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What Political Debates Teach Us About Successful Job Interviews

It might be hard to spot with all the overblown coverage and overdone choreography, but the recent spate of GOP presidential debates is just a months-long job interview.

Once a week, we see the same motley bunch of conservatives march across the stage and tell the nation why each is their party’s best option for 2012.

We could ignore the debates and wait for Jon Stewart to pluck out the most cringe-worthy moments.  These live, made-for-TV events full of ‘gotcha’ questions always recycle well as unintentional comedy.

But as thousands of us Occupy every park and public square, and the rest troll on job sites for the next great gig, let’s use the GOP debates as a teaching tool to help win our own job interviews and get hired.

First, don’t fidget. Romney, Perry, Cain and the rest do a good job keeping their feet on the ground.  They don’t sway too much, have a lot of nervous movement or say ‘uh’ and ‘um’ between every phrase.   The GOP candidates don’t squirm under pressure and that lets the audience focus on their answers and not their uncomfortable body language.

Next, be ready for anything. Practice out loud answers to questions you expect to hear from an employer. Know your stuff backwards and forwards so that even in a bind you will intuitively squeeze out an acceptable response.

Mitt Romney was ready for a tough question from fellow nominee Herman Cain at last week’s event in New Hampshire.

Cain: “The 9-9-9 [economic] plan that I have proposed is simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral. The question is to Gov. Romney.  Can you name all 59 points in your 160 page plan, and does it satisfy the criteria being simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral?”

Romney (without a hitch): “Herman, I have had the experience in my life in taking on some tough problems,” Romney said. “I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate.”

Romney didn’t know what Cain would ask, but he knew the perceived holes in his resume and had a quick answer when someone questioned his record. He anticipated that ‘gotcha’ moment and came out on top.

Third, make eye contact. When answering a question, the GOP candidates do two things. First, they respond directly to the person who asked it. But they are also aware of the entire room. They scan the crowd while they talk and rarely stare at the floor. In a job interview, eye contact shows poise.  And by giving frequent glances to others at the table, it proves you know how to speak to a group and command attention.

Finally, listen up. You will often see candidates jot down notes as the others are speaking. They heard an opinion or factoid that stuck out and may want to bring it up later. That same technique works really well with an employer. Either remember key details of your conversation or write them down. Then, return to those points at the end of the interview and dazzle the boss with your perceptiveness.

Yes, there are too many GOP debates that, on the surface, seem like nothing but hot air. But look more closely. The most compelling and consistent debater usually becomes their party’s nominee for president.

Confidence kills. Voters know it, and bosses do too.

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