I was reading this CNN/ORC Poll the other day describing the qualifications people want in the next U.S. president. Here are the most requested attributes:

  1. A seasoned leader
  2. Someone who doesn’t base his/her decisions on religious views
  3. Someone who has been in the public eye for a long period of time
  4. Someone who has had personal economic success
  5. A person who would change most of Obama’s policies

Since this post is not a political article but rather a piece about how to hire anyone for any important position, let me suggest that this type of hiring process is backwards. When hiring anyone for any job it’s far better to define the job as a series of measurable performance objectives before defining a person’s qualifications for the job. The objectives determine the qualifications required. More important, If the person has a track record of comparable past accomplishments, he/she will have all of the qualifications necessary.

With this commonsense idea in mind, here’s how to figure out the actual job for POTUS or any job for that matter.

The Outside/Inside Approach for Defining Any Job

Outside-In: First throw away any job description that defines the job as a list of skills, qualifications, experience requirements, personal traits, academics and industry background. Then, on a blank whiteboard, have everyone familiar with the actual job answer these questions:

  1. What will the person in this role do most of the time?
  2. What do the best people do differently? Use measurable outcomes for this part.
  3. What’s the most important things the person must do during the first year or two to be considered extremely successful?
  4. What are the primary things the person needs to achieve in the first 90 days, 6 months and 9 months that indicates the person is on track to achieve the major objectives.

Inside-Out: Take the skills-laden and qualification-based job description from wherever you threw it and for each important factor ask, “What does success using this requirement look like on the job?” Add any new performance objectives to the list.

Review all of the performance objectives, prioritize them and for each one clarify the task, highlight any big challenge, include a measurable outcome for success and the timeframe required to complete the task. To hire the right person, make sure the person has accomplished something comparable for the top 6-8 objectives. One way to do this is to have the candidate describe a past accomplishment that’s most comparable for each of the objectives. This process is called a Performance-based Interview.

The Inside/Outside Approach for Defining POTUS

Using the above technique here's what a small group of reasonable left and right voters came up with as a rough version of the performance-based job description for POTUS. Feel free to add or modify the objectives. Don’t complain about any political bias - the primary point of listing them is to use them as examples of how to prepare a performance-based job description.

  1. Improve Obamacare to increase adoption rates, reduce costs and improve efficiency.
  2. Fix the world order with a particular focus on the following:
    • The Middle East
    • Controlling terrorism
    • Reestablishing a positive relationship with Russia
    • Get all of the major world leaders onboard with all or most of the above
    • Measurable success: Have Fox and NBC somewhat agree on all of the above
  3. Improve our domestic economy, including:
    • Pass a budget in the first 12 months that’s balanced in 10 years and begins the process of closing the income inequality gap.
    • Improve U.S. competitiveness while increasing the labor force participation rate and shrinks the national skills gap.
  4. Make rapid progress on securing the homeland and overhauling our cyber security efforts.
  5. Get a majority of Americans to agree to what needs to be done about climate change even if they don’t agree with the cause. Then do something meaningful. (Maybe hire Jerry Brown to lead this effort regardless of your party affiliation.)
  6. Big subtask: Get Congress to work together. This in my mind is the big deal breaker because if the next POTUS can’t do this, none of the above will happen.

With this list you can now start the interviewing process. The best way to do this is to actually ask the candidates questions rather than letting them make speeches. Speech making is a surefire way to hire the best presenter, not the best performer. To understand the person’s ability to deliver the results needed, ask the candidates to describe something they’ve accomplished that’s most comparable for each of the performance objectives listed. Then hire the person who has done the most of them the most successfully.

If none of the candidates who have applied come close to having done something comparable, you’ll need to expand the candidate pool by targeting passive candidates rather than hiring the best person who applied. This is actually a great idea for hiring the next POTUS but not likely to happen any time soon. And while Performance-based Hiring might not work for hiring the next POTUS it will work for hiring everyone else.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired(Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. His new video programprovides job seekers inside secrets on what it takes to get a job in the hidden job market.