How to Interview Like Barack Obama: Successful Strategies for Your Job Interview

How to Interview Like Barack Obama: Successful Strategies for Your Job Interview

Courtesy of the Recruiting Blogswap

From: Lewis Lin of

Inspired by Barack Obama’s historic presidential inauguration, I wondered to myself: if Obama sat down with a hiring manager, how would he answer the most common job interview questions such as:

  • What’s your biggest weakness?
  • What is your leadership style?
  • What are the biggest opportunities and challenges in this industry?
In one of my favorite Obama interviews, CBS’ Katie Couric gives us a glimpse of how Obama would answer these questions. Here’s my analysis of Obama’s responses and how you can learn and apply Obama’s style in your own job interviews.
What’s your biggest weakness?
Couric asks Obama a variation of the dreaded “biggest weakness” question:

Katie Couric: What one personal flaw do you think might hinder your ability to be president?

Barack Obama: I don’t think there’s … a flaw that would hinder my ability to function as president. I think that all of us have things we need to improve. You know, I said during the primary that my management of paper can sometimes be a problem.

Couric: You can come up with something better than that, though, can’t you?

Obama: I just use it as an example of something that I’m constantly tryin’ to work on. What is often a strength can be a weakness. So, you know, for me there are times where I want to think through all our options. At some point you’ve gotta make sure that we’re making a decision. So far, at least I’ve proven to be pretty good about knowing when that time is. I think, as president, with all the information that’s coming at you constantly, you’re never gonna have 100 percent information. And you’ve just gotta make the call quickly and surely. And I think … that’s a capacity that I’ve shown myself to have.

As special as Obama may be, we find that Obama is human too; he has difficulty with this question, just like everyone else. He tries to skirt the issue by saying “I don’t think there’s a flaw” and follows up with a vague, innocuous statement about his “management of paper can sometimes be a problem.”
Couric doesn’t let him off the hook, and Obama comes back with a stronger response. Obama is well-known for his deliberate and cool decision making style. And here he’s candid on why this strength can be a liability. But he reassures us that, although this is a weakness, it is not a problem. Although he doesn’t cite a specific example, Obama’s fast start indicates that he is a fast-moving, action-oriented leader — eradicating concerns around his deliberate decision making style.
What is your leadership style?
Couric uses a behavioral interview question to probe Obama’s leadership style:

Katie Couric: When was the last time you fired someone who worked for you and why?

John McCain: Well, we had to make a change in our campaign. It was going in the wrong direction. We knew we had serious problems in our campaign and the way it was being managed. And that will be well chronicled in the books that are written after this election. But, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun. And I still value the friendship of the people that left our campaign. And it was just that we needed a different direction. It certainly wasn’t anything that had to do with personal differences.

Barack Obama: I have directed people to be fired during the course of this campaign. I would prefer not sharing that with the public because obviously I don’t want to embarrass them. You know I don’t mind people making mistakes, but I want them to learn from their mistakes, and, what I won’t tolerate are people who put their own ego or their desire for self-aggrandizement ahead of the team. You know, I played sports as a young person, and still try occasionally as an older person, and I am a big believer in “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” And I don’t tolerate a lot of drama or people back-biting or trying to push people down to push themselves up. When I see evidence of people who are not acting on the basis of “how are we getting our mission accomplished,” then I’ll give them a couple of warnings, and if it’s chronic, they won’t be part of my organization.

Obama gives a direct yet discreet response. Then, he uses what I call the “springboard tactic” — answering one question and discussing another question. In this case, he talks about his management style. Here we get the sense that he is team-oriented and accepts mistakes, but has low tolerance for organizational politics — hence his nickname “No Drama Obama.
By comparison, John McCain’s response is not as strong as Obama’s. McCain responds with a vague and rambling anecdote. There’s no spring boarding here. Instead, McCain is apologetic, possibly even sheepish, about the firing. His response doesn’t give us the sense that he’s the self-assured, rational, and strong leader that Obama is. To top off his ineffectual response, McCain volunteered some unsavory tidbits about how his campaign was managed, further damaging his leadership credibility.
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges in this industry?
Couric’s question on “the best and worst thing that has ever happened to this country” is the most similar to this often asked job interview question. Just like the “opportunities and challenges” question, Couric’s question tests Obama’s subject matter expertise and his judgment in identifying and distinguishing critical events.

