Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Would You Hire Rod Blagojevich?

Rod Blagojevich, the embattled ex-governor of Illinois, possible future ward of the Federal Government and current contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" has been giving Illinois residents a combination of shock and laughs for the past 14 months.

Now, in the latest installment of Rod's roadshow, his appearance on "Celebrity Apprentice" presents an interesting insight into a job interview. It doesn't really matter if you think he's guilty of trying to sell President Obama's former Senate seat, various forms of corruption, or just poor word choices (that kind that start with the letter "F") - he's a 50+ year old with a blemished reputation, who's publicly interviewing for a job.

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Take away the massive PR campaign to try avoid conviction and Rod's just looking for a job - like most of you. All those lawyers aren't cheap, and the State of Illinois pulled his pension, all during a bad job market. Imagine if you had his legal bills - and his really tough reputation problem.

If Rod can demonstrate transferable skills via a public appearance on a national TV show, maybe he can find an employer who wants to hire him. His past contributors can't come within 10 feet of him, for fear of being dragged into a federal corruption trial. So Rod is trying to use his appearance to show America's businesses that he provides enough value to land a private sector job.

Personally, I could care less about Rod Blagojevich, other than for his entertainment value. But he provides an interesting case study of candidates who are trying to change careers ... especially age 50+ candidates trying to land a job via a new industry or new career path. After all, he's not likely to have much of a political future.

Overall, The Apprentice is a group interview, with tasks along the way to keep it interesting. Who would watch a grueling job interview each week, without entertainment to break it up a little? If you look at the show as an interview, you can see many subtle strengths and mistakes that contestants demonstrate.

Let's see how Rod's doing so far:

Rod's strengths:
  1. He can play ball: Even when Rod's been ripped by teammates, he takes the high road and demonstrates that he can play corporate politics as well as Illinois politics. This may be the best skill he's demonstrated in his 3 episodes to date.
  2. He sure is friendly!: If you're looking for someone to shake hands and be friendly to people, Rod's your guy. This qualifies Rod to be a WalMart greeter. While there's nothing wrong with being a WalMart greeter, it won't pay many legal bills.
  3. He's a team player: This is critical, because he shatters one of the big biases against more experienced workers. He's not bossing anyone around - Instead he's asking to help, and doing whatever he is asked without complaint, with an ever present grin. The former governor of the 5th largest US State seemed thrilled to serve cheeseburgers to New York diners.
  4. He leads with his accomplishments: He keeps reminding viewers, his teammates, and The Donald about his accomplishments, as proof that he's a great leader. This is both a strength and a weakness ... see the weakness section below (
  5. He's trying so hard to be likable: Rod wants to be liked. He's constantly smiling, saying hello and shaking every hand that he can on the streets of New York, yet few New Yorkers have any idea who he is ... this doesn't stop Rod from trying.
  6. He's willing to make others look good: Rod does an outstanding job of promoting his teammate's accomplishments on the show ... rather than his own. Ok, he hasn't had many so far. Yet, he still promotes others' efforts, even when he's been called to the boardroom. The ability to demonstrate this in an interview is a huge advantage, since a hiring manager ideally wants to find someone who will make them look like a hero rather than someone who wants personal credit. Older workers have an especially tough time overcoming perceptions that they will try to steal the limelight from their boss.
  7. He dresses well for an interview: Rod was always known as a snazzy dresser. Yet, in his choice of clothes for Celebrity Apprentice, he looks like a politician. He might inspire more trust if he dressed a bit less like a Governor (
  8. His hair: How could we forget his hair? To much of America, Rod is more known for his big hair - even more than his political career ending in corruption accusations. That hair helmet is dark, long, full, and makes him look boyish, like a cute little kid. Everyone including SNL, Letterman, the Daily Show, and Colbert has made fun of it. He doesn't look 52, helping him to avoid some of the bias of ageism.

While Rod showed some strengths, he's demonstrated some glaring weaknesses as well, during this televised interview series.

