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On hiring

27 June 2020

When we set out to marry someone we spend years searching for the right person. We go through various relationships. When we find the right person, we still wait for years before committing to marriage.

When it comes to hiring, we tell people to do the opposite. On the basis of a résumé, cover letter, and a handful of interviews, we expect the boss to hand over control over their organization and reputation to a relative stranger. They’ll also spend most of their waking hours around them, more than they spend around their children and spouses! How absurd is that?

Even so, we teach people to search for jobs this way. Perfect that résumé. Nail the cover letter. The thing is though, people find jobs completely differently. Let’s call it the old-fashioned way.

People hire those they know. 70-80% of jobs aren’t on job boards. If you limit your search to those, you’re missing out on most of the opportunities. On top of that, 85% of jobs are filled through networking.

When you look for a job the way it’s commonly taught, sending job board applications ad nauseum , you spend a lot of time doing something that often doesn’t deliver results.

There is a huge X factor when hiring someone based on a few pieces of paper. You don’t really know the applicant. Even if someone fits the job description, there are tons of idiosyncrasies that the job calls in order to work smoothly with the others in the company.

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger talks about the one-two combo in leadership. An organization needs a leader who is more driving and aggressive. A “get-shit-done” type of person. You need another leader who pays greater attention to the emotional needs of the group.

These roles traditionally correspond to male and female archetypes. But, the roles can be filled by people of all genders. Someone who is a “male” leader will be ineffectual if the job requires a “female” leader, and vice versa.

The cognitive diversity of a team is important. You need people who see the world differently to work together in order to solve problems. There might be an intellectual gap in the team that only someone with a specific personality type and set of experiences can fill.

These subtler points are harder to figure out unless you know the person. You can’t know someone in a fifteen-minute interview. It’s not hard to figure out how to game those. When you know someone, or know someone who knows someone, you get tons of context about them.

You know their background. You know their strengths and weaknesses. You understand better how that person will fit into your organization. In short, you can make a better hiring decision. It’s the way you “date” someone before deciding to work with them.

You only figure out who someone really is when you see them under stress. The Navy SEALs put candidates through grueling exercises not primarily to test physical performance, but mental performance. When you get someone wet, cold, tired, and hungry, and put them under pressure to perform, how do they act? Do they keep their cool? Do they put the team above themselves?

Most people don’t subject others to this type of intense examination. We just use a shortcut: knowing someone for a long time. Given a long enough time period, shit happens. They’ll get sick. They’ll get injured. Someone close to them will die. They’ll incur a professional setback. Life will wear them down. Can they navigate through these challenges without losing it?

When they think nobody's looking, do they act ethically? Do they resist temptation? How do they treat others, especially those lower on the social hierarchy than them?

These questions don’t have quick and easy answers. You just have to see someone in action over an extended period of time to figure them out.

So, why do we do it? Why do we give out advice that doesn’t work? Below are some ideas I have of why.

Searching using job boards is less abstract. It’s easier to tell someone “go apply to jobs on job boards”. When you do it you have a measurable result that you can track and, on paper, looks like progress. I applied to 20 jobs today! You can pat yourself on the back for that. You can run analyses in spreadsheets to track your performance.

Saying “I talked about my career goals with my college roommate over tacos and beer, and he said he might know someone who knows someone” doesn’t have the same ring to it. You spend hours of your day on something which, on the surface, doesn’t seem to get you any closer to getting hired.

Networking requires a set of social skills that people today don’t have the chance to develop. Networking is the game that goes on outside the field. There aren’t any rules or maps to follow. People in the workforce today are only familiar with environments where someone else sets the rules and goals, and tells them exactly what they have to do to get the prize. When they then have to do something in an infinite game, they struggle.

Many job seekers today lack tangible evidence of the things they claim to know how to do. Talk is cheap. What is said on a résumé is meaningless without proof. If people can’t trust someone can do what they claim, why would they take a chance on them?

If someone had a skill set where they could produce an object that demonstrated their capabilities, and had the validation of others that what they do is beneficial, well, they wouldn’t need a résumé and job boards to find a job.