Job Search Trap: I Can Network Only By Computer

I gave a talk at a networking group recently about Manage Your Job Search. When the members checked in at the beginning they gave themselves points for their activity the week before. They only got one point for applying for a job. They got 15 points for going on an informational interview, and 15 points for networking at an event.

I loved it. When they went out to meet people, they got more points. Meeting people, in person, is key to a successful job search. Why? It’s all about the loose connection.

Loose connections is how you will find people to introduce you to people who will help you meet people on your target list. Loose connections will say, “Oh, I heard about that developer job (or tester job or project manager job or engineering job or whatever job) in that company last week. Here is the name I know.”

You can search job boards. It’s difficult, time-demanding, and the job descriptions are shopping lists/laundry lists of jargon, ridiculous numbers of years of technical skills, and something masquerading as cultural fit. What passes for job descriptions these days is a horror show. The descriptions are written for the ATS, not for the people.

If you’re looking for a job, go meet people. I know this might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, if you are a technical person. Even if you are extroverted, walking into a group of people where you don’t know anyone? Oh boy. Not the way you want to spend an evening, is it?

I have many tips about networking for shy people in Manage Your Job Search. Here are three:

  1. Find someone to go to a meeting with. That way you have a familiar face as a backup.
  2. Decide to meet just two or three people. You do not have to meet everyone in the room. If you have an in-depth conversation with those two or three people, that might be enough. You can always meet more people. Start small.
  3. If this is a dinner meeting, sit with people you don’t know. If you are with your friend, sit at opposite sides of the table. At a table of eight, space yourselves four apart. That way, you each get to talk to a different two or three people.

If it’s not a dinner meeting, talk to someone for 5-10 minutes—enough to get to know enough about them. If the conversation lags, you can say, “Thank you, I’ll refresh my soda now.” You can get more club soda or whatever. What, you thought you would drink an alcoholic drink while you were looking for a job? Start with a clear head. At the end of the evening, feel free to indulge. This way, you always have a way to end the conversation. Because what goes in must go out, too.

Don’t sit behind your computer and network that way. Go out and meet people. Your job search will be more productive and faster because of it.

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Are You Hiring for Helpfulness?

I was reading IDEO’s Culture of Helping. Especially if you are hiring for an agile team, you want to hire for helpfulness.

Do You Have a Helpful Culture?

Notice, that it’s not about expertise or competence. The most helpful people are people who were trustworthy and accessible. When you hire for the cultural fit of helpfulness, you have to make sure you have a culture that allows for helping.

Do you allow for slack in your projects so people have a chance to help others? That give people a chance to be accessible.

The other part is trustworthiness. Do you have a culture of learning, not blame around defects and technical debt, so people say, “Oooh,” when they discover something that maybe they should not have done? Or, do they say, “Oh, crap, here comes the boom”?

How You Can Hire for Helpfulness

Okay, here’s how you can detect how a candidate might be helpful to your organization. Here are some behavior-description questions:

  • Give me an example of a time someone asked you for help on your most recent project. What happened? (This is the obvious question.)
  • Have you seen people “drowning” on your most recent project? What did you do? (This is the problem of inflicting help.)
  • Have you been in a position where people asked you for help, you wanted to provide it, but you felt uneasy about providing it? (wait for a yes) Tell me about that.

These are not the only three questions. They are a start.

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Hiring Trap: I’ll Wait for the Best Person

A senior product manager had a great interview the other day.

“I know the industry. I worked on the first generation of their product. I know their customers. I could do this job. I understand their problems. I showed them how I’d solved their problems in the past. I can do this again.

“It’s a little junior for me, but I don’t want a go-get-‘em job. I’m at the point in my life where I want to take a little time for me. The kids area done with college. I want to take a little extra vacation time so I can spend more time on my hobbies and travel. That makes my salary competitive. I’m not ready to retire. I still want to challenge myself. But I don’t need to work like crazy either. This would be a great job.

