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5 Ways to Get Elected for a Job

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Whatever you might personally think about Barack Obama or any other politician, they may have something to teach you about getting a great job.

But be warned: if you happen to have online screeds against any politician, or even a profanity-laced diatribe against your ex, you might want to scrub them from your social media accounts before you start sending out resumes.

Getting a new job, it seems, is a bit like getting elected. Researchers interviewed 59 hiring managers between the ages of 20 and 65 in companies of all sizes and industries to learn how they evaluated online profiles. They concluded:  “Employers consistently applied cues and heuristics from electoral politics to evaluate candidates’ careers.”

In other words, hiring managers view candidates in much the same way that voters view candidates.

The hiring mangers in the study, published in New Media & Society, didn’t use the word “politician,” and likely never thought about the parallels. But for job seekers, it is a worthwhile exercise to see whether your online presence reveals you as someone who would get the majority of the votes.

The researchers determined five qualities managers look for that are not so different from those that help candidates win elections. But first, keep this finding in mind: The hiring mangers formed their impressions of candidates in about one minute. 

5 Ways to Get a Hiring Manager’s Vote

An electable personality 

Managers hire, and people vote for, candidates who are likable (the “would you want to have a beer with this person?” test). On social media, companies want to see posts, pictures and other information demonstrating “a personality that is creative, curious, friendly and stable.” They don’t want to see you dancing on tables or recounting another blackout. And appearance does matter. You may not have to be telegenic as today’s politicians tend to be, but the tattoo-revealing poses or half-naked shots are not going to help you win.

A clean image

Whatever you do in private is one thing, but online, the more professional and stable you appear the better. Candidates that looked “normal” fared better. Foul language, racist or discriminatory remarks and the like disqualified people quickly. Take a broader perspective and see if the image of you that emerges online is consistent as well. If there is contradictory information–say, a picture of your graduation from college taken in the year your resume says you graduating from middle school–you are going to lose a potential employer’s trust.

Impressive endorsements. 

LinkedIn recommendations or testimonials on your personal blog do make an impression. Hiring managers look favorably on candidates with a lot of endorsements, and more so if they come from influential people. The reverse is true as well. “Connectivity with inappropri­ate networks doomed job candidates, much as negative connections or endorsements can derail political campaigns,” say the researchers.

Acceptable hobbies  

Cooking, wine tasting, and coaching sports—hobbies that convey taste, sophistication and family are going to put you in a better light than unusual or obscure ones. The researchers quote one manager as saying, “if their interests include beer pong or if someone is clearly obsessed with cats and writing on the Facebook wall for Purina Cat Chow. . .  that’s a problem.”

Mainstream values

During political campaigns, we hear a lot about family values. Hiring managers prefer seeing mainstream values as well. Being a member of a church is fine–appearing to be a religious zealot might not be. Err on the safe side and keep your personal beliefs as private as possible. Employers want to see boundaries between your professional–public–life and your private life. Remember that they see employees as ambassadors of their brands,  and they won’t want a public image that conflicts with that. Just as elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents’ interests, companies want their employees to reflect their values.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.