SUPERMAN doesn’t apply for jobs-Clark Kent does.

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Dear Liz,

Where do you suggest I run my job ads to get a better caliber of applicant? I am having the hardest time finding qualified candidates to fill our open positions. I work in a startup company and our managers load up their job specs with requirements.

Some of the responding applicants have half the qualifications we require. Some have less than half, but they apply anyway! We need smart people with a lot of experience. The Engineering managers are on my case every day. We are desperate! There are new product releases riding on these hires.

I need some new ideas for getting these positions filled. What career website should I be posting job ads on? Any help will be appreciated!

Thanks,

Alisa

Dear Alisa,

I am sympathetic. It is not easy to have people breathing down your neck. I don’t blame you for being frustrated. You’ve got hiring managers asking for the world. You’re doing your best and still coming up short.

Here are a few ideas to make your burden lighter.

First, I must share some news that may startle you. You have been brainwashed, or are in the process of being brainwashed. People are trying to brainwash you right now. They are not doing it maliciously. They have been brainwashed themselves, and are only perpetuating the mind control they’ve been subjected to themselves.

Your hiring managers are desperate to get new products out the door. When they think about their task, the pressure on them and the risk of failure, they slip into a common human condition called fear. We have all felt fearful at one time or another. Some people stay in a state of fear for most of their waking existence.

To allay the fear that they feel as they think about the mountain of product-development work ahead of them, hiring managers write job specs. They invent superheroes in their minds and describe them on paper. They lose touch with reality. On the page or the screen, they describe a Superman or Aqua Woman with magical abilities. These people do not live on the real planet Earth. If they did, your inbox would be full of resumes from ‘qualified’ applicants right now.

That’s where the brainwashing comes in. Once a hiring manager has brought Superman to life in his own mind and on the job spec, only a person who shows up looking like Superman is deemed ‘qualified.’

You are being brainwashed to believe that qualification to build products for your company has something to do with hitting all the marks on a fear-fueled, unattached-from-reality job spec.

There are qualified people all over. Some of them are receiving “no thanks” letters from your company right now.

I’m sure your organization has people in it who design parts into products. Does your company allow a parts designer to say

“I’ve spec’d a cool new part into our latest device! It’s made of dragon tail and stardust and has a mean time between failures of sixteen billion years. It is impervious to heat, cold and pressure, costs one-millionth of a cent and plays Frank Zappa tunes when you turn it on. Wicked, huh?”

The design person has to work with parts that actually exist. If he or she wrote up requirements for parts that didn’t exist, the parts guy would soon be fired.

For some reason, we allow hiring managers to go hog wild when they write job specs. We don’t require them to write job requirements for people who resemble people we have met. We compound the damage when weeks go by, hundreds of people apply for the job, none of them is found to be ‘qualified’ and we say “Maybe we should try another careers site.”

We pride ourselves on our logical brains in business. Yet we hire people using an unbroken chain of magical thinking from the creation of the job spec to the offer letter.

Of all people, engineers – the hiring managers you’re talking about – should know better. If you sit down to write a job spec and can’t think of two dozen people you know who could pass the resume screen, walk into the role and perform it perfectly (and for the salary you’re planning to pay) then your job spec is out of touch with the real world. It may be merely fanciful. It may fall all the way into delusional territory.

It is your job as the HR person on the case to gently bring your hiring managers around to reality. You don’t have to use the line I used when hiring managers brought fanciful-bordering-on-delusional job specs to my office. (My line was “Pull the needle out of your arm.”)

You can say “I think we have too many requirements in this spec. We’ll drive good candidates away if we post a job ad with all these bullets. I’ll be the person doing the resume screening, and I’m afraid that if we keep the job spec so stacked with requirements, very few people will get through the screen.”

It is a disservice to say or to think that people who don’t meet the qualifications your managers have established are unqualified or low-caliber candidates. That is part of the problem we launched Human Workplace to address.

In the United States and elsewhere we have a massive, yawning gap between what is really needed to succeed on most jobs and what we say and do in our corporate, institutional and start-up hiring practices.

Just when we should be at our most expansive and broad-minded, meeting talented people and brainstorming with them about opportunities and challenges, we get all weenyfied and procedural.

There are tons of people in your area who are qualified to do the jobs you’re looking to fill.

Some of them don’t want to work for you, in part because of fussy, overly linear processes like your company’s bullets-over-everything system.

Some of them are consulting. They got fed up with just the sort of B.S. – an acronym for Bureaucratic System – we are discussing here.

Some of them are absolutely brilliant and would make wonderful additions to your team. They applied for the job you’re trying to fill, and they got tossed out of the pipeline. Yet your managers say they’re desperate to fill jobs. How desperate can they be, when they squander the talent that shows up to help them?

Side note: a fellow came up to me at a conference last month.

“I need Ruby developers asap!” he said.

“How much Ruby experience do you need?” I asked.

“Six months,” he replied.

“How long have you been looking?” I asked him.

“Well over a year,” replied the entrepreneur.

And there you have the problem. He could have trained all the Ruby developers he needed in that time via on-the-job training. Anyone with programming experience could have come in as a Ruby on Rails apprentice and come up to speed in a snap.

Our creative brains shut down when we think about hiring. We revert to our three-year-old selves.

“I have a job opening!” we wail in the manner of frustrated pre-schoolers. “I have money to pay! I should get what I want.”

Our hiring processes are so broken, they are pathological. We have drunk gallons of toxic lemonade that has convinced us a certain degree, number of years of experience or weeny-ass technical certification makes a person magical. We are adults. We should know better.

Here’s my prescription for you, dear Alisa:

Lose the job specs, the job ads, and the hunt for a magical careers site where all the best applicants hang out. There isn’t one. Amazing people are everywhere. There will be several of them in the checkout line at the grocery store tonight when you stop to get Trix, toilet paper and butternut squash on your way home.

Host a job fair at your office. Invite everyone who’s ever applied for a job at your company and all their friends. Serve mixer-type refreshments and invite your CEO to talk with your guests about why your company’s product is cool.

Your hiring managers, face-to-face and in conversation with some of the incredible people your B.S. recruiting program screened out earlier, will get a second chance. In a different context — a friendly, low-key mixer after work doing double duty as a hiring event – I guarantee they’ll spot several people who can help you get your products built.

Above all, shake off the brainwashing that equates ‘qualified’ with ‘meets the fear-driven endless list of published job requirements.’ People who have more of the bullets on a job spec are not higher-caliber people. I know you’ve heard that term, ‘high-caliber,’ applied to job applicants in connection with their formal qualifications, but the term used that way is insulting.

If we want to talk about lower-caliber and higher-caliber candidates, let’s assign the term ‘high-caliber’ to the candidates who know who they are, what they bring and what they’re looking for. Those are the people you want.

Forget the bullet points, Alisa, and go in search of people who will resonate with your mission, and vice versa.

Best,

Liz

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