“The people there said, ‘You’re like family.’ I’m the best candidate for the job. Why are they even interviewing the third candidate?”

Good question.

When the economy is down or improving, hiring managers think they have a glut of candidates. They think they can take their time and hire slowly. They think they can wait for the best person.

This is a hiring trap.

What they do is postpone their pain, and allow terrific candidates, the best people to slip through their fingers. Do they think this product manager is going to wait for them to make up their minds? No. This guy is going to have offers, and fast.

He’s capable. He’s competitive. He knows how to solve the problems this and other companies need solved. And, just because this company can’t make up it’s mind quickly doesn’t mean other companies won’t.

We don’t really have a war for talent. We never did. But, you, the hiring manager are in a competition for the best people. The best people for you, are only an offer away. Do you really need to interview a slew of people to know who is best?

If you start describing someone as “family,” maybe you can stop looking. Just a thought.

If you think you need to keep looking, what are you looking for? Why drive the cost of a hire up?

Don’t fall into the trap of waiting for the best person. Hire a great person. Now.

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Job Search Trap: I Can Narrow My Job Search Fast

When I speak to job hunters, they often think they can get a job doing what they studied, or what they have done, or they way they have always searched.

“But the last three times I looked, I looked exactly this way.”

“This is what I studied in school. I should be able to find a job.”

“I’ve been doing this for years. Why can’t I find a job doing this now?”

You used to look for a job that way. You studied that, yes. You did work that way, yes. You are correct. However, the world has changed. The world is not going to adapt to you. You need to adapt your job search. What do you do?

You need data.

If you are doing retrospectives as I suggest in Manage Your Job Search, and measuring the number of phone screens and interviews, you should have some data. Are you happy with the number of phone screens and interviews? If you are, okay. Maybe you don’t have to worry.

If you are not happy with the number of phone screens and interviews, you need to change something. Consider expanding your target network in some dimension.

If you were in the financial services domain in 2008, you were in a similar position. Remember 2008? We were in the not-recession? (Ahem. We were.) Technical people could still get jobs, but not in the financial services domain. Because of the banking problems, technical people had a real problem finding jobs. It didn’t matter how good they were. That was not the issue. The problem was the domain. If you restricted yourself to financial services, you were out of luck (for the most part).

What can you do?

  1. Change your geographical location. Sometimes, if you change where you live, you have better results. That only works for some people. Some people have spouses with jobs and kids in school. Changing location is not a very good option.
  2. Change how you network. That addresses the “I always looked this way” problem.
  3. Consider modifying the jobs you’re considering. This addresses the “I’ve been doing this for years” and the “I studied this in school” problems.

If you have Manage Your Job Search, do a career timeline. That will help you determine what you valued about your job. If not, make a list of the parts of your job that you like. What about the domain that you have been in was the challenge that you enjoyed? Make a list.

Armed with that list, or your list of values, now, you can ask yourself this question:

What is close to that job, but employers value now?

You need to look for what I think of as tangential jobs. Close to what you had, but a little different.

If you used to work in banking, maybe it was the high-transaction, performance work that you liked. Well, Big Data might be for you. Maybe security is right. Maybe it was the regulatory work that appealed to you. You might want to move into pharma. Do you see how you can take something from your previous work, and transition to new work? These are examples. You will have to think, peruse the open jobs and see what employers want.

This allows you to stay in your geography (maybe), but revamp your resume, update your networking, and modify the way you consider your work. It’s difficult. It requires introspection. Then, you have to change your target network list. You might have to change all of your networking.

If you feel as if you’re back at the beginning, don’t worry. You have your personal kanban to keep you on track, and your retrospectives to help you see where you’re going.

Your data, how many phone screens you have and how many interviews you have weekly, can help you understand what you need to do.

It’s scary, looking for a job. But it’s scarier to be unemployed. Take control of your job search. Manage your job search. Don’t let yourself be boxed in by your past.

