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Learning to Slow Down and Speed Up

Nobody likes to admit they need to slow down at work. It is counter to everything you are ever taught about work. You shouldn’t ever work slower because there is no way that working slower is going to get more done. In fact, you should be both quick and accurate. Great! Perfect world theory: everyone can attain this standard! Real world theory: most people who think they can do this are hilariously wrong.

That being said, I came from an environment where working quickly was alright (and mistakes were quickly forgiven) and moved to an environment where mistakes are to be avoided and I should be more methodical. I can accept that. When you increase the number of employees you are responsible for by tenfold and you are new to a job, that makes sense. I need to slow down.

Here’s what I’ve found out though: sometimes being methodical and working slowly doesn’t always ensure success. In fact, sometimes it is just a waste of time.

To me, it is all about process. Smart processes that speed things up while eliminating the chance of human error. Whenever I do an audit (even of my own stuff), it is easy in the heat of the moment to skip a step or two when you don’t have a process that keeps you on track and on schedule. And really, whenever you are writing a process or procedure for something, you should really be focusing on the goal of eliminating human error and speeding the entire process up. Consistency and efficiency are a side effect of doing those two things. And while they may feel one in the same, when you are writing processes, thinking about it from this point of view is actually better than just thinking a process will make everything more consistent.

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Your HR Guy is a Monster

“Recruiters use Internet searches to avoid major red flags, but it is just another assessment of a person,” says the anonymous blogger known as Your HR Guy. He adds, “My general view on Internet searches is that, for most positions, ignorance is bliss. Most of what is online for a majority of workers is personal, and most workers personal stuff [doesn’t play a role at work].”

I believe the whole fear of being Googled has been drastically overstated. I’ve Googled people before because they mentioned a band they were in or they were part of a professional association I’ve never heard of. That sometimes turns up something more interesting but I’ve simply never had the reason to discontinue recruiting someone due to the dirt found online.

There is something out there called Reputation Defender that was mentioned in the article. I can’t even begin to describe the issues it brings up but I think it is fun that you can remove unwanted content for just a little under $30. So if an acquaintance posts a picture of me doing non-stop keg stands last weekend and he calls me “totally weak” for asking him to take it down, I can sic Reputation Defender on him and get it removed?

The funny thing is how adamant they are about not doing searches for Human Resources departments. They’ve probably already licensed the product to a background search firm anyway (if it hasn’t already been developed).

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How Would You Move Mount Fuji?

I read the book How Would You Move Mount Fuji? and I thought it was pretty interesting. It mainly focuses on how Microsoft interviews and why they ask the questions they do. It also gives you reasoning and logic behind some of the questions with right answers (or more correct answers).

I am always a fan of books about interviewing because they are usually so wrong. As I have never been interviewed (or interviewed for) Microsoft, I can’t tell you whether this book is good preparation for a Microsoft interview, I can tell you that it attempts to make a case for puzzle based questions.

Obviously puzzle based questions don’t work for everyone. Some positions do not require out of the box thinking. But for those in the company that do require that out of the box thinking, I could see it being useful (at least at a company the size of Microsoft). As the book points out though, this interview technique can leave people on the outside who can perform the job up to standards or even better than the person hired. And while leaving people on the table that could be hired might work for some positions at Microsoft, it might not work everywhere. As labor shortages increase, I wonder if this will change that technique some?

Bill Gates is going to be testifying in front of a Congressional committee this week on the need for more visas for highly skilled workers. One might wonder if the labor shortage could be averted by a simple change in interviewing technique?

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How to Break into the HR field?

Many people who read this blog show an interest into breaking into the HR field. While I may question their sanity for this, I only know this is a popular topic because I get e-mails about it all of the time from all types of people. I realize that I keep repeating myself over and over again. So now I am going to put this out as kind of a catch all for those questions so this may be edited from its original version.