Katie Couric: What do you think is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to this country?

Barack Obama: The best thing that ever happened to this country was the founding fathers and the starting premise of America. “We hold these truths as self evident that all men are created equal endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That idea just kept pushing throughout centuries, through a civil war, through civil rights, through women’s rights. It became the North Star for people, not just in America but around the world. The worst probably would have to be slavery in this country. Although the treatment of Native Americans oftentimes … showed great cruelty. You know, but slavery was a stain on this country. Fortunately, we had people like Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman and Dr. King and you know, so many were able to battle through that legacy. And we’re still wrestling with it. But it’s one where I feel more optimistic about the direction of this country.

Offering details is the easiest way to convey credibility in a job interview. By quoting the Declaration of Independence, Obama shows that this is not an off-the-cuff response. He is trying to convince the reader that he is intelligent and knowledgable, and the quote helps cement that image. And of course, the quote’s theatric effect cannot be underestimated. It subtly draws parallels between him and America’s founding fathers. It also breaks up the interview’s staccato rhythm.

Obama’s mention of Native Americans is also noteworthy. It wasn’t necessary, but it does show that he considered other alternatives before deciding on his final response. The interviewer is free to ask follow-up questions around the Native American issue. Without the mention, his choice of slavery may come across as trite and one-dimensional.

14 things to do if you are laid off from a tech job

I saw a great piece of advice in a recent story on U.S. News & World Report called 10 things to do on the day after you’re laid off: “Write a thank-you note to your former boss.” I like that. It can’t hurt, and if your boss hears of openings elsewhere, you’re now that much more likely to get the referral.

Geeks and other tech employees are a little different from the vanilla workforce, though, so I wanted to put together a list of specific things that people in our part of the economy might want to consider if they’re let go. Here’s the rundown.

Quoted passages in this story are from other CNET employees, many of whom, like me, have spent time among the alternatively employed.

Whole article

The Real Way to Get a Job Using Social Media Revealed

The Real Way to Get a Job Using Social Media Revealed
December 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm | In Career Development, Networking, Personal Branding, Recruitment, Success Strategies, eBrand, social media |

The question everyone is asking right now, after hearing about the 1.9 million layoffs in the past year figure, is “how do I get a job”? This is the wrong question to ask yourself because it forces you to apply to positions that aren’t the best-fit for your personality, passions and possibly, expertise. You have to think more broadly!

Read the whole story

Keeping Your Job Search Alive

January 16, 2009, 7:30 am
Keeping Your Job Search Alive
Posted by Spencer Cutter

Mr. Cutter was a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., working in the leveraged finance group. After nine years with the firm, He was laid off in the spring of 2008. He holds an M.B.A. from UCLA and lives in New York with his wife and 20-month-old son.

Spencer CutterI have learned that, like many other processes, the job search has a life cycle of its own. There was the Introductory Phase, when I initiated my job search by preparing my resume, doing research, and making some initial contacts. Then there was the Growth Phase, where I perfected my resume and elevator pitch and targeted specific companies to begin aggressively marketing myself. I was busy making phone calls, submitting applications, following up on job leads, and going on as many interviews as possible.

The Growth Phase seems to then be followed by the Mature Phase. Since I have been out of work since the spring of 2008, I reached the Mature Phase of my job search sometime last fall. At some point, the activity level slowed down and leads ran out. The evolution of my life cycle was accelerated by the collapse of my former employer, Lehman Brothers, and the fallout that followed.

In August, people interviewing me were defensive. By October, they were locked-down in their bomb shelters and were not going to answer the door for anyone. For example, I was extremely close to landing a job with a large, international bank here in New York last September. However, in early October, after watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge by 700 points every other day, they decided to put everything on hold. We agreed to keep in touch and I followed up just a few weeks ago. Their business has fallen off a cliff and now, rather than considering hiring, they are hoping to be able to avoid layoffs.

The next natural step of the life cycle is decline. Since I have not yet bought the winning lottery ticket, I cannot afford to allow my job search to enter the Decline Phase. Things naturally slowed down over the holidays and I took the time to regroup, both literally and emotionally, and made the decision to kick off the New Year with a new effort.

