Category Archives: Interviewing

Linsanity, the Marshmallow Test and Hiring

From the Wall Street Journal today came a column by Arthur C. Brooks entitled “Obama’s Budget Flunks the Marshmallow Test“. Not to worry, we are not going to take a turn down the path of political commentary. However, what we will borrow is the Marshmallow Test:

In one famous study from 1972, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel concocted an ingenious experiment involving young children and a bag of marshmallows. He put a marshmallow on the table and told each child that if he (or she) could wait 15 minutes to eat it, he would get a second one as a reward.

About two-thirds of the kids failed the experiment. Some gave in immediately and gobbled up the marshmallow; videotape shows others in agony, trying to discipline themselves—some even banging their little heads on the table.

But the most interesting results from that study came years later. Researchers followed up on the children to see how their lives were turning out. The kids who didn’t take the marshmallow had average SAT scores 210 points higher than the kids who ate it immediately. They were less likely to drop out of college, made far more money, were less likely to go to jail, and suffered from fewer drug and alcohol problems.

So what does all of this have to do with identifying, hiring and retaining talent?  Actually everything.  Think about Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.  As an organization the Knicks had a choice – bring Lin up from the Developmental League and give him a chance, or shop around and trade for some point guard from another team.  They chose to go with Lin and two weeks later it is Linsanity.

Clearly, it is not always going to turnout that well when it comes to hiring, but there is a lesson to be learned.  It is safe to say that as a child if Lin was given the Marshmallow Test, he would have sat and waited for the reward.  His history indicates he is not an instant gratification person.  He “gets” sacrifice, hard work and patience.  Those are the traits, along with a ton of natural athletic gifts, that have made him successful.

The other side to this scenario is that there were options for the Knicks – there are other guards out there with the physical skills and size.  In this one case the Knicks avoided that classic pitfall of hiring…going with the “qualified” or “experienced” candidate; the safe hire.  The recycling of candidates, the shuffling of people from job to job, company to company, is the single greatest mistake made in hiring.  The philosophy that if someone is in the role currently,  they can naturally fill that role at our company.  Yes, they probably will do okay, but they will probably never be great.

Going with recycled talent in hiring is the path to immediate gratification – it is the “easy and safe hire”.  And based on the Marshmallow Test, immediate gratification is not an indicator of long-term success.  Apply the test to the candidates and yourself next time you have to add someone to the team – you just might find that great hire.


Filed under Business, Interviewing

Decision Making – It’s Never Perfect

It has been almost 10 years since the below was first uttered.  Yet I am confident that the quote and its source will generate immediate reaction.  Most never saw the wisdom of the words, for it was lost in the emotions surrounding the context and that moment in time. But removed from the moment and the emotions it generated, the words ring true.  They are actually something we should all remember.

Never will anyone have all the information…ever. It is not possible. Hiring someone, changing jobs, investing, getting married, moving, choosing schools, chicken or fish, chocolate or vanilla, or any of the other large or small decisions in life are never made in the context of certainty. We might think they are, but never are they.  In making any decision, some degree of mistakes will be made.  Sometimes large, often small, and at times not even known, but the errors are in there somewhere.  We do all that we can to avoid them, but there is an inherent degree of risk.

And with that, I share a moment from February 2002.  It will be interesting to see how quickly I am blasted for using a line from that (insert your choice of adjectives here).

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Maybe, just maybe everyone can put aside their emotions and think about the words.  It is something we should all remember when making decisions.  So blast away at the source, the context, and the events that followed, but heed the words…they are true regardless of the situation.


Filed under Business, Coaching, Interviewing, leadership

Appearances, Bull Durham and the Dallas Cowboys

In the spirit of the new year, might as well aggravate Legal, Human Resources, and everyone who believe in what should be vice what really is.  Here it is…appearances matter.  Of course there are exceptions and “yea but” retorts, but let’s live in the world of reality.  In business and life, how you carry yourself, how you present yourself, and frankly how you appear both matters and has very real impact on you and those around you.

