To long-time readers and those who bother to check the archives, yes - this piece has been posted before. But in light of the current economy, the surprisingly brutal recent layoffs/forced resignations of a half-dozen friends, and the number of new readers unfamiliar with older material, I thought this essay would be particularly pertinent to share. Oh, that and the fact that I'm a comment-whore who's too lazy to write anything new this evening. Ha ha ha. -PJ
here are few things in life as aggravating as a job interview – both as an applicant and as an employer. Having been on both sides of that transaction, I’ve come to understand why everyone loathes the process so much. From the applicant's perspective, everybody despises the the experience of being checked out as if you're racehorse at an auction, sizing you up to determine if you are worthy of their attention. Employers, on the other hand, must face an exhausting parade of blowhards, prima donnas, poseurs, and obsequious ass-kissers to cull candidates with the skills and motivation to handle the tasks you are hiring for, as well as the ability to get along with your existing team.
|Naïve and unsophisticated job hunters have a charity-seeking attitude, rattling their tin cups at the employer in hopes that he will be clothed and fed with the organization’s resources. But unless his family owns the company and the job he is applying for is “Vice-President in Charge of Waiting for Dad to Die,” that attitude won’t take the applicant very far.|
Some people, having never been on the other side of the desk, may be surprised that employers dread interviews too. Upon closer examination of the employer-applicant dynamic, however, it makes a lot of sense. The fundamental problem of the job-interview exchange is that the two parties have highly divergent objectives. The employer is hiring for only one reason: to solve a problem. The problem can be straightforward, like handling inbound telephone calls. The problem can be complex, like lead-managing a software team to implement and debug a massive relational database management system two weeks before the company launches its e-commerce website. Either way, the interview process must transform a stack of resumes into a short list of capable, motivated professionals – and do so in a timely and efficient manner.
This is a difficult task – since there are two kinds of errors that must be avoided.
Type 1 Error: Hiring the wrong candidate This is the obvious one – within weeks of his start date, you discover that the new guy is either incompetent, lazy or just an obnoxious jerk. Your team is unhappy, and the issue the new employee was originally hired to handle remains unsolved – except now you have a guy on your payroll drawing out cash and benefits every day while you try to decide what to do with him.
Type 2 Error: Failing to hire a good candidate This is a less obvious mistake, but its consequences are just as undesirable as those of Type 1. Failure to hire good professionals reflects serious weaknesses in your recruiting process, and its fundamental mission of identifying and attracting talent. More importantly, the competent and skilled applicants you fail to hire may (particularly if your industry is small) end up working for a direct competitor, and use the knowledge about your organization acquired during the interviews to better position his new employer against you. The most dangerous aspect of Type 2 Errors is that they are largely invisible. Since top-flight professionals you fail to hire are working elsewhere and out of sight, most hiring managers have no idea how many Type 2 errors they commit.
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Since Type 1 Errors are far more visible to both the hiring mangers’ peers and supervisors (‘so YOU’RE the one who hired that incompetent jackass?’), employers are understandably risk-averse. A formal offer of employment transfers power from the employer to the candidate (who now has the power to accept or decline). Thus, from an employer’s perspective, the ideal situation would be to send out exactly the number of offers as there are qualified candidates/vacancies, and have them all accepted. This, of course, is rarely the case – and given the fact that hiring managers have a heavy bias against committing Type 1 errors, growing companies are almost always understaffed by at least a few professionals in every department.
The applicant has an entirely different set of objectives. Naïve and unsophisticated job hunters have a charity-seeking attitude, rattling their tin cups at the employer in hopes that he will be clothed and fed with the organization’s resources. But unless his family owns the company and the job he is applying for is “Vice-President in Charge of Waiting for Dad to Die,” that attitude won’t take the applicant very far.
Successful job seekers understand that companies hire for only one reason: to solve a problem. Consequently, they position their skills and knowledge in the best possible light to demonstrate the problem-solving value they can bring to an organization. They know that they must get 'yes' responses to the two most important questions in the interview: Can you do the job? Can you get along with my people? Ultimately, an employer really doesn't care whether your "interests" section contains worthwhile hobbies or if you graduated with an real 3.6 GPA rather than a 3.55, which you rounded.
But whether he is currently employed and simply seeking better opportunities or out-of-work and in need of an income, it is to his advantage to accumulate as many offers as he can before making a commitment. An offer can always be rejected by the applicant, and raising the total number of possible choices increases the probability that he will find a position perfectly calibrated to his idiosyncratic talents and temperament. Even offers from firms the applicant would never want to work for represent some value, as they represent live “bids” for his talent that can potentially be used to negotiate a higher compensation package from his ultimate employer.
Holding a formal offers also make it much easier to inquire about the company culture, work environment and other issues and get relatively straightforward answers – since you are no longer the lowly applicant who might be playing the ask-the-right-questions-to-impress-the-b
So thus, we come to the quintessential impasse:
The employer wants to send out the fewest number of offers needed to solve the company’s personnel shortfall, and get back to the business of earning profits.
The applicant wants to maximize the number of offers he receives, so he can pick and choose the organization that plays best to his strengths and/or offers the most generous compensation package.
But until a candidate becomes an employee, there is inevitably an adversarial aspect to their relationship. So who prevails? As is the case in all negotiation scenarios, the side with the superior information, better sense of timing and greater cunning.
The resume is in the mail. Let the games begin.
The clock is ticking, and as of right now - we are keeping score.
Michael "Jester" Ironside, Top Gun