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Sep 3, 2013

Since 1921, every year the crown has been perched atop the head of a new Miss America. Despite the many changes in our society since the pageant started, gathering around the television to watch the Miss America pageant has remained a tradition.

If you think about it, the format of the pageant sounds familiar.

A lot of talented candidates all vying for the same position. The women with the best special talents move onto the next phase of the competition. There are a few interviews; sometimes the candidates get stumped on the answers. And finally a winner is crowned who best represents the Miss America brand.

This all sounds a lot like recruiting the right candidate for an important company position, doesn’t it?

Before you pop your popcorn and pick your favorite contestant for the September 15 competition, let’s look at a few valuable recruiting lessons you can learn from the Miss America pageant:

1. Look for the best talent

In the Miss America pageant, the talent portion of the evening gives the women an opportunity to show off more than their evening gowns and perfect smiles. Ladies take the stage and dance, twirl batons, sing, and even perform comedy routines. In the Sandra Bullock film Miss Congeniality, her FBI contestant character even teaches the audience some important self-defense maneuvers.

Unique talents matter in the Miss America contest, but they matter even more when it comes to recruiting the right candidate. During the hiring process, you need to be looking for someone who has all the concrete skills and abilities necessary for the position. This means asking probing questions about their skill level and looking at candidates who can present work portfolios or other examples of their value.

More than this, however, you’re looking for a candidate whose unique abilities will add something special to your company. This could be anything from a new skill set to innovative ways to approach old problems. The interview, whether in-person or through online video, is a great time to drill down into the specific skills of your candidate.

You might also want to consider looking at a candidate’s social media footprint before you sit down with a potential MVP employee. This can help you separate those with real talent and vision from those just tap dancing along with the pack.

Look at how candidates have used their social profiles, whether they’re contributing useful thought leadership and adding to industry discussions. This can help you separate those who can merely do the job from those who can bring unique value to your company.

2. Watch out for buzzwords

Just like when you’re hiring for an important position, in the Miss America pageant, the interview portion is essential. In fact, the interview portion of the competition accounts for 25 percent of the final judging score (plus the 5 percent for answering an on-stage question), which means it’s unlikely contestants who bomb the interview will wear the crown.

Obviously, the interview is a huge part of ensuring you hire the right candidate. The resume is important, and now 92 percent of recruiters are looking at a candidate’s social media footprint. The real sink or swim moment for great candidates, however, will always be the interview. Whether it’s an in-person meeting or a video interview, the way a candidate answers your questions can tell you a lot about their grace under pressure, personality, and ability to fit into your organization.

This is why you should watch out for candidates who are full of empty, impressive-sounding but ultimately meaningless buzzwords. Some candidates will work so hard to tell you what you want to hear, they actually won’t tell you anything at all. This was certainly true for the Miss Teen USA pageant, where poor Miss South Carolina delivered one of the most confusing interview answers ever. She included many buzzwords she thought would sound impressive, but ultimately the answer amounted to a bunch of gibberish.

While evaluating your candidates, make sure you’re not being hoodwinked by someone with an impressive vocabulary but no real knowledge of your industry, organization, or the position at hand.

3. Find the perfect fit

When it comes to choosing a winner for the Miss America pageant, the most important attribute a contestant can display is an overall fit with the Miss America brand. The pageant has a very strictly enforced brand identity, and some winners have had difficulties living up to the “Miss America” title.

Branding and fit are important when choosing the right candidate, especially since a bad hire can cost you $50,000 or more in employee turnover costs. Even the Miss America pageant sometimes gets it wrong and needs to fire the winning title-holder.

Consider 46 percent of new small business hires fail in the first 18 months — and in 89 percent of cases, this failure is attributed to poor company culture fit. Now it’s clear why it’s important to choose someone who will fit like a glove in your company culture.

When interviewing a top candidate, don’t focus exclusively on skills and past experience. Instead, see what kind of environment would be their ideal workplace. Maybe they’re looking for an organization which values teamwork or perhaps they’ve been searching for a company where they can work in a more independent fashion.

Company culture fit might just be the most key to success for any candidate you interview, so take the time to ensure this future employee will be excited to come into work every morning.

Whether crowning Miss America or a new star employee, the hiring process is extremely important. Focus on skills, listen thoughtfully, and seek out the best fitting candidates. You want an employee you’ll be proud of to represent your brand, just like Miss America needs the right person in the crown and sash.

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