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Getting a job *should* be hard.

By UncategorizedNo Comments

Today I gave a reference for a long time colleague and friend, most of the time the questions people ask when checking CV references are barely more sincere than the standard 4 questions real-estate agents ask when checking potential tenants. It’s a fait accompli.

A real employment exam: this 1964 photo shows a NASA scientist testing astronaut John Glenn’s inner ear balance mechanism by running cool water into his ear and measuring the effect on Glenn’s eye motions.

This time was different, it took 20+ min and they asked deep probing questions. We quickly got beyond the basics of establishing my colleague was capable and moved into questions about the best environment, growth areas and how to get the best out of this person. These guys really cared about getting the right person, but also that the job was right for them as well. They also wanted to know how to make it the best possible engagement for everyone. For them hiring was a long and through process which required a significant commitment from everyone involved, myself included.

When you audition to join the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, widely regarded as one of the very best in the world you play the equivalent of a full recital in front of the entire orchestra. It’s very very hard to get in, but when you do, everyone knows how hard it was and knows you’ve earned your place. After all, they were part of the group that picked.

If you’re hiring staff, be ruthless – it should be hard to get in. Stop and think about how much time you spend with an individual making a decision which has consequences (good or bad) which both you and your potential employee will live with for many years to come. Is a 45 min interview with someone from HR and one manager really enough ?

I often hear discussions of how arduous the hiring process at some companies is, and how it turns people off from applying. Google is (in)famous for it’s complicated and exhaustive hiring process. Turning people away because the process might be hard is a good thing. As a potential employee if you’re not prepared to invest a few hours, maybe even a few days in finding out if a job is right for you, are you really excited enough about working for the company ? Wouldn’t you rather know that everyone who you might be working with has had to step up and deliver against the same set of challenges, interview and interrogations.

Getting a job should be hard.

Never employ someone who left their last job because they stopped learning

By PeopleNo Comments

Imagine a typical job interview situation. Bright young thing (BYT) in the chair opposite you (as the hiring manager) with a resume to die for, 2 open source hackapps in the local market, they’ve survived the pair programming test with your wiliest developer, and you’re secretly very happy with the skills and experience you are about to steal from a rival in a limited pool of technical talent.

So you pop one final question: “tell us why you are thinking of leaving your current employer?”

If they shoot back “well, I’ve really stopped learning there”, the interview is over. Do not hire that person.

Now in the current over-cooked Australian market for tech and product talent, you’d say I was crazy and irresponsible to offer that advice. Let me offer my defense.

People leave their education and take the skills they have gained to their first employer. The mixture of their personal traits (intelligence, customer focus, self-motivation etc), skills gained from academia, and background enable them to slowly master the work at hand with plenty of guidance. Soon enough though, the job gets stressful, repetitive, and money becomes an issue. So they jump. First job syndrome.

At job number 2, the workplace is different. Nobody knows precisely what our new hire doesn’t actually know, and with the likely change in corporate culture, along with expanded duties and responsibilities (to justify that pay rise) they will likely get along meeting expectations on the skills they brought with them. They will spend a lot of energy just fitting in with the new people, and may well apply their limited skills to the new tasks and environment and think they are learning new stuff. But they get tired, are a bit too busy with their social life to read much, and the work starts to feel a bit repetitive.

Soon enough, maybe a year later, maybe two, they jump ship to you for more money and ‘opportunity’ (or whatever you put in that job advert ;-). And they give you the dreaded line “I stopped learning there”, making them sound ambitious and intelligent all in one go.

Now, when did they actually stop learning stuff? Last week? Last job? The one before that? Or at University? For me, ‘I stopped learning’ is a lame-ass excuse and a mealy-mouthed  defense to a recruiter. Learning starts with the individual, it is their own responsibility. In this world, it is almost impossible to stop learning give universal access to information. It is cheaper than ever through e-books, blogs, tweets, and ahem web pirates. And if they’re from an agile employer, something is badly wrong – they should be learning every time they have a retro or pair program.

Past behaviour  is definitely the best predictor of future behaviour.

I suggest a follow-up question, which gets to the heart of the problem in a tight labour market might be ‘what have you read lately that helped you in your job?’ or ‘what have you found interesting on the web lately in your field?’

No good answer, no hire.  Nerf them on the spot.

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