Slobs do not nor ever have effectively led elite anythings. Ever.  It is more than a hypothesis…it might not be an absolute law of nature like gravity, but it is awfully close.  Look around you, successful people carry themselves with a degree of polish and poise, they are clean and well-kept, articulate and to some degree smart.  Maybe not formally educated, but they are certainly bright.  It is not just a mode of dress, grooming or physical looks thing, it is a state of mind thing.  Folks who are successful over the long haul, not flash in the pan types, but truly successful and typically happy people, look, act and frankly dress a certain way.  Not uniform, but certainly to a socially accepted, or rather expected standard.

Albert Einstein was dishevelled and was clearly not the epitome of good grooming, but he was no slob.  There are countless entertainers, artists and true geniuses who were at a minimum one or two deviations to the right or left of “normal” when it comes to appearances, but they were in an environment and sector of society where it was much more “normal” and thus accepted if not actually expected.  Andy Warhol was not CEO material, but he was wildly successful and fit in the world of art and entertainment.  Albert Einstein – he fit in a lab and academia.  Though their appearances were interesting, they were not slobs.

Though I am not a huge watcher of NFL games, I do enjoy Sunday Night Football.  As it worked out this year, I have been able to see the Dallas Cowboys several times on Sunday evening.  What a lesson I have learned thanks to their Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan.  You see, the Cowboys blew multiple leads throughout the season and found themselves out of the playoffs.  As is always the case, there are various reasons for loosing, but it seems all the experts agree that the defense contributed to many a loss…5 or 6 4th quarter leads blow this year.  They were, in the words of many, inconsistent at a minimum, if not just flat-out bad.

And this is where appearances and the theorem of life comes in…Rob Ryan is a slob.  Google any picture – he is by any standard of appearances a slob.  Disheveled, unkept, ungroomed, and generally just a mess.  None of the other coaches look like him, and certainly not the players.  The people who worked for him have talent, skills and abilities, but they seem unable to maintain effort.  It is clearly a leadership issue, and the leader looks like a slob.  Sorry HR and everyone else in our over regulated and litigious world, but appearances matter.  Rob Ryan is an excellent example.

Are there others in the NFL that are less than coiffed – of course.  Bill Belichick has made the cut up sweat shirt his trademark.  However, Bill Belichick has won 3 Super Bowls and a ton of games with the Patriots.  He and that team are considered by many the class of the league.  He can dress, look, and frankly act how he wants – he has earned that right.  However, take him off the sidelines and he is as polished as anyone in any environment.  The man runs a billion dollar business and he knows it.  He respects it and thus his players, coworkers and peers respect him.  Think about it for a moment – successful coaches in sports are not slobs.  They all share similar appearances – they are sharp, polished, disciplined professionals.

So yes, appearance, at least in the context of the real world, matter.  It is not what we are told to believe, and not what we are told to consider when hiring or being interviewed, but it is a reality.  To think otherwise is just foolish.  Shoot, I really wish Santa was real, but it just is not so.  Besides, Crash Davis knew what he was talking about…

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Committed? – The G N’ R Test

As shocking as it might seem, out of that crucible of debauchery known as Guns N’ Roses emerged not just one talented writer, but also a great lesson.  Okay, let’s call it safe that there were several lessons to be learned from the Guns N’ Roses saga.  Megalomania, addiction, personality conflicts, management issues and other classic issues of rock stardom aside, there lies one amazing story of committment, focus and dedication.

It’s So Easy: and other lies by Duff McKagan is actually a really good read.  It is not some self-centered, money grabbing tale of another washed up rock and roller (or politician, executive, sports hero, or whatever) that is out to pad or rebuild their bank account. Of course it is a lot of stories, but what lingered is one incredible story about the conviction and vision it takes to make it to the very pinnacle of your field.  Duff McKagan is more than just the former bass player and current columnist for ESPN, he is also the one that realized and drove home the point that if the band was to really make it, they had to be committed.  Every member had to put the band above everything.  And he relays a great tale of how early on they determined who really had that level of committment.

Now granted, we are talking about a group of guys in the mid 80’s with absolutely nothing to lose.  They were in their early 20’s, living a life without responsibilities, and frankly enjoying all that a city like LA would have to offer someone who embraced the “rock and roll lifestyle”.  But what is interesting is that even in that environment, they had members who were hesitant, who were not willing to take the chance.  When the idea was floated that the band should go on the road for a totally shoe-string, seat of the pants, pile 5 guys in a car west coast tour, 2 of the 5 members hesitated.  The level of risk, the level of committment required was just too much.  2 guys baulked.  Actually 2 guys walked out; they quit rather than stick it out.  2 other guys stepped forward to fill the void…a guy named Steven and a guy named Slash.  And the rest as they say is history.