First of all, it is not very difficult to break into the HR field. I did it, and I don’t think I am that smart. That being said, it can appear to be very difficult to break into it from the outside because it is very difficult to do it from the outside. Most people want experience if they are hiring from the outside and don’t want a fresh face from college to get them into legal trouble because they mess up application. So here are the ways to get in with no experience:

  1. Work from the inside. College education: not required, additional educated needed though. Depending on your company’s size and culture, you may be able to break into HR from the inside. Good companies love internal HR hires because they understand the culture already. You will probably be required to get an HR certificate (PHR is a nice one that is recognized pretty well). Again, depending on your company, you might get this paid for (at least partially). The bad? Not a sure thing and totally cultural dependent. May mean you get crappy pay for a while.
  2. Start as a recruiter. College education: likely to be required. At many large companies, the easiest way to break into the HR department is through the internal recruiting team. Recruiting is relatively easy to understand and companies seem to be comfortable hiring directly for these positions plus they typically pay really well. The bad? Likely long hours, traveling, tons of time on the phone and … well, some of the stuff I complain about recruiting in this blog. Of course, I don’t think that stuff is that bad so.
  3. Start at an outsourcing firm. College education: likely to be required. HR outsourcing is big business these days and as such, outsourcers may be more willing to train entry level people because of increased demand and repetitiveness of tasks. Everything from payroll processing, to third-party recruiting, to full on HR department outsourcing is covered here. The bad? Third-party recruiting can be good money if you have the skills but almost everything else is going to pay you…well, entry level wages.
  4. Start at a smaller business. College education: probably. With the economy still doing relatively well, starting at a smaller business can be a good start to getting in with experience at other firms. Smaller businesses usually go after people with strong entrepreneurial drive who are willing to learn quickly and do a lot of other things inside the business. Targeting businesses between 25–50 employees (depending on industry) can be key to this. The bad? You might get pushed into doing payroll or other things at a smaller business and you may not be able to have an appropriate mentor like you would at a larger company.

These are the four places I would start if I had to do it again. Me personally? I did a combination of 2 & 4.

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Why do people continue working for bad companies?

From the mailbag: Why do people continue to work for bad companies?

Brief answer: because it is easy.

What did I just say? I know, I know, the HR Guy has fallen off his rocker again. The stress at work must be unbearable.

The status quo is always easier though. It is always easier not to change. Change encompasses a whole range of emotions and uncertainties in life. Emotions that are uncomfortable for most people (like am I good enough?). Being rejected. Taking a pay cut. Doing something you really like.

Yes, even the fear of dropping your bad company for the picture perfect opportunity can have its range of negative emotions. After all, failing at the very thing you love is a huge blow. Failing at something you hate is much easier to stomach.

And that’s what keeps bad companies in business. Once you’ve finished a job search, you don’t want to restart it again. The job search being a miserable experience helps a bunch but staying with a bad company is simply easier than finding something else.

Finding something else means extra effort outside of work. It means possibly starting on a new career path. It means possibly taking a pay/benefit cut. And no, that’s not ideal but nobody said it would be. Making a decision to leave a bad company is either made through desperation or through very difficult work and sacrifices.

And while I’d love to believe that every single one of my employees are happy with where there are, chances are that at least a few are resenting their decisions to come to work for us but are putting up with it because it is easy. Possibly one day, they will take the difficult road to leave on their own but for now, they will stay. Because it is easier. And because even bad is safe.

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Math can help you get the job…at Google

And I don’t mean the 2+2’s and all those good, elementary type of equations. I am talking about a long, complicated mathematical computation called an algorithm that can help you get a job. Now what company is most associated with algorithms? Google of course!

Now ranked the best place to work in America, Google is using a formula to determine if you are worthy of being talked to by one of their continuously busy recruiters. Slashdot has a bunch of comments on the issue but I figured I would add my own perspective.

If you are hiring as many people as Google is planning on (they plan on doubling their current workforce), and you don’t want a large expenditure in something that isn’t a core competency (namely: recruiting), do something that is in your core competency (create a formula that matches people with job openings and is intelligent about it) to fix it.

There is a lot of “cool” potential from this if anybody outside of Google gets to see a piece of it but I think this definitely could have some implications for corporate recruiters that isn’t positive for anyone.