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How to Hire for Cultural Fit Without Becoming Insular and Mediocre

Have you read The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture? If not, it talks about hiring processes where companies

  • Hire people “just like us”
  • Where candidates can’t tell they are on interviews
  • Where, if you wear a suit, you might be disqualified, because, hey, we don’t wear suits here. No, it doesn’t count that you are the one interviewing

There’s more, but this is all done in the name of “meritocracy” and “cultural fit.”

You can call it cultural fit, but it’s not. It’s lazy interviewing. It’s bias against anyone who doesn’t look like us, sound like us, or is us, whomever us is. It creates an insular culture.

It’s a shame, because for any challenging product and knowledge work, you need diverse teams and diverse ideas to work together, to collaborate to create a great product. I’ve said it, in Great People Create Great Products. Anita Wooley says you need women in Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women. If you read Diversity and Innovativeness in New Product Development Teams:

Diversity can be a resource that helps to strengthen the innovativeness of a NPD team.
On the other hand , diversity can act as a risk
that leads to diminished team cohesiveness and thus obstructs innovativeness.

I didn’t say it was easy.

Here’s the problem: if you are creating a product for the marketplace, where the people don’t all look like you, you need to understand your market. You need to understand how those people think, how they use the product, and what they might want to buy.

If you only hire people who look just like you, act just like you, are mini-me’s, you don’t know anything about your potential market. You cannot empathize with your customers. You have created an insular culture. You are on your way to mediocrity.

Why do I say mediocrity? Because you have no way to get new ideas. You have the same kinds of people, who have the same experiences, who dress the same way, who think the same way, who act the same way. You have group-think. You might be great now. Someone else will eclipse you, because they have better ideas. They have more diverse ideas. Where do you think those ideas come from?

What do you do?

  1. Take a reflective look at your current culture. What does the organization reward? How do people treat each other? What can people discuss? That’s your culture. Are you aware of your culture?
  2. Are you using the term “cultural fit” as a catch-all to prevent people who don’t look or act just like you from joining your team? If you have not done a job analysis, you might be.
  3. Expand the pool of candidates. Instead of looking in the places you’ve always looked, look outside that normal pool. Recruit/source differently.
  4. Stop looking for technical skills first. Look for adaptability, for perseverance, for the ability to collaborate. Yes, those skills are more difficult to discover on a resume. You have to phone-screen differently. Candidates have to write resumes differently. You might not be able to use your ATS the same way. And, yes, the technical skills are still important. But they are not what make your teams great.

Think about the most successful people and your most successful teams now. What differentiates them from the less successful people? I bet it’s qualities such as these:

You do want to hire for culture. You do not want to create an insular culture, a mono-culture. Because you will not create products your customers need. You will become mediocre.

Read Hiring Geeks That Fit to understand what to do. Hiring is your most important job. You can do it fast and do it right.

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Would You Like a Manage Your Job Search Open Jam Session?

I will be at Agile 2014 next week. So will about 1800 other people.

MYJS_border.150I bet some of you are looking for new jobs. Would you like an Open Jam session about looking for a new job? I can conduct a timeboxed, up to one-hour session about Manage Your Job Search. If you only want the networking tips, I can do that. Only the job search tips and traps? I can do that.

The first step is this: let me know if you want an open jam session. If so, we’ll find time that we are all free.

Remember, a conference is a rich place for target networking.

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Great Series on Hiring Testers

Do you read Rob Lambert’s Social Tester? He’s been blogging about his experiences finding candidates.

Some of my favorites:

Certifications are Creating Lazy Hiring Managers

Here is a quote from that post:

You cannot presume someone with a certification is a talented tester.

You also cannot presume someone with no certification is a rubbish tester.

I had missed his review of Hiring Geeks That Fit. Here is his review: Geeks Hiring Geeks.

