Oswald Letter

3 common problems with hiring and the presidential election

American ElectionThe road to the 2016 U.S. presidential election officially begins today with the Iowa caucuses. Having grown up in Iowa, I have experienced the caucus process first-hand. It’s an interesting process that has a real grassroots feel to it, and it can produce some very interesting results that are often difficult to predict.

If you’re like me, you’re having a tough time figuring out the candidates and what they stand for. Maybe it’s because there are so many, at least on the Republican side. I actually had a difficult time recognizing some of the Republican candidates who participated in the “undercard” debate last week. On the other hand, the Democrats have it down to a manageable number, mostly because everyone thought Hillary Clinton was going to run away with the nomination. She might still do that, but she’s had a bit more of a fight than she expected from Bernie Sanders.

But the confusion over the candidates goes beyond numbers and the fact that some of them are newer to the national stage. It seems that many of them are reinventing themselves and their positions on key issues on the fly. I guess it’s not too surprising since it’s common in the primaries for candidates to say just about anything to get their party’s nomination. Suddenly the guns rights advocate has seen the light and wants to ban every weapon all the way down to slingshots. Or the candidate who has been a staunch supporter of immigration wants to shut down the borders. Or the person who has spent the last 20 years in Washington decides he or she is an outsider.

Whatever will help a person get the nomination seems to be fair game. I watched this weekend as one candidate, on two different news programs, ran from his words when he was shown clips of previous statements he had made. He was shown at least three different segments of speeches he had made, and each time, he claimed it was taken out of context. Remember this is video of him speaking—public record—and each time, the news producer cut the clip just before he was going to either reverse course or qualify everything he had just uttered.

Maybe Gore Vidal was right when he said, “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.” Tell me you can’t apply that statement to at least a few of the candidates in this year’s field. There are a few of them who seem to want the power or the spotlight much more than they want to serve.

All of it got me thinking—this entire process is like one big job interview where the American people collectively decide whom to hire. Many of you work in HR, and you know what it’s like to run a hiring process. You know the traps, pitfalls, and problems that come along with making a hiring decision. And you know just how difficult it is to find the right person to fill any position.

So here are a few observations about hiring that relate to the 2016 election process:

  1. When you’re trying to fill a position, if you bring in too many candidates, it can become difficult to remember each candidate and his or her respective strengths and weaknesses. The interviews get spread out, the résumés begin to run together, and it’s hard to compare the first person you spoke with to the last. There are at least 15 people running for president, all trying to grab as much attention as possible. And there are at least as many significant policy issues on which voters would like to hear their stance. It’s hard for anyone to keep it all straight.
  2. Hiring by committee can be a dangerous proposition. I believe in our country’s democratic approach to government. I like that every person can have a voice in determining who represents us. But I also know that it’s hard to get a group of a few coworkers to agree on who would be the best addition to the team, let alone get a majority of American voters to agree on who should be president. Everyone is looking for something different, and the process does as much to divide as it does to unite.
  3. Often, the best person for the job doesn’t apply. It’s why many of us engage recruiters to help find the very best person to fill the position. In our great nation, we get to choose only from those who apply. Sure the parties can attempt to “draft” someone to run, but basically, we’re stuck “interviewing” only those who apply. And when you consider Vidal’s quote above, it makes you question whether we’re missing someone much more qualified to lead our country.

Let me be clear—I understand this is our democratic system at work, and I wouldn’t change our system of government. But I sure wish there was a way to make sure the very best and brightest our country has to offer would end up representing and leading us. Sometimes I question whether those who actually want the job are qualified to do it.

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