In the wake of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, I — like, I am sure, most Americans — cannot help but marvel at the precision and efficiency of the electoral process. It is so difficult not to get swept up in the compelling grandeur of its benevolent competition that those of us pursuing job opportunities less rarefied than the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States might, understandably, forget that their own personal job searches actually operate under a different set of rules. As a helpful reminder to them — and Obama, Romney, Biden, and Ryan, at least two of whom will be hitting the pavement come November 7 — let’s review some of the tactics of electioneering that should not be employed in more mundane job-seeking contexts:
1) Vague appeals to general principles: Let’s face it, if you’re applying for a job as part of an OR team in a major hospital, a resume that simply reads “Dr. Long: Believe in Anesthesia” isn’t going to get you an interview. Sure, simply asserting that we need some change might be enough to make you Commander-in-Chief, with control over the most powerful armed forces known to history and your finger on the nuclear trigger; but if you’re aiming for a job with real responsibility, say as a first-year associate in a law firm or a mid-level corporate manager, you’re going to need to spell out exactly what your skills are. What’s more, you’re going to have to prove them, by spelling out, in your resume or cover letter or during an interview, specific actions you have undertaken successfully in the past to address problems and achieve results. Read your cover letter out loud. If you can imagine yourself doing this in front of a crowd of cheering people decked out in red, white, and blue, and getting wild applause at the end of every sentence, that might mean you need to add some actual substance to it.
2) Distraction: Imagine if we could take this page from the candidates’ handbook.
“Ms. Jones, in your resume you said you have ‘accounting skills’, so I’m a little surprised to hear you suggest that ‘double-entry bookkeeping’ means keeping a separate set of records in case the IRS audits us.”
“Oh. Well. Hey, is that an American flag on that flagpole outside? I think it is! Let’s stand up and pledge allegiance! . . . That was great! Now, what were you saying?”
“Ah . . . I don’t remember. Must not have been important.”
Alas, most employers have an “agenda”, meaning they want to get “work” done, and they focus obsessively on finding someone who can “do” it. You’re going to have to “stay on message”.
3) Untruth: It would seem unfair to brand it “lying” — that would imply that every counterfactual statement made by a presidential candidate was an intentional misstatement, when so often they are merely confused, hyberbolic, or forgetful. (Three-hour marathon, four-hour marathon — they’re only one number apart!) What is even more outrageously unfair, though, is that when you’re applying for a real job, you don’t even get to rely on those safety nets. Employers who would feel fine voting for a presidential candidate whose projected budgets are mathematically impossible will nevertheless deal quite harshly with a job candidate who insists that he is a member of the Bar because he worked as a “bar-ista”. It won’t matter if the mistake was intentional or not; why should the employer have to worry about whether or not to trust you, when there are so many other qualified candidates to choose from? This is not something politicians have to worry about.
4) Attack ads: Wouldn’t this be fun? If only ordinary job applicants could rely entirely on disparaging their competition. Your resume would no longer contain any information about yourself; that would all be replaced by bullet points attacking your opponents. Sadly, most employers don’t tell you who your competition actually is, so all you are left with is explaining, accurately and with specificity, why you are the best candidate for the position. If you don’t like that, you should run for President.