What Job Seekers Can Learn from LBJ

President Johnson was crude, rude and lewd. He was probably also a pathological liar who may only have been bested by the Clintons. And, as they say, “if it was not for” the Vietnam War, he would have gone down in history as one of our greatest presidents. (As would Nixon if not for Watergate. Polk if not for Mexico?) But he was highly intelligent and a legislator without equal. That is why his unofficial biographer, Robert Caro, titled one of his books, “Master of the Senate.” He was and, despite his many flaws, we can learn a great deal from him.

(As you have no doubt guessed, this article is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography. References are to the ebook edition.)

Dr. Goodwin writes, “The judgments of history are neither immediately rendered nor are they set in stone.” Contemporaneous accounts of presidents, predictions of their ultimate place in history, are almost always wrong. The most recent example was probably President Ford. At the time, he was roundly vilified for having pardoned President Nixon. But today, many experts on leadership cite him as an example of just that, leadership, and for that very decision.

The point for job seekers is that you do get a second chance to make a good first impression. Many a time I have disliked a candidate when we first met. A weak handshake, a button undone, perhaps an unfortunate initial comment/attempt at humor. But as I began to interview them, I changed my minded. My initial reaction was wrong. First impressions are not “rendered in stone.” That does not mean that you should not make every effort to make a great first impression, just that if you think you failed there is always a chance to recover. For that matter, as some of my career counseling clients, and a few candidates, have learned, a poor interview can be saved by a great thank-you letter. There is always a chance for a second chance.

Of course, there are times…

Quoting Arthur Schlesinger, Goodwin recalls: “Once an American diplomat met him [Johnson] at the Rome airport and on the way into the city methodically instructed him, as if he were some sort of uncouth backwoodsman, on how to behave. Johnson listened to this singular performance with unaccustomed patience. When they arrived at the hotel, the diplomat said, Mr. Vice President, is there anything else I can do for you? The Vice-President, looking stonily up and down at his model of diplomatic propriety, replied, Yes, just one thing. Zip up your fly.” (Loc. 7970-7912)

LBJ wrote in his college paper, “The very first thing one should do is to train the mind to concentrate upon the essentials and discard the frivolous and unimportant. This will ensure real accomplishment and ultimate success.” Great advice for job seekers. Don’t let your concerns about what you perceive to have been a poor start to an interview result in a poor interview. First, you might be wrong. Second, in the interview, if you have the answers, and, at least as far as I am concerned, more importantly, the questions, you can turn it around.

It is true that a job search is a numbers game. But it is not simply luck. Once recalling LBJ’s childhood hero and then Sputnik, Goodwin notes, “Just as the young college editor told his fellow students that Lindbergh’s success was due not to luck but to pluck, so now the Majority Leader told his fellow Americans that the Soviet success was due not to magic or superior resources but to determination—a determination we could match and surpass. ‘Our people are slow to start,’ Johnson later said in analyzing why America had originally lagged in the space effort, “but once they start they are hard to stop.’ ” (Loc. 2604-2608). Pluck, patience, perseverance and persistence usually win the day!

Finally, one problem a great many job seekers face is constantly reevaluating their decisions. “What if I had just…?” or “What if I hadn’t..?” are very popular questions. And very foolish questions! LBJ respected President Truman (so much so, in fact, that he took Washington to Independence, Missouri so that the former president could witness the signing of the Medicare Act which he, Truman, had tried so hard to get passed!) especially when it came to doubting his decisions. Goodwin recalls that LBJ once told her, “You know the great thing about Truman, is that once he makes up his mind about something—anything, including the A bomb—he never looks back and asks, ‘Should I have done it?’ ” (Loc. 6489-6491)

Don’t overthink or dwell on the past. Someone must have said, “God put our eyes in front so we would look ahead, not backwards.” And whoever said it, was right!

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Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS