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Careers: 5 Things Politicians Can Teach Us About Job Interviews

Is it just me, or do politicians rarely answer the questions they’re asked during a public debate? Instead, candidates answer the question they would have LIKED to have been asked – typically with a carefully crafted sound bite that reinforces their political agenda. How would that same approach play during a job interview? You’re posed a question, and your response is a two minute sound bite full of spin doctoring and legalese.

Is it just me, or do politicians rarely answer the questions they’re asked during a public debate? Instead, candidates answer the question they would have LIKED to have been asked – typically with a carefully crafted sound bite that reinforces their political agenda. How would that same approach play during a job interview? You’re posed a question, and your response is a two minute sound bite full of spin doctoring and legalese. As Presidential hopefuls jockey for position with voters (possibly the biggest job interview imaginable), I thought I’d focus on 5 things they can teach you that will make you a better interviewee.

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1. Don’t dodge and deflect. As mentioned above, ask a politician a question on a hot button issue and you’ll typically get a response not to that question, but rather to the question he or she wants to answer. During a job interview, if you’re pressed for your view on a particular topic, don’t take the easy way out by giving a generic answer. You don’t have to bare your soul, but you should provide an example that addresses the question asked.

2. Pause. Tim Koegel, author of The Exceptional Presenter, encourages public speakers to pause for a few seconds before jumping into an answer. As is evident from the YouTube debates this year, those who typically did well were able to connect with the audience by appearing to give a thoughtful answer to the question asked; they didn’t jump into a response before the moderator or user-generated video was even finished. During an interview, there’s nothing wrong with pausing for a few seconds to give the impression that you put some thought into your answer before you respond.

3. Pander. Okay, so I really don’t think you should pander, but you’ve got to play up what you have to offer the company and how you might add value different from other candidates they are considering. In order to pander effectively, you need to understand the role, the company, and what you have to offer. In other words, know your constituents.

4. Dodge and deflect. I couldn’t resist talking out of both sides of my mouth with all this talk about spin doctoring, legalese, and pandering. But all kidding aside, there are some questions you should try to dodge. For example, if you’re asked about a negative situation or everybody’s favorite “What is your biggest weakness” question, you want to minimize the negative and quickly move to the positive. If you’re asked if you were up for promotion and you weren’t, it’s okay to say so. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t tapped for a promotion. It was a highly competitive selection process and only three out of 10 were chosen.” That’s much better than completely avoiding the question.

5. Don’t sling mud. Whether it’s your competition, a former boss, your spouse, your company, or even your hair stylist, there’s no need to trash talk anyone during a job interview. Even if you had a totally miserable experience, there is still probably something positive you were able to take away.

Politicians know better than anyone how to differentiate themselves from the competition. Regardless of your political affiliation, consider incorporating the tactics above during your next job interview. And who knows, maybe we’ll see you on stage at a future debate chatting with Anderson Cooper.

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Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

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About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning

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