I don’t have many leads or ideas that are genuinely new, but I do have a lot of contacts that I allowed to go somewhat dormant since they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I am starting the year by reaching out to everyone that I can think of. I am turning over rocks that I may have turned over before in hopes of finding out that something new has developed there in the last five months.

I am encouraged by the fact that the volatility in the financial markets seems to have subsided somewhat and a new year means a new P&L for many places. However, this is likely to be a long fought war of attrition and the key to success is going to be fighting to avoid the Decline Phase.

Readers, how do stay optimistic during a prolonged job search? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Protecting Your Privacy When Job Hunting


Q: I have a good job with great benefits and pretty good working relationships. The department is challenged right now, as we do not have the ability to add people to do the work more efficiently or get funding for projects that are important to the business. I would like to start looking around for new opportunities, but in this digital age, I’m worried that a job search is no longer a private affair. Do you have any suggestions?

A: You are correct to be concerned that a job search might no longer be a private affair, especially when executed on the Internet. In the early days of digital job hunting, many job seekers’ biggest concern was whether their current employers would get wind of what they were doing. But that has changed in recent years, according to Pam Dixon, executive director of the California-based World Privacy Forum. “Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud are alive and well,” she says.

Ms. Dixon and her staff are constantly receiving calls from individuals whose identities have been compromised in some way because they gave away too much information during an Internet-based job search. Because of this, Ms. Dixon’s first piece of advice to job seekers is to avoid openly posting their resumes online. “If it’s open on the Web, then it’s kind of like big game hunting,” she says. “It’s hunting season, and you are the game.”

Whenever possible, contact the person doing the hiring and submit your resume directly to him or her, recommends Ms. Dixon. In recent years, this has gotten easier; one of the biggest shifts she has seen is that more and more employers are allowing prospective candidates to contact them directly.

What’s more, most large and midsize companies now have fairly sophisticated Web sites where you can apply for specific positions. That’s important, because when you submit your resume to a specific person or employer, there is an expectation of confidentiality, says Ms. Dixon. But when it is simply posted on the Web, any hint of privacy goes out the window.

These days, with the ease of identity theft, it’s also a bad idea to include your home address on your resume. Consider renting a post office box for the duration of your search. You can also get a temporary cell phone number and email address dedicated to your job search. “Resumes go far and wide,” says Ms. Dixon. “So, if you have the funds to make your information temporary, do it. You don’t want to give up information that you’ll want to take back later.” That includes your social security number, which should never be shared unless required. Government applications, for example, are an exception.

On the flip side, by making your job search too private, you could inadvertently limit your exposure to legitimate sources for potential jobs, says’s Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Patrick W. Manzo. “There is always a trade-off between exposure and confidentiality,” he says. “The most effective job search strategies typically involve maximum resume exposure.”

One approach is to take advantage of the privacy features that many job sites – Monster included – offer. “Specifically, job seekers have the ability to control the degree of exposure their resume receives,” says Mr. Manzo. “They may make the resume fully public and searchable in Monster’s resume database – or they may choose a more limited exposure option.”

Alternatives include hiding certain identifying information on a resume, such as your name, contact information and current employer. When this feature is activated on, for example, interested employers can only contact the job seeker through a confidential Monster email address. The job seeker can then review the job posting and respond if interested.

Make sure you also consider other Web sites – not just job boards. With the explosion of social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter comes a whole new host of challenges to the digital job search. You need to ask yourself: “What persona am I sharing with the world – and specifically to potential employers?” Having an online presence is important to the job search, according to Mr. Manzo. Just make certain that anything you post on a social networking site isn’t going to offend or alienate a potential employer.

Write to Career Q&A at

Ways Job Seekers Can Find Old Contacts

When Rick Featherstone, 49, was laid off from DHL in August after nearly five years with the company, he dived into his Rolodex to call old network of colleagues and business associates. He figured it would be easy to reconnect. But it turned out that many of his former coworkers had moved on and finding them was a challenge. Mr. Featherstone, who had worked at just three companies over the previous 22 years, quickly realized his contact list was sorely out of date.

Four months later, the former IT manager has found many former colleagues, but in retrospect he says he has learned a valuable lesson: “You have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice, you aren’t going to work for the same company for 50 years.”

