11/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If We Could "Elect" the President of the Company We Work for... Who'd Get Your Vote?

Does anybody really think it takes a lot of qualifications to be president... or even vice president, for that matter, of anything?

Let's be honest. How many times have we each questioned why the new president of our company got his or her job, not to mention some VPs we report to?

For many years as a headhunter, I went through vigorous psychological and intellectual testing of candidates, matched requirements perfectly to clients' job descriptions, and found "thoroughbred" candidates with Ivy League credentials and advanced degrees.

Nine times out of ten, that never mattered. My clients hired the candidate they liked the best, be it his or her image or the "chemistry" that the hiring board had with the candidate. Think about it. Haven't you thought more than once that the VP of Sales or VP of whatever doesn't really know what he or she is doing or doesn't have the experience in the industry to have that job?

A lot of these jobs, including the President of the United States, tend to be on autopilot. I was reminded of this the other day when watching the movie Airport 1975 with Charlton Heston and Karen Black (remember her)? Here's a stewardess of a huge 747 jumbo jet flying and then landing the plane that was mostly on "autopilot," just like the company you may be working for or the government we're all living under. (Now remember, this was 1975, so Karen Black was ultimately not allowed to land the plane by herself. A man -- Charlton Heston -- had to be dumped on board to do the actual landing.)

So back to my theory. Aren't most of the companies we work for on autopilot today? I'm amazed and amused by how we're excruciatingly overthinking the qualifications of, in one case, the candidacy of Barack Obama for president, and in the other case, the qualifications of Sarah Palin for VP. (Wow, now that I think about it, Sarah Palin looks a tad bit like Karen Black did in "Airport 1975," minus the glasses.)

In recent history, we've had presidents of our country who have been haberdashers and peanut farmers. Some, allegedly, are suspected of having Alzheimer's while in office, while others have been philanderers. Most recently, we have a president whom -- with an Ivy League undergrad degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard -- a corporate board would scoop up in a second.

So what's my point? It's not always qualifications or credentials that get us the job, just as it's not always qualifications and credentials that allow us to keep -- or bulletproof -- our jobs. The New York City comptroller's office recently said that we may lose close to 200,000 jobs in the city, where I'm from. The same is happening all across the country... and the world.

Yet it's possible for you to keep your job and let someone else be a statistic. Don't be smug or arrogant and think that it's qualifications or merit alone that will keep your job during a recession. It's the personal relationship you have with your boss, just like the personal relationship that our presidential candidates today have developed through television with the voters that will get them elected.

As I say in my book Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), work is not a democracy. Too bad, huh?

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and can be reached at His website is