No company is like Google so running an algorithm-based formula will probably not work for 99.999% of companies out there. Most places do not have that expertise. None the less, this development will spark interest in “smart” systems that are actually dumb at ranking resumes. Which of course leads to…

Panic! From job seekers specifically. If corporate recruiters get this bug, only those resumes who cooperate with all kinds of “smart” systems will work. It also increases barriers to application that are not needed. Most companies aren’t pulling a couple hundred thousand resumes a month with little out of network advertising.

With everything that could possibly go wrong, there is some opportunity for three groups of people:

  1. Employment lawyers: Who will get to represent job seeker and employer when an algorithm shows a questionable bias against a certain group. And the will be paid well.
  2. HR vendors: Those who continue to be on the cutting edge and make smart technological decisions and advancements win. And they will be paid well.
  3. Third-party recruiters: When the system breaks or sends away too many or too few people, third-party recruiters will be called in to clean up the mess. And they will be paid well.

I think the idea is interesting but probably not going to be useful outside of Mountain View.

Tip of that hat to Fritz for sending this my way!

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When to Shut Your Mouth

Whenever I ran cross country, my coach always used to tell me, “If you’re thirsty, it’s too late. You’re already dehydrated and you won’t get rehydrated until you stop running.” The same sort of thing happens when you run your mouth in an interview. If you think you’ve been talking a lot, you’ve been talking way too much. And shutting up after you’ve figured this all out won’t help.

How long should my interview answers be then?

Most people who break this cardinal rule play it off as innocent. “Oh, I was just trying to explain myself fully.” Some even take it offensively. “I thought you wanted me to answer the questions completely.” And maybe they were innocent but imagining a meeting with this person where they are going lecture the group on the finer points of keyboarding for twenty minutes is not necessary. Being able to type is. Most of the time though, these long winded folks are simply searching for the right answer and hoping to stumble upon it within the ten minutes.

Here are four steps which you can pretty much guarantee that you will answer the question with the right timing:

  1. Demonstrate that you know what the interviewer is asking. Ask right at the beginning if you have any clarifying questions before you start to answer. It helps to pause before you answer the question and think about what they asked. If you have prepared yourself, this should be no sweat.
  2. Be detail oriented but leave out the kitchen sink. I like details about the questions I ask. Keep it detailed but focused on the question. As an example, if the interviewer asks “Tell me about a recent disagreement you’ve had with your supervisor,” don’t give a long back story about the history of your relationship with your boss or your relationship with bosses in general. Talk about the disagreement you had giving the interviewer enough details to have the answer they are looking for. Using that example, you definitely want to include that you resolved it to everyone’s satisfaction but you don’t need to go into the great time you had at the pub later.
  3. Confidently end your answer. If you linger out an answer like you might continue answering, I’m not going to interupt you. I am waiting for you to finish your thought and if you make it sound like you are going to continue, I’ll let you. I think this is probaby why many people don’t know when to shut their mouth: I won’t interupt them. In a behavioral interview, it takes some people a little while to put all their thoughts together and so I’ve learned to shut my mouth until you’re done speaking.
  4. If you don’t know the answer, make it snappy. THere are good ways and bad ways to use a non-answer. Good: “I don’t know the answer to that but here are the three steps I would take to figure it out.” Bad: “Hmmm, I…. ohhh… well, that’s a good one. I don’t know the… OH WAIT! If I…. no… hmmm” + 5 minutes. A lot of people fly their plane into the ground instead of knowing when to hit the eject button and say you don’t know.

And I’ll end with a story about a guy who ran his mouth for too long:

I am interviewing this fellow for a retail job and I ask him what a former supervisor would say about him if we called him. He gave this strange look and said “I don’t know what he would say. Probably that I am a cool guy and I am a good skateboarder. Hmmm…” And I just sat there waiting for him. Then he said “Well, it doesn’t matter. I don’t work there anymore and you guys don’t really need to call him?” Again, I just sit there. “Well, I guess he would say I was a pretty decent worker when I wanted to be and that I was late a ton because I was busy skateboarding all the time.”

To be fair though, there wasn’t a really great way he could have answered the question anyway. When you’re constantly late for the entirety of your employment, that is pretty much all your supervisor will talk about.

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Online persona killing your future?

