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How Would You Hire the President of the United States?

October 29, 2015

white-houseEvery four years we go through the process of vetting candidates and voting for the next President of the United States (POTUS). As an American, I am honored to vote and am privileged to have the opportunity to participate in our great democracy. At the same time, I look at the candidates and think to myself –“I don’t know if any of these people are qualified to be President.” I think this and I am, for the most part, an informed voter; I watch the debates, listen to and read about the candidates.

The problem is that I don’t get to learn the things about the candidates that I need to know to make an informed decision. I may know their stance on issues and their legislative plans while in office, but I don’t know if they would be successful at getting any of it done. I don’t know if the candidates are being truthful. I don’t know how he or she would act in a crisis situation. Since I design and implement selection tools for a living, I can’t help but dream about what I would do if I could build a selection process to hire the President. If money and time were no object, what would I do? I’ve thought about this and I would want to apply selection best practices such as job relevance, consistency, and valid psychological measurement to the process:

1) Job Analysis

First and foremost, I would conduct a job analysis. Before designing a selection process for any job, it is important to understand the job. The President is constantly in the spotlight, but we do not truly know what the day-to-day duties are of POTUS. I’ve watched House of Cards and the entire West Wing television series a couple of times, but I would still need to see POTUS in action.

To be thorough, I would need to shadow the current President to get a good understanding of what he does on a daily basis. Because his job is not routine, I might need to do this for a while. I would couple this with interviews of subject matter experts.

In this case, I would like to talk to some living former Presidents and Chiefs of Staff. Why not throw the First Ladies in too since I’m just pontificating? From this, I would be able to pull together a list of behaviors and tasks performed by the President and then identify the underlying psychological characteristics that lead to success on these tasks.

This would be my framework for building/choosing the selection tools we would use to evaluate the candidates. Rest assured, once the competency model has been built, this wouldn’t need to be done over again prior to every election, but only updated when the President’s roles and responsibilities change in response to the varying national and global situations.

2) Headhunt/Basic Qualification Screen/Reference Check

For many executive level positions, headhunters are used to finding the most qualified candidates and convincing them to move into a new executive leadership position. In the case of POTUS, information gleaned from the job analysis would identify the traits and experiences that lead to effectiveness as the leader of the free world.

A headhunter would use this information to find individuals (not necessarily politicians) who meet the basic qualifications (e.g., age) and possess the experience and underlying competencies needed to be successful. Additionally, they would call individuals who have worked for the individual to find out how effective he/she is as a leader.

Remember, this is my ideal world and things like fundraising, wealth, and political popularity aren’t factored into the equation. This process would need to be conducted by each political party to establish their nominee. After all, the final decision would still be up to the voters!

3) Individual Assessment

After a small group of candidates had been screened for experience and basic qualifications, each one would be put through a battery of psychological assessments and a comprehensive interview by a trained clinical psychologist. This process is called Individual Assessment. The assessment results and interview information are integrated into a complete psychological picture of the individual. Individual assessment is used regularly to hire executives. The process can be long and expensive but provides great ROI for positions where an ineffective leader can be very costly.

4) Work Samples

In additional to the individual assessment, some realistic work samples would be designed to simulate challenging situations that POTUS is likely to face on the job. I picture some pretty elaborate role play/simulations that would place the candidate in the role of POTUS in critical situations.

For example:

1) Place the candidate in a simulated situation room learning about a military mission

2) Place the candidate in a meeting with key congressional leaders trying to negotiate a deal

3) Require the President to deliver a key speech to the public on a controversial issue.

Trained assessors would evaluate the candidates’ effectiveness on key competencies such as learning agility, influencing skills, stress tolerance, decision making/judgment and oral communication.

5) Structured Behavioral Interview

Instead of debates, I would love to televise a structured behavioral interview for each candidate. Each candidate would receive the exact same questions, some past behavior, and some hypothetical scenarios. It is important to ask every candidate standard questions so their responses are directly comparable.

They would be interviewed separately without hearing each other’s responses. They aren’t debating the topic but providing their responses. A group of highly trained interviewers would probe for details and ask for specific examples of when each candidate was able to demonstrate behaviors related to the key competencies.

Give voters the chance to hear each candidate’s answers and know more about their skill set and past successes/failures. A trained interviewer could prevent the candidates from circumventing the questions and failing to answer them. This interview approach might touch on political issues tangentially, but that isn’t the focus of the interview – it’s about the candidates and their ability to be effective.

6) Motivational Fit Interview

After each political party has identified a candidate through the aforementioned steps, then it would be time to find out where he/she stands on the issues. It’s important to look for the ability to be an effective leader before looking at belief systems because one could agree with a particular individual on every political issue, but if the candidate isn’t able to effectively influence or handle the demands of the job, he/she will be ineffective as POTUS.

Once again, a structured interview on major issues facing the country would be an efficient way to gather the information and compare them to one another. Each candidate would be allowed to state his/her stance on an issue and what he/she would want to accomplish in office. A debate at this point might make sense, but only if the questions are actually answered and voters could get a strong understanding of each candidate’s beliefs.

I know that this selection process is unrealistic and idealistic, but a girl can dream. I can continue to have fun thinking about the role plays I would develop for POTUS. Maybe one day we can strip away the fundraising and political schmoozing and get down to the actual competencies that make a leader effective and find a President who possesses those things and isn’t worried about re-election and favorability ratings. If we ever get there, I have an idea of how we can do it!

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Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Manager of Product Development at PSI. She is an expert in the design, development and validation of psychological assessment tools. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous competency-based assessments, including online in-baskets, job simulations and motivational fit instruments.