Category Archives: Interviewing

If You Build It (and advertise it)…

…they will come, or so goes the line from that classic movie Field of Dreams.  The actual quote is “if you build it, he will come”, but for many of us it is often quoted as “they”.  It is something we hear quite often in business, someone, some company, some product, or some service is absolutely perfect, yet the desired end result is unfortunately never reached.  The person does not find the job, the company does not find the right candidate, the product or service does not sell.  The issue is not that it was built, the issue is that no one came.

The closing scene of Field of Dreams shows cars lined up to the horizon, coming to the baseball diamond in the corn fields of Iowa.  Not only did “he come”, but “they came”.  The main character and his father are re-united for that game of catch, and the struggling farm is saved thanks to all the people coming to visit what was built.  It is pure hollywood and pure fantasy.  A great movie, but pure fiction.  Yet we have all heard “if you build it, they will come” not just as a cliché, but pointed to as a strategy for success.

Creating something is half the battle, the other half is advertising and marketing, sales and messaging.  The world’s greatest mouse trap is useless if no one knows of it.  Yet, so often all the efforts are placed on the front end, the creation phase.  Though some businesses drop the ball on the marketing front, where we do see the disconnect quite often is with those folks who are in transition.

“My LinkedIn profile is updated”, “I have applied online”, “I created an online profile”, “I have a great social media page”, “I am on The Ladders”, or whatever the website du jour might be, are refrains we hear often.  Are those actions appropriate – sure.  However, they are all, to one degree or another, passive behaviors.  Real success is much more likely if one actively markets what they have created.  Relying on the fortunes of luck, of someone “finding you” is completely passive and completely arbitrary.  Yes, it can work, but the odds are certainly improved if one is actively promoting what they have created.

Opening Day, well at this point Opening Week, always has my mind turning back to baseball.  It is another of those baseball related sayings “hope springs eternal” that tends to get batted around during this week.  It is ironic in a way, the classic baseball related quotes: “if you build it, he/they will come” and “hope springs eternal” are both passive phrases.  They are wonderful and make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but they are completely built on faith and hope of what might happen to or for you.  They do not reflect the reality – playoff baseball teams and World Series winners are not created by hope, they are created through work, planning, practice and grinding through the season, along with a bit of luck.  Just like successful business and just like successfully finding opportunities.

Bull Durham, Major League and Field of Dreams.  Three movies I can, and certainly have, watched over and over.  With it being opening week, or weekend, I can hope they will be on TV at some point, or I can take positive action and ensure I see them.

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How Not to Hire…Again

You get what you hire…almost always. Granted there are a few exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority of the time, the person you see in the interview, the person you discover through due diligence: that will be the person that shows up day-after-day at work. Yet again, the Dallas Cowboys provide a case study in how not to hire thanks to the saga of Dez Bryant.

So, what do the Dallas Cowboys, well owner and General Manager Jerry Jones decide to do…again…take a chance on hiring.  Unlike the 26 teams that had the choice, they selected Dez Bryant as their #1 draft pick in 2010 and pay him somewhere north of $12 million over 5 years.  To date that is roughly an $8 million chance.  Yes, Dez Bryant is a massively gifted and talented athlete.  However, when you look at the whole package, his troubled personal history, his career at Oklahoma State of off the field issues, and just general warning signs, the risks were readily apparent.  Physically gifted, but on the personal behavior front, there is a bit of a track record when it comes to reliability, maturity and focus.

So yet again the Cowboys find themselves with a personnel issue.  It is actually quite funny what they have resorted to:  literally a team of 24 hour babysitters, a Cinderella curfew and an off-limits lists, all for a multimillion dollar employee.   Granted, everyone deserves a second chance, an opportunity, and above all the support to succeed.  However, there comes a time when a leader has to make the tough call and realize skills alone are not enough.

After all these years and millions in wasted dollars, one would think the lesson had been learned – you get what you hire.  Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys continue to insist on “taking chances”.  Dez Bryant is just the latest in a long line of poor hiring decisions, both in players and coaches.  Granted it has worked out a few times, but the majority of the time, hiring “problem children” is quite literally hiring problem children.  Hiring is about the total person; always has been.  Heed the warning signs, look at the total package, and never fall in love with just the skill set, statistics, or “what they did at the last job”.  Skill sets can be learned or replaced, but the core of a person rarely changes.

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Petrino and Ozzie – You Get What You Hire

Interviewing is easy. Hiring is easy.  Interviewing well and hiring well are brutally hard. It all seems so simple in theory, but it is terribly difficult in practice. There are quantifiable qualifications, verifiable past history, personality tests, in-person meetings, lunches, dinners, hiring committees, but in the end it is about making a decision that is about the future. It is a decision rife with potential pitfalls and based on, at its best, only partial information.

The one good thing about our world of relentless media coverage and celebrity obsession is the opportunity it provides us to watch high-profile hiring and firing. The world of sports tends to offer the best laboratory of study possible – the hiring and firing of managers and coaches is never-ending and almost without fail very public.  And this week gave us two great case studies – Bobby Petrino of Arkansas and Ozzie Guillen of the Miami Marlins.

Bobby Petrino is widely regarded to be a very good football coach.  He is an exceptional coach when it comes to developing quarterbacks.  His record is quantifiable and real – it is easy to capture how well he has done in both wins and losses as well as in various statistical categories with individual players and teams.  The guy wins – no doubt.  However, everyone can also clearly see in his history a pattern of behavior.  Disingenuous, liberal with the truth, willing to conduct himself in a less than forthcoming manner – all fair statements.

Ozzie Guillen is also a recognized winner.  Shoot, he took the White Sox all the way to a World Series Championship.  If you can win a world series with a Chicago baseball team you must be pretty good at what you do.  However, Ozzie also comes with a bit of a colorful personality.  The media loves him because he says whatever pops into his head – as they say, he makes for great copy.

Well, in the last week we have seen Bobby Petrino fired and Ozzie Guillen suspended and clinging to his job.  Neither of these scenarios should come as a surprise to anyone, yet both the University of Arkansas and the Miami Marlins organization’s acted as if they were taken completely by surprise.  There was an absolutely massive and very public record for both Bobby Petrino and Ozzie Guillen – the organizations knew very well who they were hiring.  And that is the issue – you get what you hire.  You get ALL of what you hire.

Interviewing and hiring well is very hard.  The temptation is always there to see the extremes – how well someone has done or how poorly someone has done.  The reality lies in the entirety of the whole person.  It is impossible to just hire the winning coach Bobby Petrino – Arkansas got all of him when they hired him.  Same with Ozzie – Miami hired all of his colorful personality.  Just be ready when you are going to make that hiring decision…ready to get all of the person.

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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.

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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.

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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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