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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Executive Recruiting

The common explanation for George W. Bush's election and re-election was that he was the candidate "voters would rather have a beer with" (even though Bush is a recovering alcoholic and does not drink). Today, comparison between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been greatly sidetracked by voters' subjective, personal and arbitrary emotional reactions. Perceptions of "likeability" and "inspiration" dominate political discussions at the expense of comparisons between policy positions.

If voters want to choose the candidate most able to realize their policy goals, a new and more rational model of leadership is needed. Every year, Dartmouth juniors enter the bleak and shadowy world of corporate recruiting with nothing more than a blazer and a dream. Imagine if Barack and Hillary had to go through that process for the presidency: who would get the job?

Crafting a good rsum is the first step in any interview process; the goal is highlighting past experiences to demonstrate leadership skills and ability to accomplish job requirements. Hillary often cites more than 30 years of experience, including time as First Lady and senator from New York. Any competent boss would question how her marriage to a former chief executive would qualify her for promotion. However, the influence she wielded in the Clinton administration is well documented and has earned her the reputation of the most powerful presidential wife in American history, excepting Eleanor Roosevelt.

A more damning critique, however, would mention the failure of the 1994 Clinton healthcare plan because it shows poor project management skills on her part. Bosses might see that she has learned from experience with the success of the 1997 State Children's Health Insurance Program, but they prefer that their employees do things right the first time.

I can't see how Barack Obama's rsum would net him a single interview. For evidence of leadership abilities, he often cites two sources: the strength of his own campaign (a kind of circular logic powerful enough to bend time and space) and his tenure as the president of the Harvard Law Review (the equivalent of listing middle school activities on one's rsum). Many Obama supporters, when prompted on television (notably Governor Jim Doyle on Hardball) are unable to list one specific thing that he has accomplished during his Senate tenure. Just imagine how it would look if a recruiter called your references and found that they couldn't name a single thing you'd done.

That said, lack of experience is not inherently a deal-breaker; it just adds more risk in the form of uncertainty. Obama could become a great president or he could flop like Jimmy Carter (the last candidate with his level of experience). Without a track record we can only guess, and managers want to take the guesswork out of business.

The message that candidates bring to the interview is also important. Hillary does well by talking about the policy positions she would take as President -- the political equivalent of a new products and business strategy. Obama's campaign, on the other hand, focuses exclusively on himself: his initial opposition to the war in Iraq, his ability to inspire youth voters and his oratory abilities. No one outside of the Catholic church has gotten their job based on infallible judgement, and the second two points better qualify Obama as a marketing officer than as an executive.

The rest of Obama's campaign is based on a messianic cult of personality and single-worded dogma. Just imagine if you sat down in the boardroom at Wal-Mart across from a potential employer, crossed your legs and said that your entire candidacy could be summed up in vague platitude of "change." Corporations -- like countries -- are behemoths of personnel and internal machinery that cannot simply turn on a dime, even if the chief executive demands it. And unlike corporate heads, America's bureaucrats are nearly impossible to fire.

Instead of investing ourselves in the candidates, we should see how they'd do in our shoes. If they couldn't nail our entry-level interview at J.P. Morgan, why would we vote for them to be President?