Amazing really – even with literally everything to gain and nothing to lose, some folks still cannot commit.  It is not a bad thing, everyone has their reasons.  However, when you are putting together a team with the intention of winning, of being the best, of rising to the top of your field, you need folks who share the vision.  You need folks who are committed.  It is not about having folks say they are committed, it is about finding folks who have demonstrated real committment.  Use the G N’ R test – call the verbal bluff and see who will go on the road with you.  Just try to keep all the other rock star issues out of it!

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So You Hired A “Tebow”

They were awesome in the interview. They are the nicest, most likeable, genuine, sincere, motivated and dynamic person you have literally ever met. Oh, and they absolutely thrived in all of their previous jobs. Maybe there was a bit of a concern, a nagging doubt about how they would perform at the next level, but how could you not take the chance? And here you are…

Hiring is an amazingly difficult thing to do. Rather, hiring well is difficult. Hiring is easy. Truth be told, it is a massive committment for both parties, yet the “courtship” is relatively brief. Think if we all married someone after only a couple coffee dates and maybe a dinner. Well, maybe a quick background check also. In the context of marriage it would be called foolish and naive, but in business it is called an interview process. Crazy really.

None the less, when you take that chance and “hire for attitude – train for success”, you are entering into a long-term, committed relationship. Not only does the candidate have to be committed to learning and doing, but you must be committed to teaching, coaching, grooming, and frankly nurturing the candidate. They will not come up to speed as quickly. They will have difficulties. Yes, they will have stumbles. It is what you hired after all.  “Winners always win” or so goes the saying – sometimes that alone is enough to bring someone onboard.  Hiring for attitude is risky, but it holds no more risk than recycling the same old “qualified” or “experienced” candidates.

Tim Tebow gets his first start for the Broncos this Sunday.  The debate will finally come to an end – he gets his shot.  He brings one amazing record of success to the table – enough of one that the Broncos took Tebow in the first round when no one else would.  The Broncos “hired for attitude” but did they “train for success”?  That and several other questions are about to be answered.  The NFL season just got more interesting…


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President Obama and Job Matching

As recruiters, consultants and coaches, it is often our role to help people and organizations come to terms with what it is a job, or job title, really means.  What the role entails, what behaviors one will engage in day-to-day, what is expected of the role, and of the person in that role.  We are in the Job Matching business – connecting the right people to the right job.

It has been interesting over the years to watch people who are in very public, high-profile roles – a lot of their issues are the same as what we all see and experience in our “normal lives”.  Arguably there is no one who has had more coverage the last 5-6 years than Barak Obama.  And based on that coverage, it seems there is a disconnect in President Obama’s passions, and the man’s actual job.  It is not a question of policy or politics, guiding principles or the role of government. Rather, it is about the actual “job of Chief Executive” that President Obama the man now holds.  Thus the question, is Barack Obama as President a case of good Job Matching?

First, let us consider the definition of the “job” of President.   By definition, a president is “the highest executive officer of a modern republic, the Chief Executive of the United States”.  Going a step further, what is a Chief Executive?  Typically, the Chief Executive, or more commonly the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) per wiki, “has responsibilities as a communicator, decision maker, leader, and manager. The communicator role can involve the press and the rest of the outside world, as well as the organization’s management and employees; the decision-making role involves high-level decisions about policy and strategy. As a leader, the CEO advises the board of directors, motivates employees, and drives change within the organization. As a manager, the CEO presides over the organization’s day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to year operations.”

Think about two earlier and well covered two-term Presidents, Clinton and Reagan.  Clearly they loved the job of being President.  Not just for the ego boost and cache, but more importantly for what the job entailed.  They were both literally “chief executives”.  They had run organizations and lead teams throughout their lives.  They were organizational leaders and governors. They literally grew up with a passion to lead people and run organizations.  They thrived on the give and take, the relationships, the challenges and the sheer day-to-day operations management.  It defined them.  You could see it in their history, and you could see it in their behavior while in office – they loved the job.