Things he likes:

  • The way the book looks at recruiting
  • The templates
  • The stories

He also recommends the book for job seekers. Thanks, Rob!

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Interviews and Auditions, Part 4

See Three Tips to Streamline Your Hiring, Part 1, Three Tips to Streamline Your Recruiting, Part 2, and Three Tips to Streamline Your Phone Screens, Part 3 to see our story to here.

When my client talked about his interviews for developers, he said, “I interview people on the phone and then ask the candidate to talk to one person. We ask them to write some code that we think is representative of our problem. We don’t care what language they use. They could use psuedo code. But we want them to talk us through what they did.”

Okay, the audition part made sense to me. But talk to just one person? How do you understand what the candidate can do? Remember, this client is having problems finding people who are technically capable. Talking to just one person is not enough. Even their pre-interview test (which I don’t like) is not helping.

We discussed alternatives. I asked him if he was using an interview matrix. Uh oh, no, he was not. But, he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I agreed with him.

He could put the audition first. But, if the audition wasn’t working, he had to change the audition. Or, he had to change the questions he was asking. What kinds of questions was he asking?

He looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean? What kinds of questions do I ask?”

“Sure. Tell me a typical question you ask.”

“Uh, I don’t have them memorized.”

I smiled. “Okay, I suspect they are not behavior-description questions. I suspect they are hypothetical questions or leading questions. Those questions allow candidates to wiggle in their answers. Behavior-description questions ground a candidate in reality. They provide you a real answer about a real project or a real situation.”

You should have seen his face. Priceless. I gave him some examples:

  • Tell me about a time you had to refactor code in your most recent project. What did you do? (Not everyone thinks of refactoring as something that takes a few hours. Some people think of refactoring as an excuse to rearchitect entire sections of the code base. Some people don’t write tests first, or at all.
  • Tell me about a time you encountered a problem on your most recent project. What was it? (Notice how this is very open. I’m not asking about a technical problem or a people problem. Let the candidate tell you what kind of a problem he or she encountered and what happened. Remember, software is a team sport.)
  • Tell me about a recent problem you solved that you are proud of.

I have more examples of behavior-description questions in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

Then we spoke about his audition. It was not working for him. The audition was not assessing the behaviors he needed to assess and it was too long. Candidates were spending a long time (an hour) for not enough return.

I pointed him to the resources here in this blog, and in Hiring Geeks That Fit. Do a search of the tag audition here. Look for articles on my main site with the audition tag, too.

The tips:

  1. Don’t think you can assess a candidate with just one person. Use at least three people. I like four people for a first-round. Organize these people with an interview matrix.
  2. Think about the behaviors you want in an audition. Then, design your audition. I have articles about auditions. You can also search on the audition tag for this blog.
  3. Think about the behavior-description questions you want to use in advance of an interview. Unless you are a practiced interviewer, you might not be able to think of questions on the spur of the moment. You want a number of questions on the tip of your tongue.

By this time, he was full of ideas. We called it a day.

I had transformed his idea of what hiring could be. Stay tuned for Part 5, where I’ll summarize everything and provide you a few more tips.

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Phone Screens, Part 3

I talked about streamlining your problem statement and your job analysis in Part 1. In Part 2, I talked about streamlining your recruiting. This part is about is about phone screens. Love them or hate them, you have to do them. But how?

My client first spent about 10 minutes talking about the company and the position before he asked any questions. I asked him why.

“I want to sell people on the company.”

“That’s very nice of you. Why do you want to sell people before you know if they are right for you?”

“Oh, from your question, maybe I don’t?”

“Well, I don’t see why you would spend any  more time on a phone screen than you need to. Think about it. You spend 10 minutes building people’s hopes up. Then you ask a couple of questions and dash their hopes. Why not ask questions first, decide if you want them for an interview, and then “sell” them on the company if you need to? You might not even need to sell them on the company. Maybe your questions will sell them.”

