What we learned from the first US presidential debate

Written by Sal Ciolfi
Posted on

In case you somehow missed it, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off last night in the first of three televised presidential debates. Lively and often surreal (if not mildly infuriating), the debate did not disappoint from an entertainment standpoint (and as Canadians, there’s no other way to look at it).

But the debate also offered some important job search and workplace lessons.

Here’s what we learned from the first US presidential debate.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

The Donald was his usual confident, bombastic self last night, but he did seem ill-prepared for the more controlled, concise format of a debate. Amazingly, he tried to turn his lack of preparation into a jab at Hillary, but the former Secretary of State swatted it away, recycling it into one of the more memorable lines of the night.

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said. “And yes I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.” Despite warnings to stay quiet, the audience applauded this, much to the chagrin of moderator Lester Holt.

The lesson here? Preparation is key. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for confidence, and the ability to think fast on your feet, but when you’re facing a big job interview, or an important meeting, nothing beats being fully, completely prepared. After all, who do you think will do better in a job interview? Someone that just shows up, without knowing anything about the company or the role, and starts rambling incoherently as he makes things up? Or a candidate that has researched the position and employer, and is well rehearsed to provide answers and specifics? The former might get lucky every now and again, but the odds are almost always with the latter.

 

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

Much of the debate went something like this: Clinton would set the bait by criticizing Trump, and he would take it, interrupting to interject a comment or talk over her.

“By the end of this evening I’m going to be blamed for everything that’s ever happened,” Clinton eventually said.

“Why not?” Trump asked.

“Just join the debate by saying more crazy things!” she responded.

Her intent was clearly to let Trump run his mouth, hoping that he would say something off-colour or inappropriate. Judging by this collection of quotes, the plan seems to have worked.

The lesson here is to understand the dynamics of office politics, and to play off the personalities of your colleagues.

No one is asking you to sabotage your co-workers, but if you can improve your standing in the company by letting someone else put their food in their mouth, is it really that bad? Yes, it’s always a good idea to be a good teammate and a helpful colleague, but playing the game every once and awhile never hurt anyone’s career.

You can’t hide from your social media past.

As part of her answer to the first question, Clinton brought up investments in renewable energy, which would kick start the economy and help tackle climate change. She also mentioned that Trump believed climate change to be a hoax created by the Chinese to hurt the U.S. He interrupted to say that he had never said this, and the internet quickly reminded him that he had.

In fact, apart from the tweet above, Trump has tweeted some other 50 times to deny climate change. These tweets were collected by one particularly patient Reddit user here.

What’s the take away? If you’re preparing to interview for a new job, you might want to rethink posting and sharing pictures of yourself in a drunken stupor. It’s likely also a good idea to keep political rants to a minimum on social media. Make no mistake, recruiters (and co-workers) are looking at your social profiles, and unlike Trump, you won’t have the chance to deny you’ve posted something inappropriate.

Everything in moderation

The aforementioned Lester Holt had the unenviable job of trying to corral these two talking heads, and he has been criticized today for being “unfair” to Trump and for losing control of the debate. Based on that, you might think it best to steer clear of office arguments and disputes, but I’d argue that there is a lot to gain by being seen as the voice of reason and calm during a tense situation.

So, if you find yourself stuck between two shouting lunatics, calmly steer the discussion towards the major topic at hand, or change the subject altogether. This should remind them that they are at work, and that they are adults. Hopefully calmer heads will soon prevail. And if not, you can always encourage them to run for office.

 

See also:

How to defuse workplace beef
Make more money: how to negotiate for bigger salaries and raises
Is playing office politics really the key to getting ahead?
10 things you shouldn’t share on the job