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3 Recruiting Lessons We Can Learn From the Presidential Primaries

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Kurt Jones
on January 25, 2016

Raise your hand if you are tired of the sound bites, ads, and promises being made by every candidate, regardless of party affiliation, in the race for Presidential nominations in our country. As the date draws near for voting in the primaries, each candidate is trying to focus on areas they feel are most important to the public to help sway voters their way, displaying what each candidate perceives to be their strengths or differentiators to their competition. Each trying to answer the question, “Why should you vote for me?”

It may seem strange to compare the presidential campaign to the life of a corporate recruiter or recruiting team. However, after watching the recent debates, I feel confident there are some interesting parallels worth sharing.

For a minute, let’s pretend your job is to screen and review the candidates for President. Who would you select as finalists to move forward to the “interview” (voting) stage with the “hiring manager” (the voting public)? What would your notes suggest about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates you select? What are the most relevant areas of experience that each brings to the position that lead you to the conclusion that they are best equipped for the position?

Believe it or not, these questions could not only help you choose the best candidate for the Presidential nomination, but help you select which candidates to move forward with when recruiting for a leadership position

When you review any candidate for a senior leadership position, consider the areas most likely to be important for success in the role:

Experience: Review the candidate’s past experience and the results they delivered in previous roles. Each candidate will put glowing highlights on their resume. Dig in and ask hard questions to see if those results were truly the result of their own work or if they were just part of the organization that delivered those outcomes.

recruiting leadersWhen you hear “I balanced the budget,” “I improved our schools,” or “I’ve been a hugely successful business leader,” ask hard questions to determine the metrics and real facts behind the statement. How did they do that? What challenges did they face? What did they specifically do to overcome the challenges and achieve a positive outcome? In hindsight, what would they have done differently? If the candidate has relevant experience outside of the “traditional background,” in this case other elected office or government leadership, make sure you ask hard questions about how their experience will translate to the role you are looking to fill. Are the skill sets the same, similar, or very different? Does success as a VP of a Fortune 100 Manufacturing organization make a candidate a strong fit for a leadership role with a venture backed technology start-up? Experience matters, but it is important to qualify if they have the right experience for this position?

Teamwork, Team Building, and Collaboration: Every leader must find the balance between leading, motivating, and collaborating to achieve the best outcomes. What examples do each of these Presidential candidates have that highlights their skills in building strong collaborative teams? What type of leadership style do they have, and how would others they have worked with describe their leadership style? These are important things to consider for the role of President.

Bring this level of detail to your own evaluation of leadership candidates. What type of leadership style would work best at your organization, and do these candidates fit that mold?  Focus on concrete examples of leadership with each candidate. Have them explain in detail, situations where they had to overcome challenges and what exactly they did to deliver a positive result. Are they leaders who learn from their mistakes and are willing to share that learning? Do they accept input from others and consider all ideas before making a decision? How have they inspired innovation in their past and how will they build an innovative and successful team in this new role? Make sure you hear some clear ideas and not just buzz words. The more examples they can provide of concrete results and how they accomplished those results, the better.

Culture: Your organization has a clearly defined culture (or should). Which candidates best fit with that culture and why? If your organizational culture is in need of an upgrade or improvement, which candidate is best suited to get you there?  As we all know, the culture in Washington right now is one of partisanship and lack of collaboration. How would each candidate specifically address the culture of gridlock they will inherit? Do the approaches they articulate feel like they will improve the situation or make it worse? Do they have experience managing millennials and how to best develop their potential?

As you consider leaders for your organization, each candidate should be able to clearly articulate the culture they feel will offer the best chance for success, help improve employee engagement, and ultimately reduce attrition rates. How do they plan to motivate, train, and retain the best and brightest at your organization? Leaders should have a clear vision for culture and how to foster that in their organization. Make sure you give weight to a candidate’s cultural fit as you review your top prospects.

So you’ve done your work. You’ve sourced, reviewed, and interviewed all of these candidates for the most important leadership role in your organization. You’ve dug in on their background, experience, leadership style, and cultural fit. Who are the candidates you choose to send to the next round, an interview with the Hiring Manager? Why did you select those candidates? Why did you disqualify the others? Did your selection change from what you had originally thought at the beginning of the process?

Selecting a President is no different from recruiting a leader for your organization. Each candidate brings different skills and perspective to the position. Your job is to determine which are the most important skills and experiences needed to deliver success in the position and then determine if the candidates you’ve sourced deliver those skills and have that experience. Unfortunately, in a Presidential race, you can’t scrap them all and start over if you don’t see the right fit.

In order to properly evaluate and choose a strong candidate, you’ll first need to collect a robust pool of applicants and other candidates. Overhaul your talent pipeline with our 5-step roadmap to optimizing your sourcing and screening. 

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