When one looks at the history, experience, and even the behaviors of President Obama, that passion for the job of a chief executive just does not seem to be there.  Now the office, the trappings, the pulpit and stage; clearly he loves it.  I am quite confident both Reagan and Clinton did as well.  However, the sheer day-to-day operations management, the constant leadership challenges, all of the relationships, constituencies, competing issues and demands, the never-ending string of mundane, gut wrenching, and extremely difficult decisions one must make – it just does not appear to be what he loves.

If I were invited to the Rose Garden for a beer, I would ask President Obama the man what it is he loves.  What is it he is passionate about?  What fires him?  Above all else, I would ask him what it is he loves to do every day – not by title but by behavior.  I will go out on a limb and bet that his answer does not involve the day-to-day behaviors demanded of a chief executive.

There in lies the issue – you have to love what the job entails, not what the job is titled.  And in the interest of being helpful, might I be so bold as to propose a solution…Statesman.  There is no question President Obama the man loves to strategize, plan, talk through things, noodle on problems, and above all propose great ideas, visions, and goals.  That is the role of a true Statesman – be above the fray, propose bold ideas, have great, sweeping vision and share that vision.  Now that job, the day-to-day behaviors of being a Statesman seem to really fit Barak Obama the person – it captures his passion, his history, and frankly what he was clearly great at.  Look at his campaign – he was in his element; he thrived and was wildly successful; he love that job.

Regardless of the job, its level or scope, it all comes down to Job Matching.  Does the demands of the job match the passions and talents of the person.  Think about it when you are hiring, and even when you are interviewing.  When hiring, you owe it to the interviewees and the organization to really determine what the job is, and if the job is right for the candidates.  And when interviewing, strip away the titles, the corner office, the compensation, the cache and ask the simple but very hard question – what is it the job demands on a day-to-day basis?  What really has to be done by behavior, day in and day out?  Sometimes the job you have, and maybe even the job you thought you wanted, is not really the right job for you.

If President Obama ever does call me for a beer in the Rose Garden, or anywhere, I would jump at the invitation.  Until then, call it a pro bono consultation.  Mr. President, it might be worth considering the idea of making the decision to change jobs next year.  You seem to be much more of a Statesman than a Chief Executive.  In the end sir, you have to make the call – not your advisors, and not the public.  Only you know what really is right for you.  It is the same for all of us…just not as public.

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The Professional Interviewer

We have all seen them, the person who passes through your professional life. They are there, but then a short time later they are gone. At times they come with great fanfare, yet at others it is like they never really join the team. It is the job hopper, the ubiquitous person who seems to thrive by simply coming and going.  The person who has quite literally turned interviewing into a profession.  A profession that pays and remarkably leads to careers complete with benefits, advancement, increased compensation and a staggering collection of business cards.

Granted we see the traditional job hopper more than most; it is just part of being a recruiter and coach.  But the rise of the Professional Interviewer has been something we have come to notice over the last decade.  It really is a unique phenomena.  It is the ultimate irony in hiring – everyone wants to hire the “right person”, but all too often “right” becomes synonymous with “experienced”, and thus a journey down the well-worn path in recycling talent.  It is in that all too familiar and comfortable world of “experienced candidates” that one finds the Professional Interviewer.

Think about it next time you are going with the “experienced” candidate. If they have been around the industry, changing firms every few years, might there be a reason? Granted, things happen, but patterns should not be ignored.  The Professional Interviewer is actually quite good at interviewing (they have an enormous amount of practice).  Every job change has a story, a well rehearsed and perfectly logical line of reasoning.  They have been very successful at each step, have a vast array of contacts, amazing 30-60-90 plans, are masters of follow-up, and will have an immediate impact on your firm.  Oh, they will tell you all of that and much more.

Peel the onion, get below the surface and dig.  Ask the hard questions early and challenge them.  The right hire is rarely the easy hire.  Sustained success takes time – years.  If someone is changing jobs on a regular basis, there is no physical way they have the time to really have a lasting impact.  It takes months to onboard, to learn the company, the clients, the process and the culture.  It also takes months to search for and land a new job.  Do the math, if they are changing jobs every two years, take away the onboarding and next job search/interview time, the vacation and holiday time, what are you really left with?

