Read This to Help You Decide Who to Vote for

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Apr 7, 2016
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

For U.S. readers, today’s presidential candidates are the finalists in what candidates and the media sometimes talk about as America’s biggest job interview.

They aren’t wrong. Voters are tasked with filling the position of the highest office in the land, and the process really does play out like a job interview.

Think about it.

The caucuses and the primaries are like an initial phone screen and a first interview, where several candidates need to be winnowed down to a more manageable number. Then during the general election, as with a final decision on a job candidate, we consider our top choices and weigh each one very carefully.

We need to mirror the best practices and predictive talent analytics used in today’s advanced hiring processes so that we can make the right decision.

One thing we know about a traditional job interview, and that applies especially in this presidential race, is that most of what we hear and learn about the candidates comes directly from them — things they say in an interview, what they put on their resume, and any other information they send you about themselves. In a job interview or in a presidential race, the candidates actively promote themselves. Many even come with endorsements. But often the most useful and interesting information about a candidate is the information that comes from someone else — their references — prior managers, colleagues, former co-workers, customers they’ve served, etc.

New technologies have made gathering references on job candidates much easier and much more valuable. Still, in this Presidential election, we’re mostly only getting the information we hear about the presidential hopefuls from the candidates and their campaigns. Of course we certainly get some negative information from their opponents, but in terms of details on qualifications and experience, the daily news feed primarily features the latest sound bites of what each candidate is saying about themselves and how they’d lead.

Unless they’d allow us to do so, although we doubt they would, we really can’t run reference checks on the candidates directly. What we can do is think about how we would evaluate each of them based on the specific questions we might ask references for a CEO candidate. Doing that might just help us make a better final decision come November.

We never built a reference check specifically for the President of the United States, but we do have a survey for CEOs and other high-level executive positions which we’ve used to facilitate reference checks for more than 10,000 CEOs and senior leaders. Job references’ feedback on these executives has shown us that the top attributes a good leader must demonstrate include these:

  • Leadership — Does the candidate act as a catalyst who communicates not only the need for change, but also inspires action among others? Does he or she set goals and motivate everyone to achieve them? As we’ve seen in countless elections, and past presidencies, these qualities can determine whether a candidate is going to unify people behind his or her ideas and mobilize support or have them succumb to Beltway gridlock.
  • Problem-solving and Adaptability — Does the candidate strategically make decisions by examining the accuracy of underlying assumptions, getting to the heart of the core issues, and any potential obstacles? Obviously, a sharp analytical ability is a pretty important factor in a president’s success.
  • Team-building — Does the candidate build a strong and diverse team, and attract top talent? A president’s choice of advisors can have a big impact on the success of his or her administration.
  • Interpersonal Skills — Does the candidate collaborate with key internal and external stakeholders to achieve common goals? Does he or she listen to others and accept feedback? Being able to work well with others, including members of Congress, for example, is a valuable trait in a president.
  • Personal Value Commitment — Does the candidate demonstrate trustworthiness, honesty, and high personal standards when dealing with others? Does the candidate treat other people, including those of different backgrounds, beliefs, and gender, with fairness and respect?

Evaluating a CEO with respect to these competency categories helps boards and companies make more informed decisions by gathering candid feedback and other detailed information from those who worked with and know these candidates, rather than solely from the candidates themselves.

As we prepare to head to the voting booths, we all have our own way of evaluating the field and figuring out who will get our vote. There are certainly many valid ways to do this (including considering a person’s opinions on economic, social, defense/security issues, and so on … things we are excluding with the attributes listed above in this post).Yet with the stakes so high in making sure that we select the best candidate to fill a job position that will impact us all, it’s valuable to think about the candidates through the lens of hiring a CEO. We might be surprised at how much it helps.

This article is part of a series called How-Tos.