little incentive to work hard to keep the job.

I am sure I missed many other similarities and things we can learn about hiring. Keep the conversation going by providing yours. I would love to hear them.

  • http://twitter.com/TomGimbel Tom Gimbel

    There are many parallels between the presidential campaign and selecting the right talent for your organization. Your first bullet point, ignore the noise, is spot on. Too many hiring managers let their co-workers opinion of a candidate skew their perception of the candidate before they’ve even met them….so wait to ask for outsider input until after the interview.

    Another similarity is evaluating how the candidate reacts under pressure or in uncomfortable situations…for a potential employee; this can be judged by asking unconventional questions. For example, a candidate I interviewed said that her former boss berated her on a daily basis…to judge if she would truly fit with our culture and go above and beyond for the position, I asked her to stand up and act out exactly how her former employer behaved.

    If a candidate maintains a cool demeanor in seemingly uncomfortable situations, it might be a good indicator that they could be successful at your organization.

    I share more interviewing tips on my blog http://www.pastfive.typepad.com.

    • Greg Moran

      Tom, great point. Those type of interview questions can really help identify the culture fit and the type of situations that a candidate will encounter.

      We did a podcast not long ago with Christa Foley who is the head of recruitment for Zappos who had some great stories about how Zappos interviews for job and culture fit. You can listen at http://www.chequed.com/hr-interview-series/christa-foley-recruiting-manager-zappos-comThanks for the comment,Greg

  • Toddl

    Another parallel may be that in business as in politics somehow relatively incompetent people will occasionally slip through the cracks in the process and rise to positions of great power. To bad we don’t have personality and intelligence tests to help the political decision easier.

    • Greg Moran

      Toddl, I would certainly be behind mandatory pre-employment and IQ testing for political candidates!
      Thanks for the comment,

  • Thanu52

    I agree. Sometimes we also make mistakes by hiring the person whom we like rather than the one who can do the job. I always ask this question when I recommend someone who has worked for me. Given a choice, will I hire this person again. If not, then I don’t recommend. If the person whom we hired because we liked better can’t do the job, we should let the person go.