Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Find a Genius

Business has been great this year. So great, indeed, that I discovered I was in desperate need of a little help.

About a month ago I ran an advertisement seeking an Administrative Genius. I was immediately impressed by both the quantity and quality of the applicants. In less than 48 hours I heard from 40 people. One person wrote such a compelling cover letter that I had to call her right away. Six others also delivered exceptional cover letters and targeted resumes. I identified an additional four as "maybe's" for a possible second round of interviews. Five others I offered to refer to people in my network who were also seeking assistance. And twenty-four did not present well enough to merit further action.

There may have been some gems in those 24, but they never made it past the first cut. In case anyone is interested, here's how I narrowed the field:

  • Anyone who responded in less than 7 seconds (I'm exaggerating only slightly) did not hear from me. How could they possibly have diligently researched me, my company, and the position offered in such a short period of time?
  • Grammar, spelling, and formatting errors don't cut it - especially when the specific purpose of the position is to make an employer look good! One person told me they were "consciencious". (If you think about it a bit, it may have been a good idea to spell-check that word!)
  • I included a simple test in the offering: "Apply to with subject line: "Administrative Genius"". Missing this seemingly minor point is a good way to have your resume end up in the wrong file and demonstrates a lack of attention to detail or inability to follow simple instructions. (And, in my mind at least, a "Genuis" is significantly different than a "Genius".)
  • Templated Cover letters and non-specific resumes don't get far either. They sort of imply a lack of self-esteem.
  • Applicants get no extra points for cover letters or resumes that open with "What I want is... blah, blah, blah". No employer on earth cares about what you want until they have at least a faint idea that you might be suitable for what they want. If the employer is paying for the ad and your salary, try starting with helping them solve their problem. If you're successful, they will be more than delighted to give you what you want.
  • Finally, and somewhat curiously, not one applicant used any tool beyond a cover letter and resume to attract attention. For example, part of the posted job description listed management of Social Media. Doesn't anyone have a Facebook or Twitter account they'd want me to see?
I did have the pleasure of interviewing half a dozen very impressive individuals. For the most part, these people made flawless presentations, and were secure enough to take some chances by revealing a personality, rather than false professionalism.

Generally, I learned that one of the main attractors about my ad was that I described the position as one that would allow work from home and in the field, as well as flexible hours. In some cases, the candidate discovered through the interview process that there are trade-offs to this kind of freedom, and that perhaps they really were more suited to a little more structure.

Admittedly, I wasn't entirely certain of what I hoped to find. It is very difficult to describe an ideal position, and then seek to find the perfect person to fit that ideal. It is far more reasonable to find a good person and craft a position around them.

To all forty people who honoured me by responding to my advertisement: Thank-you! It takes great courage to put yourself out there. I know that there are many amongst you I would love to have met. I hope the comments above may in some small way help in your search. To those I met: a special thank-you. My inability to offer you a position at this time reflects more on my needs than your qualifications.

For my part, there is a happy ending. For the past eight months, I've had breakfast almost every Thursday morning with a group of people I've come to know and respect. A chance conversation with one of these people revealed an astonishingly good fit. On Monday, I met with my friend Blaine to begin planning how we could work together. I may introduce him more fully in a future post.

And that is how you find a Genius - look long and hard, but don't forget to look right in front of your nose!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some Change?

How do you respond when someone approaches you in the street and says: “Hey buddy, can you spare some change?”

Even after all these years, I’m still not sure. Let me share a story with you, along with 3 propositions and 3 possible responses.

A few days following my 19th birthday, I boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket from Ottawa to Calgary. I had $100 in my pocket. Mine was a self-imposed experiment: Could I survive on my own?

Landing in Calgary, I immediately set about finding work. On the first day, I read 2 books at the library on oil drilling rigs. On the second day I presented myself at the office of every drilling company in Calgary. On the third day, I was on an airplane headed for a remote drilling rig about a hundred miles north of Fort St. John.

Working on the rigs paid well, so when I returned, I did so with several thousand dollars, which I immediately deposited into a bank account. I’d made it with $100. My next experiment was to try starting with nothing. My goal was to accumulate just $150 – the price of a flight back to Ottawa.

Well, I didn’t quite have nothing; before making my deposit I’d paid for 7 nights at the YMCA – a tiny room and a warm bed was welcome in February – twelve dollars a night.

The next morning I arose early and full of energy. I was about to prove that everyone who lives in poverty does so by choice and is simply lazy. I headed off to a temporary industrial employer. Sure enough, I waited around for about an hour, and then headed out on a bus to my first assignment. This was going to be even easier than I thought.

At the end of the day, I discovered something somewhat disturbing. I would receive my wages at the end of the pay period – 2 weeks from now! Two weeks! I only have a bed for one week. How am I going to eat?

A minor setback.

Back at the Y that evening I did some research. There was a street corner just a few blocks away where guys would line up first thing in the morning. Trucks drive by and pick up day labourers – and the best part was: they paid cash!

At $4 an hour I needed to work three hours to sleep inside. I dug ditches, I swept warehouses, I unloaded trucks, I cleaned construction sites, one time I even hosed out sulphuric acid sludge from a big white tank somewhere. I got a steak lunch for that one – and a rash!

If I had a choice between sleeping inside or eating, I always chose sleeping inside. Then one day I was carrying ceiling tiles from a stack to a work site. I noticed a workmate making about 1 and a half trips for every one of mine. He asked me when I last ate. “Three days ago”, I answered. My new friend told me where I could get a free meal.

The next morning I showed up at the Single Men’s Hostel. Before receiving a meal ticket, I had to meet with a counsellor. I remember he asked me how much money I had. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a handful of change, and answered: 67 cents.

That morning I discovered the gift of free food. I also learned that scary looking people aren’t so scary, up close. I learned that no one ever complained when the food was only lukewarm, and if the scruffy guy across the table was too hung-over to eat, he was never too hung-over to share.

After two and half months on the streets I learned something else too: It’s almost impossible to get ahead when you’re down. For the first time in my life, I truly felt despair.

My hypothesis failed. I eventually went back to the bank, collected my cash, bought a plane ticket, and flew home.

Here are my three observations:
  1. We are all poor. Rev. 3:17 reads: “You say: ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” People are fragile. Mental illness or an unfortunate string of events can put almost anyone out on the streets.
  2. We are all rich. Placed in global and historic perspective, almost anyone living in Canada is fabulously wealthy. We have access to social services providing food and shelter. Many parts of the planet don’t share this luxury.
  3. We are all the same. Proverbs 22:2 reads: “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is Maker of them all.
So what do you say when someone approaches and asks: “Hey Buddy, can you spare some change?” Here are three possible responses…

  1. “Spare some change?! Get lost!”
  1. My friend Jim, who lived on the streets for 3 years, says: “Don’t give it to them. Half will spend it on alcohol; the other half will spend it on drugs.” In Canada, homeless people have access to social services. But Jim would also ask you to treat all people with dignity. The only reason he no longer lives on the streets is because someone cared enough to love him when he was unlovable.
  1. The third response is yours: What do you do when someone asks: “Hey buddy, can you spare some change?”