Candor Versus Craft in the Hiring Process

So many workplaces require coworkers to put on masks when they punch the clock, but not Kinko’s. In the 1980s and early 1990s, as long as you brought something to the party, it was “come as you are.”

-from E Pluribus Kinko’s: A Story of Business, Democracy, and Freaky Smart People

I should have added, “but you had to bring something to the party.”

Recently, a friend asked me to proofread her resume. After doing so, I looked at her sternly and said, “This is 60% meaningless jargon, 30% exaggeration, and 10% outright lies.”

She shrugged. “It’s marketing.”

By the shrill whistle of steam erupting from my ears and the terrifying sight of my eyes popping out on stalks, she correctly perceived it was time to flee my office.

I feel better now, but vent I must: contrary to popular opinion, marketing is not the art of crafting effective lies. Marketing is the art of understanding markets and communicating purposefully. But she was right about one thing: a resume is marketing.

I sadly acknowledge that my friend understands her audience well – jargon, exaggeration and lies are what many employers expect – or demand, so she did what any good marketer should: she tried to exceed her audience’s expectations.

Maybe the problem lies not in our self-promoting stars, but in our self-protecting managers. Hiring is a risky endeavor and interviewing is a difficult art, so many employers become over-reliant on credentials and presentation. They don’t know how to hire well, so they need candidates that look and sound good. This shortchanges the company and the candidate.

As an employer, are you looking for credentials or credibility? Do you know the difference between hiring for the job description and hiring for the assignment? Before I start the recruitment process, I always review The Essential Drucker, a collection of Peter Drucker’s writings on management. The chapter on how to pick people offers a set of decision steps to ensure every new coworker is a proper fit for the work he or she must do.

Drucker describes the decision-making steps as he sees them, including:

1. Think through the assignment. The job description and the current assignment are not always the same thing. A sales manager who needs to build a new team and one who needs to develop a new territory with an experienced team have different assignments and require different strengths.

2. Look at a number of potentially qualified people. Here the emphasis is on the word “number” because out of quantity comes quality. Give yourself real choices. For an executive position, don’t be afraid to review two hundred résumés and interview ten to twenty people, some of them repeatedly. This due diligence saves a lot of time and heartache in the long run.

3. Think hard about how to look at the candidates. Having studied the assignment, focus on the candidates’ strengths as they relate to that assignment. Drucker notes that known weaknesses might disqualify a candidate, but “effective executives do not start out by looking at weaknesses. You cannot build performance on weaknesses. You can build only on strengths.” What a powerful insight!

4. Discuss each of the candidates with several people who have worked with him or her. The experience and opinions of others provide valuable insight about the candidate’s proven performance and abilities. This reminds me of the old joke about the difference between advertising and public relations (PR). If you tell a woman you’re a great lover, that’s advertising. If her girlfriends tell her you’re a great lover, that’s PR, and PR is much more believable than advertising. You’ll never meet a racehorse owner who says, “I think my horse is going to lose today.” Likewise, you’ll rarely interview a candidate who says, “I’m a forgetful, disorganized, micromanaging, mood-swinging tyrant with poor personal hygiene,” but if it’s true, you’ll hear it from his or her coworkers.

5. Make sure the appointee understands the job. Here Drucker points out that you must help someone in a new position distinguish between the past performance that got him or her the job and the future performance required to do the job well. Hiring may be the ultimate management skill, but coworker development is the ultimate management responsibility.

So many people are unhappy in their jobs. I wonder how often this is because they used craft rather than candor to get the position. The company hired the person from the resume, but got someone else completely. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

I also recommend The Essential Drucker to job hunters. I understand the pressure one feels when looking for a job, but if you have to put on a mask to get the job, you’d better be prepared to wear that mask for a long time.

Better to be yourself, and find the company that’s looking for you.

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