“Oh…”

I could see his wheels turning… (If you read Hiring Geeks That Fit, I spend an entire chapter on how to structure and ask questions in phone screens. Would I leave you hanging? No!)

Here are the tips:

  1. In your job analysis, you have differentiate what’s essential from what’s merely desirable. Take two or three essentials and ask about those in the phone screen. Those are your elimination questions. Ask about the elimination questions first. If the candidate can’t answer those questions to your content, stop the phone screen right then and there.
  2. Money was a constraint for my client, so we decided to ask about it. He decided to ask at the end of the phone screen, and ask this way: “We have a range of x to y for this position. Is that going to fit for what you want, or are we nowhere near each other? (This is why I suggest in Manage Your Job Search to know what you want before you have a phone screen. Hiring managers need to know. They do.)
  3. How much do you need to sell the company? When I was a candidate, I just hated when people wasted my time telling me about the company. They never told me what I needed to know. I wanted to know how much time people wasted in meetings. I wanted to know if people collaborated. Instead, they told me the location, or if they had parking, nonsense like that. People want to know about the working environment, not the stuff about the work. Consider what you need to tell people about the work, and you can shorten your phone screens.

I have a phone screen template. You should take it adapt it to your needs. It can be a strawman template for you.

Next, we’ll talk about how my client streamlined his interviewing and auditions. You’re going to love it.

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Recruiting, Part 2

My client in Part 1, where we talked about streamlining your analysis, was also having trouble finding people. He needed to hire two developers. He just “knew” there was a boom in Boston, and could not hire more people.

Well, considering I had just been at a SPIN meeting the night before and met people who had been looking for work for months, I knew there were people looking for work.

The question always is this: How does the hiring manager find the people who are looking? How do the people who are looking find the hiring managers?

The people who are looking have to target networking. (See Manage Your Job Search.)

But the hiring managers have to vary their recruiting mechanisms. If you rely on the same old mechanisms, you will not get new and different candidates. My client was not seeing a variety of candidates. He was using recruiters, but a small number. Those recruiters had not proved themselves to him. And, he had not left his office to personally recruit for the positions. He had not used Twitter. He had not used LinkedIn.

I made these suggestions:

  1. If a recruiter does not prove him/herself in the first month by providing quality candidates worthy of hiring, move on. Do not saddle yourself with a recruiter who throws candidates at you who are not worth interviewing, never mind hiring.
  2. You have to use multiple sourcing mechanisms. You must. You cannot rely on two recruiters to find people. You must go to meetings or job fairs yourself. Candidates who have been unemployed for a while are not going to recruiters, for any number of reasons. You actually want unemployed candidates. Why? They can start tomorrow, or next week. You don’t have to pay a recruiter. But, to find those people you have to go to meetings, mashups, some other community event. Yes, you do. You have to leave the office. You have to—dare I say it—network!
  3. Use LinkedIn. At least post the job on your LinkedIn company page and change your headline to say you are looking for people. Consider using Twitter. At least, try it. You have not much to lose, and much to gain. You can experiment for a week or two and see what kind of resumes you get.

My client was using a pre-phone screen coding test for everyone. I didn’t like that idea. He claimed that it screened out people who couldn’t program at all, but they still discovered people they hired who couldn’t program. I told them they needed a new audition.

I don’t like pre-interview tests or generic auditions. This guy was a warm guy, and the environment was collaborative. The generic audition/test was not a good assessment for them, and it was an hour long. He thought asking an hour of a candidate was fine. I said, “A candidate has 5 phone screens scheduled in 2 days. Yours requires one hour of coding beforehand. Will a candidate bother? You don’t even know if the candidate will pass your elimination questions.”

“Uh, maybe not.”

I don’t like barriers before you know if the candidate can do the bare minimum. But that’s me. And, since the coding test let through candidates who couldn’t code, that they had to fire later, it’s not a good test.

Stay tuned for the phone screen tips, part 3.

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