There are exceptions to everything, but beware of the Professional Interviewer.  They are easy to fall in love with when you are hiring.  They are the answer to all your needs, or so it appears.  They are good at telling you what you want to hear – they are professionals after all.

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Hiring and Retaining Leaders – The Ultimate Example

Imagine if you will – the most succesful single company in an entire industry over the last 41 years.  And over that period the company has had exactly 3 leaders (the industry norm is to change leaders every 3 – 4 years).  All were recruited from outside the company, none had ever run a company before, all were under the age of 40, and none were “big names” in their profession.  Is that extreme luck or is that incredible wisdom and insight when it comes to hiring?

In the NFL’s “modern era” (since the AFL-NFL merged in 1970) the Pittsburgh Steelers have posted the best record in the league. The franchise has won the most total games, won the most divisional and conference titles, earned the best winning percentage (including every expansion team), earned the most All-Pro nominations, and have accumulated the most Super Bowl wins (six) since 1970.  And in that span they have had just 3 head coaches – Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney Family are the model for sourcing, hiring and retaining great leaders.  They find them young, they engender loyalty by giving the young leader “their chance” and then supporting them in the job, and they eliminate ambiguity when it comes to expectations.  Above all else, they hire with a very keen awareness of the organizations culture – the leader fits the organization.  And think about what the Rooney’s do not do…they do not over pay, they do not chase the “hot coach” and they do not overreact, in good times or bad.  Oh, and they win – a lot.

Imagine if you will, a business that sourced and hired based on culture and fit, skill and abilities. And then actually created win-win scenarios.  An environment of mutual respect, of open communications, and realistic expectations.  Think about it the next time you are “chasing the market” for talent, or debating the “easy hire”, the “proven commodity”.  Maybe it is time to stop playing musical chairs and hire based on talent and fit, not on titles and past performance.  Who knows, maybe you can help your business go on a nice 40+ year run.


Filed under Coaching, Interviewing, leadership, Sports

You Are Who Your Friends Are

Have to admit, I hated that phrase when I was a kid. My parents hammered that drum when we were young, and really “got in our business” about our friends. Well, like all things, with age comes the realization of just how wise they were. The wisdom was not just about our social life – it applies to our business life as well.

Pedigree, past history, former companies – call it what you will, but there is no denying that to many “who you associate with” matters in the business world. Sophistication, polish, “understanding our level”, career progression, or just being “with the right firms” are all phrases we have heard from clients over the years.  Evaluating talent is not just limited to skills, achievements or actual job performance.  It is a total package issue, and where you have been and who you have worked with and for does matter.  Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is foolish to assume it is not considered.

There are countless reasons to take a new job, but one of the quiet factors that is often overlooked is the “who” part of the equation.  It is not a big company, small company, established or start-up issue.  Rather, it is a question of how the companies do their business, with whom they do it, and above all how they do it.  Granted there are scenarios where things are not quite what they appeared to be in the interview process.  Everyone understands that – things happen.  However, patterns can emerge, and rest assured the savvy evaluator of talent is considering your history and associations.

It does matter.  There is no other way to put it.  You might be able to stay above and removed from the reputation of your previous employers or associates, but it will lead to questions.  Who you hang out with says a great deal about you…it speaks to your judgement, your decision-making, and in the end it is a reflection of you.   Yet again, parents seem to get wiser as we get older…strange how that happens.

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It’s a Long Way To The Top…

…if ya wanna Rock and Roll.  Or so said Bon Scott and the boys from Australia.  We often hear from folks who are “ready for something more”, who are “looking to move on to a better role”, to “go to the next level”, and we are huge supporters of growing professionally.  Truth be told – our business depends on it.  However, what is often forgotten is that “moving up” tends to require sacrifice – longer hours, greater demands, relocation, more education, more training, taking the “tough jobs” – paying your dues and delivering results.

Yet again the shuffle option on iTunes served up a mid-day classic.  It is a fun, dated, and basic video and song of the seventies.  In a way it is a timeless reminder of a very real lesson – success takes work.  A lot of work, sweat equity, focus, committment, sacrifice, dedication, and yes even luck.  Even AC/DC can offer up some lyrical wisdom.

You have to be willing to pay the price to reach the goal – whatever the goal might be.  There are no short cuts to the top.  Bagpipes are optional.

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