Barack Obama took a lot of flack for that comment in 2008. On the one hand, he was marketing to his supporters and he struck a chord. At the same time, he managed to alienate a significant part of the electorate. Obama was on the right side of history, but when Hillary came out with her basket of deplorables quote, it hurt her in a significant way.
Both of these statements show the risk of talking about people’s values. Get it right, and you will resonate. Get it wrong and you risk alienating your target audience.
So it goes without saying that religion and politics are topics of conversation to avoid with relative strangers. In our heavily polarized political climate, this is particularly true. If you are out on a job interview, the last thing you want to do is get a potential employer angry by sharing a political perspective that is not shared by the person across the table. Even in liberal Massachusetts, where I can find lots of professionals who are aghast that Trump won the election, you’d be surprised at the range of views that you can find here.
But hidden behind the conventional wisdom of steering clear of these topics is another truth: shared religious or political beliefs can form the basis of very strong relationships.
It’s been a long time since I have felt motivated to act politically. That changed with this election cycle. What I discovered, largely through Facebook, is that there are a lot of people in my community who share my strong political beliefs. This has strengthened my relationships with a lot of people and made me feel a lot more connected.
I still try to be careful about making assumptions when marketing to people I do not know and I certainly advise my candidates to stay away from the election when out on interviews.
However, if you see an opening to talk about something political (i.e. if you are given clear evidence that a potential employer shares your political beliefs) then this can actually help you connect.
Its a somewhat risky strategy and you should still make sure that you don’t “go first” in raising anything controversial. But a good interview is more about how well you connect with the interviewer rather than how you actually answer the questions that you are asked. All things being equal, most people like to hire candidates they like and who seem interested in the company.
So tread lightly when it comes to religion and politics. But if you see the chance to agree with your interviewer, it is okay to share your views. Do so in a respectful way and you may find that the connection you make helps pave the way for a job offer!