Career Center Blog

February 18, 2013

Lesser-known job advice from former presidents


"The only thing we have to fear ..."

"Ask not ..."

The quotes are so popular and meaningful, we need only the first few words to conjure images of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy reading them in their inaugural addresses. On this Presidents' Day holiday, most of these old chestnuts are brought forth from the biggies, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and others who have their faces carved into mountains or stamped on legal tender.

But a deeper look inside the Presidential Vault of Forgotten Quotations (aka InfoPlease) reveals a few dimly remembered aphorisms and witty observations that can still resonate with the job seekers of today. As you pause in your job-search activities to remember the great deeds of America's leaders, here are some quotes from lesser-known one-termers and other not-quite-great former White House residents that may help you focus on your career goals.

John Adams, 1797-1801: "A pen is certainly an excellent instrument to fix a man's attention and to inflame his ambition."

Although "pens" have changed from the feather quills of Adams' day to keyboards and iPads, the sentiment is the same. If you want to get noticed, write about what you know. Share your expertise on your particular skills with the world through a blog, social media forums or your own website. Once you start making a dialogue with your peers, you will earn more respect and the recruiters and hiring managers will start contacting you, instead of vice versa.

Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841: "It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't."

A resume is supposed to be an advertisement for your abilities. Explain as clearly as possible what you did right in your previous jobs, and leave out any extraneous information that might distract the reader. Hiring managers want to hear about results, not general personality descriptions or empty praise. Just remember Marty V.B.: Be short and to the point.

John Tyler, 1841-1845: "Wealth can only be accumulated by the earnings of industry and the savings of frugality."

If you can't wow them with experience, money often does the trick. In interviews and on resumes, be sure to mention any instances where you saved your company money or you generated any substantial revenue. Be prepared to follow up with specifics about how you contributed to these savings and, more importantly, how that can be translated to the job you are seeking.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961: "I never saw a pessimistic general win a battle."

Do you really want the job? Then be like Ike and make it clear to the hiring manager by expressing your desire to be a part of the team. Often, out of nervousness or timidity, candidates will not convey their excitement about the new career opportunity. Enthusiasm and confidence, many recruiters say, will make a candidate stand out from the crowd.

Bill Clinton, 1993-2001: "If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you'll be a better person. It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you."

This is the basis of every tough interview question about your "greatest weakness." The hiring manager expects that you've faced many a crisis before and is concerned far less with the details than with the way you handled the pressure and overcame the challenges. Have a few happy-ending anecdotes at the ready before every interview. (I'm sure Bill has hundreds.)

Of course, there's also a lot to be said for knowing your true calling and listening to your heart instead of your intellect when looking for a job. The next time you feel unhappy with your career path, remember these immortal words from Richard M. Nixon: "I like the job I have, but if I had to live my life over again, I would like to have ended up a sports writer."

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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