Assessing Barack Obama’s Job Interview

The Presidential and Vice Presidential
debates are a form of job interview and demonstrate
interview techniques that can help job seekers.  I’m going
to review the all four candidates.  For this
purpose, I am assessing each candidate based solely on the
content of the first answer they gave in their debate.  I chose the
first answer because it was very predictable – a question about our
current financial crisis – and it is likely the candidates
scripted some or all of their answers.

I am following the order of the
debates.  Barack Obama was the first to answer. The transcript of his answer
is in the gray area to the right.

Obama’s Answer

In this answer, Obama begins by framing
his understanding and empathy for the situation.  He then outlines
his values, impling the actions he will take if hired.  The last two
paragraphs are the core positioning statement that Obama is promoting
in his answer.  He differentiates himself from his competition
and clearly states why he should be President.  Let’s look at these
paragraphs closely.

The first of these two paragraphs attack the economic policies of
his adversary.  He defines these policies as a lack of regulation and
consumer protection, valuing the rich over poor and promoting trickle down

In the second paragraph he outlines what makes him different.  He
defines economic success as fairness for the middle class and
reinforces his values by saying this is his motivation for seeking the

Interview Criteria

The first question of a job interview is typically Tell Me About
Yourself.  A successful answer includes the following

  1. Organized clearly and concisely
  2. Focused on the values and needs of the hiring manager and
  3. Reinforces the skill and experience of the job seeker
  4. Separates the job seeker from their competition with a strong
    positioning statement
  5. Backs up the positioning statement with accomplishments that
    demonstrate an ability to succeed
  6. Demonstrates enthusiasm for the job and company

It isn’t entirely fair to judge the candidates on this standard,
since the question wasn’t Tell Me About Yourself.  Despite this, the criteria do very well with the answers the candidates gave.

Obama’s Assessment

Obama’s answer does well on most of the criteria:

  1. The answer is well organized and concise. 
  2. The answer focuses on the needs of the middle class – the targeted "hiring managers."
  3. The answer addresses the skill and experience of the
    candidate by reviewing the four criteria that Obama has proposed for assessing the bailout bill.
  4. The positioning statement is clear in the last two paragraphs
    – Obama will implement greater regulation of the financial markets
    to benefit the middle class.
  5. The candidate does not give an example of an accomplishment
    that demonstrates his ability to succeed. 
  6. The answer clearly states that the candidate wants the job.

If I was coaching this candidate, my advice would be to condense
the content in the second, third and fourth paragraphs, and add an
example of an accomplishment.  The ideal answer would have a very
easy to understand success that directly relates to helping the hiring manager (the middle class) with this type of problem. 

Most job seekers make the same mistake.  They recap their
responsibilities and assume that this demonstrates their
ability to succeed.  A specific example of a time when the job seeker
overcame a similar challenge can be very powerful in an interview and
will usually set the candidate apart for their competition.

Tomorrow, I’m going to review John McCain’s answer to the same



Lehrer:  Gentlemen, at this very moment
tonight, where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?

Obama:  Well, thank you very much, Jim, and thanks to the
commission and the University of Mississippi, "Ole Miss,"
for hosting us tonight. I can’t think of a more important time for us
to talk about the future of the country.

You know, we are at a defining moment in our history. Our nation
is involved in two wars, and we are going through the worst financial
crisis since the Great Depression.

And although we’ve heard a lot about Wall Street, those of you on
Main Street, I think have been struggling for a while, and you
recognize that this could have an impact on all sectors of the

And you’re wondering, how’s it going to affect me? How’s it going
to affect my job? How’s it going to affect my house? How’s it going
to affect my retirement savings or my ability to send my children to

So we have to move swiftly, and we have to move wisely. And I’ve
put forward a series of proposals that make sure that we protect
taxpayers as we engage in this important rescue effort.

No. 1, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got oversight over this
whole process; $700 billion, potentially, is a lot of money.

No. 2, we’ve got to make sure that taxpayers, when they are
putting their money at risk, have the possibility of getting that
money back and gains, if the market — and when the market returns.

No. 3, we’ve got to make sure that none of that money is going to
pad CEO bank accounts or to promote golden parachutes.

And, No. 4, we’ve got to make sure that we’re helping homeowners,
because the root problem here has to do with the foreclosures that
are taking place all across the country.

Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on
eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush,
supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can
shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to
the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.

It hasn’t worked. And I think that the fundamentals of the economy
have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a
fair shake. That’s why I’m running for president, and that’s what I
hope we’re going to be talking about tonight.

Full Transcript of the Debate