It’s election time here in Jacksonville; our local mayoral and city council races are in full swing. It strikes me that your job search is a little like a political race. Maybe there’s something you can learn from a successful candidate for office.
Here’s what you and the candidates have in common.
First, the field is crowded with good people with similar backgrounds. Most of the serious candidates for office have business experience and public or community service that has helped them build a plausible case for their ability to do the job. There are a few hopefuls who are simply not yet serious candidates, just as there are jobseekers who apply for jobs that are clearly beyond the scope of their abilities. Except for a few supportive friends and family members, no one takes them seriously. Their time would be better spent working on building their resumes. Lesson for you: make sure you’re applying for positions where you are a serious candidate. You’re probably wasting your time if you don’t have the experience for the job. Second, you only have a few minutes to make your case in person. Candidates meet hundreds of people at events and in going door to door in their districts. They can only afford a few minutes with any one voter; no matter how much you like a candidate, you can only vote once. A candidate has to connect quickly with potential voters and donors and leave a strong first impression. Jobseekers have the same issue. In just a few seconds, you must convince a recruiter that you’re likeable, smart and prepared. You don’t have much time to build a case at a job fair or networking event. Being prepared and keeping your energy up are essential skills. If you do get the opportunity for a forum, you’d better have done your homework. It’s true that job candidates don’t get grilled next to each other debate-style (thank goodness for that!) But in traditional job interviews, you don’t get the benefit of listening to the other candidates’ answers. You’re flying blind, so you need to bring your best game. Research and preparation are essential to a successful interview; make sure you understand the company and its market challenges, and be prepared to discuss your personal strengths in detail. It’s a mistake to rely on your enthusiasm and a great handshake in a crowded field of candidates. Lastly, defeat can be as instructive as victory. When you lose a race, you are tempted to shy away from analysis. But understanding where you made errors, or what propelled the other candidate to success can help you succeed in your next race. If you were a serious contender for the job, ask for feedback about why you weren’t selected, and connect again with the recruiter in a few months. There may be future openings that you’ll be a good match for, and it’s even possible that the first choice candidate doesn’t turn out to be a good match. You never know when you’ll get a chance to run again.