Selective Selection In Employment

With a reported 6.1 job seekers for every job opening, perhaps this is a good time to talk about hiring. Can I use that word? So many workplaces use the word "selection" now instead, perhaps to promote a sense of team membership and help us forget that for the most part we are wage-laborers working at the behest of owners who will drop us the moment our services appear unprofitable. You hire a jitney driver, after all, but you select a mate. It's part and parcel of corporate managers calling their workforce a "team," or worse, a "family."

Likewise, there is no firing any more, now people are "de-selected," which carries greater existential angst than simply getting canned. Perhaps it assuages the conscience of the guilty manager, however. He's not firing you: he's just no longer selecting you on a daily basis to be a part of his team. Plus you're not allowed in the building any more, and you're not going to get paid. Just let's not call it firing, okay?

But back to hiring, which is fresh in my mind because I've had the misfortune to interview several job applicants in the past few weeks. I dislike interviewing because I don't enjoy the desperate first date kind of feel it often has. Most of us know what it's like to need a job and to therefore feel willing to mold oneself into whatever shape best fits the puzzle, a description not so different than what some single people feel on the dating scene. In the long run we're all better off, however -- both in employment and relationships -- if we can just be honest with one another about things like the fact that some of us need daily affirmation, for example, or that we are terribly negligent of details.

The way I see it, we both -- employer and employee, or selector and selectee, or overlord and peasant, whatever parlance best suits your workplace -- are looking for a good match. Managers with rough edges need can-do employees who aren't desperate for affection; companies in growth mode need self-starting entrepreneurs; and employees with lots of relationship issues need to leave that stuff on Jerry Springer.

We can't be honest about what we really are and need, however, so the interview becomes this Kabuki dance in which the interviewee does his best to exude perfection, and the interviewer does her best to appear interested in the intricacies of IT project management in the applicant's former role. Sometimes I think it would all be more efficient if each side would just fill out those surveys they used to give Playboy playmates:

Applicant X

Likes: a plain-English vision and authority to make decisions, with judgment of my performance confined to my success or failure at creating value, not scrutiny of my methods.

Dislikes: micro-managing, second-guessing, and cool jazz on the office radio.

Employer Y

Likes: punctuality, messy desks that indicate plenty of irons in the fire, and employees who get out on the road to meet customers face to face.

Dislikes: excuses, sick days, and signing yet another employee birthday/get well/best wishes on your retirement card.

That's not going to happen any time soon, however. But a hiring manager can use some good methods to assist him in getting down to brass tacks. In my next post I'll share a couple of questions that have often helped me weed out perhaps the most dangerous applicant of all -- the one who seems flawless and has the ego to match.