Rod's Weaknesses:
  1. He can't use a computer: He had to ask help to figure out how to turn on a laptop ... Wow. Granted, the guy has had staffers for the past 10 years or more, in his career as a Illinois State Representative (1992-1996), US Congressman 1996-2002), and Governor of Illinois (2002-2008), so the entire internet phenomenon passed him by because he had staff did it for him. Most younger hiring managers assume that age 50+ workers don't have up-to-date tech skills. In order to be successful, older workers, especially those in management or production have to be aggressive to demonstrate that their technology skills exceed those of younger workers. This bias hits especially hard at senior technology professionals, many of whom had hands on experience using early-generation technology that isn't widely used anymore. Rod explained "There's a whole bunch of technology that's passed me by. It's one of those things when you're governor and you have nearly 60,000 people working for you, they pretty much research for you. Before that I was a congressman, and I never had to learn it. ... I think there's always a learning curve in every endeavor, in every step in life."
  2. Rod can't type: Since Rod can't use a computer, or even type, a hiring manager would have to hire both Rod and a personal assistant for Rod. It's tough enough for a 50+ year old with a shady reputation to find a good job ... but now he needs to have a secretary also? Many companies have downsized the ranks of executive assistants to just a few of the highest ranking executives. Older candidates are at a serious disadvantage today if they can't demonstrate work self-sufficiency. Few of my college-bound peers in school took the typing classes offered - they've been mandatory for the past few generations of middle school kids. This affects many senior workers who never had typing classes to embrace PCs early in their careers, and who had staff to run reports once they got into management. If you can't type - take a class.
  3. He won't own his mistakes: Politics are not only a strength for Rod, but also a weakness. There were a number of instances where he was called out for screwing up. Rather than admit is mistakes and discuss what he learned from them, he denied. Old habits must die hard. A 50+ candidate needs to be prepared to discuss their past failures, and what they learned from them (
  4. Rod is an organizational nightmare: While he hasn't taken the job of project manager yet, he gives the impression of being extremely disorganized. Michael Johnson, Olympic Gold Medal Sprinter and last week's project manager remarked that he was surprised how ineffective Rod was, assuming Rod had some skills since "... there's got to be something there, because he got to be governor of Illinois. You don't just fall up there."
  5. He doesn't make his accomplishments relevant: Rod mentions a few times that he brought guaranteed health care to Illinois children, got free public transportation for senior citizens, and kept his promise not to raise taxes. While he tries to use these accomplishments to demonstrate his leadership, he doesn't translate these accomplishments to the situation, the audience, or the team's needs - so they appear irrelevant. You an see it in his teammate's eyes - who cares, Rod? How will that help us? Job seekers, especially senior level candidates often have a difficult time with this same problem in resumes and interviews. Age 50+ candidates, who often have the deepest inventory of accomplishments, seem to have the greatest challenges translating those accomplishments as the solution to a company's, department's, or hiring manager's problems. This results in appearing overqualified ... a nice way of saying "you can't solve my problems." (
  6. Rod sells himself as a generalist: Rod's teammates send him on errands and have him serve wait tables, because they can't figure what to do with him. Rod presents his skills as a broad generalist, rather than the specific skills he obviously has as a politician, fundraiser, public speaker, consensus builder, negotiator, public figure, lawyer, promoter, salesman, and radio host. Senior managers also fall into this trap, selling themselves as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none ... in an environment where most hiring managers hire for the specific skills that solve their immediate problems (

How do you think Rod has demonstrated how well he could fit into a private sector job as a career changer (other than making license plates)? Granted, Rod may not have to worry about his next career move for long, as he may land a long term gig at Club Fed.

I wouldn't want to interview with Trump - it's the stuff nightmares are made of.  But Rod and 13 other candidates are interviewing with The Donald each week, demonstrating interviewing strengths and weaknesses along the way. Candidates, can you see the parallels to your own job search on this weekly televised interview series? How do your strengths and weaknesses match up to Rod Blagojevich's?

Readers, do you see other parallels between contestants in The Apprentice and your own job search?

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Bandit said...

Thank you for this example. It really hit home and I think many of your readers can identify with the points that you made. It is one thing to read the "theory," but a real life example delivers the goods.

julianbl said...

Thanks. For somebody fresh on the street as a long career with one company, this gives me things to think about.

Steve said...

Well, he got axed last night, so I guess Trump's answer would be NO! After watching him on the show, I would not hire him either, he doesn't seem capable of anything but talking.