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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sometimes You Fit, Sometimes You Don't

I seem to have a slew of vacancies here at the moment and my life feels like I go from one interview to another. I'm always conscious that, as I fill out an interview assessment form, I potentially hold a person's career in my hands, or rather at my fingertips, as I choose the box into which to type an 'X', and decide which words to use to describe the applicant. We sometimes, but not often, apply a psychological testing tool to gain a further insight into what makes them tick. My preference is to talk and watch and listen to them. No checklist of words is going to tell me what they do in times of stress or when the unexpected occurs. I want them to give me examples of experiences and then I watch their eyes*.

Up and left is visually constructed.
Up and right is visually remembered.
Left is auditory constructed.
Right is auditory remembered.
Down and left is feelings/kinesthetic.
Down and right is internal dialogue.
Straight ahead is concentration, visually accessing a memory, or it can be a practised individual hiding any of the above.

*I'm a very much up and to the right person because I'm very visually oriented. I picture things in my mind to recall them. How about you?

While nothing is 100% accurate, I'm always watching for the up and left, or just left, and when I see that I'll pursue the line of questioning in more detail. Mostly, I'm a 'gut feel' interviewer and I've been right probably 95% of the time. The rest of the time I'm convinced they sent along their evil identical twin on day one of the job!

Interviewing is not something you feel like doing every day. It's really hard to push past a bad day at work and appear positive about where you work, as well as interested in someone who possibly is making it like getting blood from a stone. I have, more than once, just closed my notebook and asked him/her what it was about the job that really interests them. Unfortunately, more often than not it's the company they want to work for, rather than the job they want to have. It's a curious thing but it comes with the territory of being one of the world's best at what we do. They crave the association but not necessarily the job on offer.

Sometimes it's sad, how badly people want a job and regrettably the ones who want it the worst are usually the furthest away from our ideal candidate. Do I sometimes see people who I know won't fit the job specs? Yes, if I have time. I do that especially when I notice that it has been a good long while since their last interview. And I do it not because I think I have an opening for them, it's more a goodwill thing. Because if they haven't interviewed for a long time, chances are their skills are rusty. So I help them out, on occasion I've made recommendations on how to better present themselves in their CV. Or taught them a little about personal delivery, or how to more concisely respond to a question. I like to think this will make their next interview a better one, a more positive one. I look at this as 'giving back' in some small way.

I've also met some absolute wankers who tried to take over the interview, thinking I could be beaten down. Ha! That's not going to work with me. I like to give those ones all the rope they want and then patiently watch them hang themselves. The ones who won't stop talking amuse me. A lot of people would cut them off, refocus them, but I see it as an excellent opportunity to see them as they really are. What would be the point in squashing a big round ball into a tiny square box? Especially when we're not looking for a big round ball to fit our tiny square boxes?

I don't like the firing, I've written about it before. On Friday, though, I had to fire someone. I've tried with her, goodness knows I have. I've done the gentle cajoling, the understanding sympathy, the matter-of-fact job description and expectations, the do-it-or-else approach. The only thing that I got out of it was increased frustration. Nothing worked so she's now looking for employment elsewhere, but with a cushion of a month's pay in her pocket. Then of course she wanted a reference letter and while it's not in my nature to do anything to destroy her future prospects, I can't misrepresent my experiences with her. That was a very difficult one to write but I think I got around it by saying of her inflexibility "she works well in a structured environment" and of her inability to be a team player "she enjoys a supervisory role". I hope those that need to, can read between the lines.

HR work is tough, emotional, draining and can go very unappreciated. Often, we're a dumping ground for emotions that can't be expressed elsewhere. You have to take on a lot of those emotions. The hard parts need especially sensitive handling. I've seen them done badly and with a huge impact. One boss I had just started working with, proudly took me into a redundancy meeting with a long-serving member of staff to show me how it's done. He ripped her world apart and then told her that she should look upon this as a positive thing as this presented her with opportunities she didn't have if she stayed working for us. I was aghast. She was in shock. And this was him showing me how to do it! I spent almost two hours with her after that, just letting her come to grips with this huge change to her life and letting her express her feelings which ran the gamut from shock to anger, to fear and back to anger, to disbelief and then anger again. I think he was afraid of her emotions, he couldn't deal with them. But that's what she needed, not some arrogant prick telling her that this was a good thing.

There are definitely some days where I wish I assembled widgets for a living. But mostly, I love what I do, even the hard parts.


NWO said...

It seems to be the same the world over: I've also got a bunch of vacancies to fill, and I think that (1) structured interviews are restrictive, (2) my gut is sensitive to what I'm looking for/wanting to avoid, and (3) all those "assessments" that we are supposed to use are witchcraft, worthless money wasters. As for the firing, it's all about respect and dignity. Taking those away says more about the firer than the firee. You rock, Eyes!

Fiona said...

Why thank you NWO and welcome!

I agree, those psychometric 'tools' are so easy to beat. I could give three different results depending on what was wanted ;)

For me it's respect and dignity all the way and their last day is just as important as their first day.

I was humbled recently when someone celebrating their 10-year anniversary with us, in her speech as she accepted the award (though I'm no real fan of long service awards) told everyone that she decided to join the company despite some other offers, based on the interview she had with me!

Mind you, I used to be a lot more excited about this company. Politics have escalated but I refuse to play that game.

Fusion said...

I've been there too fiona, back when I was in management, hiring and firing a couple people. Always with mixed results.
Glad I have left the management world behind for good.

Fiona said...

I have to admit that being 'management' often makes me feel weary these days and honestly, it doesn't pay nearly as well as people think if you divide the 'high' income by hours worked and there's no such thing as overtime!!

Trueself said...

I must be the odd duck, but I loved being in management. I loved, for the most part, the hiring process. Interviews are definitely a process requiring gut instinct and also knowing what it takes for a person to be successful in a particular position. I developed my own "accounting nerd" questions for interviewing that nobody outside the department could understand me asking, but they were the ones that always told me what I needed to know about the candidate. I rarely fouled up, but as you say, occasionally they apparently send the good twin to the interview and the evil twin to the job.

Fiona said...

TS don't you just love those evil identical twins ;)

I think I would get a kick out of employing only those within my department, it's the strain of trying to come to an understanding of IT or engineering terms, to understand how all those jobs fit together in order to understand each individual's responsibilities, and to know enough to ask 'intelligent' questions of an applicant.

And job descriptions....eeeks don't get me started on those!! *L* I work in an organisation where managers feign ignorance at how to write them, so they all end up on my desk.

D said...

My interviews change depending on what criteria the team needs at that moment in it's life cycle. Sometimes I need a Steady Eddy others a Go Get Em Georgina and others a Well Rounded Ralf. It often frustrates me when I have to deal with other teams that have obviously been built as clones of their supposed strongest member/leader. Thankfully I've only ever had one evil twin turn up and they were quite amusing to deal with at least for a while.

Fiona said...

D - absolutely! The idiocy of hiring or promoting in your own image only foolishly replicates the same strengths which you don't need and just as foolishly replicates the same weaknesses, which you sure as hell don't need *L*


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