Many laid-off professionals who’ve worked at the same company — or just a few firms — over their careers may find that their networks have gone stale. Experts recommend networking be done consistently and be nurtured throughout a career, but that’s not always feasible in a world of 70-hour workweeks and family commitments. There are ways to jump start a network that’s out-of-date and to rebuild rapport with former friends and colleagues.
Dead Ends

First, you actually have to find these people. The email address you used a year ago may yield only a bounceback message now. Michael Duncan, 44, was laid off from a software-development firm in late October. While working for the same company for 11 years, Mr. Duncan hadn’t done much networking. “I just had this assumption that I didn’t need to worry about it,” he says.

To rebuild his network he emailed former colleagues, did Internet searches and asked ex-coworkers to reconnect him to people they have stayed in touch with. But Mr. Duncan has had trouble locating former managers for references, particularly a manager who moved overseas, whom he still hasn’t found.

Social- and business-networking sites such as LinkedIn and Plaxo are good ways to find old connections. LinkedIn officials say the site has seen a 36% increase in membership over the past six months as executives scramble to rebuild their networks. You can search by name or company to find old acquaintances. Personalize your network invitation request with a memory the two of you shared or a reminder of who you are, says Cheryl Yung, a senior vice president of outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison. Once you’ve re-established your relationship, you can also view the friends of your connections, and request an introduction to people at companies that interest you.

If you already have a LinkedIn account, keep it current. An update on David Stevens’s LinkedIn status indicating that he was “up for grabs” spurred one of his contacts to alert him to a job opportunity. He interviewed for the job and within two weeks of being laid off, he was back at work.

Once you’ve located people in your old network, a simple holiday card to a former manager or colleague — or calling to wish them a happy New Year — can reopen dialogue, says Ms. Yung.

It can be daunting or uncomfortable contacting people you haven’t spoken to in years — especially when you’ve just been laid off. But, you can use the spirit of the season as a crutch; December and January are prime months to get reacquainted with old friends and colleagues. Also, try to attend as many holiday parties as you can; look for people you’ve lost touch with and speak to people you’ve never met, advises Bettina Seidman, a New York career-management counselor.

Once you’ve made contact, arrange a meeting. “Email and networking sites speed up the communication, but they don’t do the networking for you,” says Liz Lynch, author of “Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online.” Career coaches say it’s critical to set up in-person meetings and attend networking events. Be mindful of your contact’s time; you might not be the only one asking for help. Ask for 10 minutes to chat, or offer to catch up over coffee or lunch, says Ms. Lynch.
Professional Groups

If you’ve exhausted your efforts to find people or need to start from scratch, professional associations are a good place to begin. Associations give you access to other professionals who may work for or have contacts within companies you want to work with. Finding a local chapter is as easy as plugging your industry and the word “association” or “society” into a search engine, says Laura Hill, a career coach with The Five O’Clock Club in New York.

Once you find the association, join up and look for events the local chapters are holding. It’s an opportunity to network with people who will speak your industry language.

If you’ve been in a more senior executive position, consider volunteering to speak at industry and trade conferences or offer to serve on committees for professional associations, says Ms. Seidman. Volunteering to work at professional events like speaking occasions, luncheons and networking affairs are also great ways to meet people, says Ms. Hill.
Back to School

Alumni associations can also be helpful. In wake of the financial crisis, many colleges are ramping up their alumni services and even holding career fairs and networking events for alumni, says Ms. Lynch. Contact your alma mater’s alumni-relations office to get access to their online database. Once there, you can search for old friends by name or class, or search for alumni at different companies or industries you are interested in working in, says Ms. Hill.

Informal networking can also help. If you find yourself standing in line at the bank or grocery store, strike up a conversation with the person behind you, says Susan Guarneri, a career coach based in Three Lakes, Wis. “You should network with everyone you meet because you don’t know who they know,” says Ms. Guarneri, who once got a job after receiving a tip from her exterminator.

And remember, networking is a give-and-take experience. Figure out what you can offer — whether it be a contact, a lunch or a favor. “It gives the signal that you’re in it for the two of you,” says Ms. Lynch.

Write to Dana Mattioli at