Probably not.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the statistics. Nearly half of employers googled a candidate in the last year and a third made a decision based on that. It is awful to think of those poor people who were disregarded because of some drunken photos on MySpace.

As a disclaimer, I have googled the name of almost everyone who has come to work for us. And no, none of them lost consideration because of it (though a few stuffy companies might have done so with what I found). At best, most of the information I found had little to nothing to do with the ability for these people to perform their job.

The point I make is that assuming your online persona isn’t incredibly unemployable (and I would guess that about 98% of them fall in that category), you aren’t going to be denied a good opportunity at a good company. Most decent companies are going to have some kind of policy about using outside information to come to a job decision. Most decent companies are going to exercise good judgement on this matter too.

But if you are a company that can’t stand if one of your interns has a picture of him and his buddies at a bar and you are the type of person that doesn’t mind making that information public, maybe you aren’t being denied a good opportunity after all. Job fit and company culture play a major role in your future as an employee and along with your future boss, this sort of clash of cultures might kill your job chances anyway.

It isn’t going to become less common for employers to do an internet search for you. If you are concerned about what your chances are with a company based on what you find about yourself, you should try to sanitize it.

Or then again, maybe not. You might just be doing yourself a favor.

Disclaimer 2: My boss at work has seen my MySpace profile. It has several unprofessional pictures on it (including drinking pictures). She thought it was great. Of course, I don’t think it is bad for HR to show any sort of personality. We have to beat accounting!

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Revisiting Job Hopping

I am going to play Devil’s advocate here for a second.

What if we considered job hopping to be not a negative thing (generally) but a positive thing and an indicator of the type of economy we are going to be seeing for the next decade? The world around us is changing and companies are starting to value those who change. Change is everywhere and to err on the side of ridiculousness, change is being taught in the change education, change economy, change employers, change employees, change leaders, change evangelists, change … well, you get the point.

So if we are going to start emphasizing change and flexibility, why wouldn’t we expect a more fluid workforce? More importantly, what happens if those people that are so well adept to change and are your typical job hoppers? What happens if they are actually better employees? They become productive quickly and stay incredibly productive throughout their term and instead of spending the next five years doing mediocre work, they went on to the next exciting project. What happens if the best and brightest aren’t the guys that are going to be in your office in five years? And what happens if these people are bright and have adapted to learn more quickly, their cost of hire goes down and therefore the cost of turnover goes down because you know you could hire on another person who is going to be hungry for something new in two years? What happens if realize an ROI on a new employee in the first MONTH instead of the first year?

Would all that change our perception of turnover, job hoppers and that flaky Gen Y I keep hearing rumors about?

Would your company be ready for such a change in ideals? Could they ever be?

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Your HR Guy Hates Games

Whenever your HR guy asks you a question, he expects an answer. As you might have guessed, I am a blunt person and there is one particular question that almost ALWAYS gets to be readdressed.

“What are your salary requirements?”

All kinds of interview guides tell you how to answer this question without actually answering it and I am here to tell you that those guides are wrong. End of story. You answer the question because I know you aren’t willing to work for minimum wage. There is some minimum level you will absolutely not work for. If I have posted a salary range for this position, then it shows your level of education about the position. If I have not posted a salary range, you should probably know the pay you would be looking at in the industry you are looking. If you don’t give a salary range and the interviewer doesn’t grill you, you probably lost the job and you should be prepared for that if you’re that stubborn of an ass.

People might raz me for giving advice that totally screws the applicant out of a bargaining position. That is pure nonsense. Salary negotiation has to start somewhere and that gives you a chance to set the starting point. If you are nervous about your negotiation prowess, why not add on 20%-25% to the bottom of your range? 20% isn’t going to kill your job chances, especially if the salary range is unknown. So instead of giving a range of 80–100k, you give a range of 100–125k. Be prepared for the recruiter to go below what your salary requirements are and be prepared to negotiate. What’s the worse that could happen in that scenario? They offer you a position in your original salary range? You get scoffed at by a cheap skate company? Please!

It just seems like a no brainer but almost everyone tries to get out of this question. This interviewer won’t let you so you better give me a number, especially after I have made it clear the responsibilities of the position.