Name the variable for the switch that says you should take a job or hire an employee

I hope this headline got your attention. In a moment I will tell you about the switch although I don’t have a name for it.

Even if you are not interested in getting a job or an employee I still hope you will read this anyway because I need your help giving this switch a name. The job market is broken to the extent the switch is broken, and that effects everyone. I can describe the switch but without a name it is cumbersome to even discuss it.

But first let me explain what is going on…

An employer who wants to help everyone, even the candidates he doesn't hire

At 3:00 P. M. tomorrow (February 25, 2015) I am going to speak to a bunch of people who won’t get the job they just applied for.

Actually, one or two of them might get an offer, but the employer has hired me to talk to the people he won’t hire. Hopefully I can help some of them find work elsewhere and at a minimum they will learn a few things.

The employer is a small family owned company in New York City that helps foreigners establish businesses in the USA. They hope to find two bright conscientious people for $40,000 per year (plus full benefits) to work as administrative assistants. That might not seem like a lot of money for a Harvard MBA or an aggressive salesman, but it can be pretty attractive to a writer or performer who needs steady income. Sarah, one of their current assistants (who is also a comedian) wrote this ad: ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT/CORPORATE DRONE WANTED! And I helped them write: Day Job for Writer or Editor With or Without Corporate Experience.

Within a week the ads attracted more than 500 candidates and about 100 of them made a clear case for why they should be considered and so John (the founder and president) sent them an email explaining that he had decided to try a different approach to hiring inspired by my Quartz article: How to hire good people instead of nice people. Rather than filter candidates by keywords on resumes John gave these people the option of coming to one of four open houses where first they would get to meet the staff and learn about the work and then I’d lead them in a discussion of how to find a job when you are good at doing the work but bad at getting it. About half of the people invited said they would like to attend.

The perfect interview

This is what the perfect interview sounds like in my mind (I am the hiring manager and we’ll call the candidate Candy.)

Me: Don’t tell me the answer but ask yourself: Who is the boss of you? When you are ready we can continue. This is a big question so take all the time you want.

Candy: Do you mean, who is the boss of me up until now, or do you mean who is the boss of me from the moment I answer the question henceforth?

Me: The past is past so I don’t care about that. Besides, past performance is a poor predictor of future performance so I only care about your answer from the moment you answer the question and forever after.

Candy: (after 23 minutes of reflection) OK, I have the answer.

Me: Good. Don’t tell me the answer now or ever because the words that come out of your mouth on this subject are irrelevant. The only thing that matters to me are your actions. Do you understand?

Candy: Of course.

Me: Good. I don’t want you to be anyone but who you are because if you try to convince me you are someone you are not you might fool me today but being someone you are not after you start working is exhausting and you won’t have energy left for the job. This means that I don’t care about the answer you came up with in your head. You own that answer and it is none of my business. Do you understand?

Candy: Perfectly.

Me: Good. Now, may I tell you who I want to hire?

Candy: OK.

Me: I want to hire the person for whom the answer is, “Yes, I am the boss of me.”

Candy: Of course you would. Why wouldn't you?

Me: No boss should ever want anything else, but perhaps that is just me.

Candy: Before you interview me for the job I just want to tell you that your question has changed me; it is like a switch has been flipped. So whether I get this job or not I want to thank you from the bottom of the heart.

Me: Thank you. I have only one question right now. Do you want to work for me?

Candy: Absolutely, why wouldn't I.

Me: And?

Candy: Sorry, I’m new to this. I only want to work for bosses who are the boss of themselves.

Me: Of course.

Candy: So, do you want me to work for you?

Me: Absolutely, why wouldn't I?

Candy: I don’t know, let me help you figure out why you wouldn't want me and if we can’t find a reason then let’s do it.

Me: Likewise, I’ll help you figure out why this isn't the place for you, and if we can’t find a good reason not to then the answer to “Why wouldn't I?” becomes “Can’t think of a reason.”

The switch with no name

Help me please. What is the name of this switch? Send your answer to: Brooke@BetterWorkWorld.com

Here are two true stories of real people with made-up names.

A switched-on employee

I first met Nini in the late 1970’s when she had just arrived in the country and did not speak a word of English. She was hired by a fellow Indonesian entirely on the strength of her nationality. A week later he fired her.

Nini stayed with us over this last Christmas (2014) and she told me a part of the story I didn’t know. The boss fired her because he needed an accountant and she wasn’t an accountant and didn’t even know what it meant to be one. All her friends told her how awful the boss was because he should either train her or determine she wasn’t qualified for the job before hiring her.

I asked, “Nini, were you upset?”

Nini said, “Of course not.”

I asked, “What did you do?”

Nini said, “I became an accountant.”

A switched-on boss

It is much harder to find a switched-on boss because most bosses think their job is to channel the bosses above them. Or even at companies that pretend to be flat organizations with good “cultures” the boss tries to control his or her behavior (and those in the vicinity) to conform to that imagined culture. This is absurd, of course, because culture isn’t so much what you manufacture but the name you give to what is.

Luckily about seven hours ago I met one such boss and I’ll call him Ernest. He is in his 70’s and he is a street vendor selling books near Washington Square Park in New York City. We started talking and couldn’t stop for a couple of hours. He is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met and by way of example I said I wanted to know how he became so eloquent given that he has no teeth; it seems incongruous. He thought for a minute and said, “I could try to answer that but it is hard because I don’t understand the question; they don’t seem related. But I can tell you that every tooth I lost has a story and I have learned a valuable lesson from each one and if I had my life to live over I would have it no other way. And the reason I am eloquent is because I read a lot when I was young and I like to think. To think is a beautiful thing; don’t you think? It is a sensual pleasure.”

On hiring, Ernest told me, “I have hired a lot of people over the years to help me move books. They all ask me, ‘What’s my job?’ I say, ‘To make sure you don’t do any harm to yourself physically, mentally, or otherwise.’ Usually that is enough but sometimes I have to give specific instructions. For example, one guy kept asking me when he should go to lunch and finally I couldn’t take it any longer so I thought I’d help him out and I told him, ‘When you are hungry.’”

I almost forgot

John is a switched on boss too.

The email I don’t want to receive

Please don’t tell me your switch is turned on.

The emails I want to receive

Again, if you have a name for that switch please send me your suggestion. It sure would be nice if I have a name for this switch before I talk to these job candidates.

And if you need to hire someone with that switch turned on then I want to talk to you about what we do. We start by casting a broad net (as John did) and then we don’t read resumes but we invite everyone to an event (like the one we will hold today at 3:00). It doesn’t matter if the switch was flipped on now when candidates first apply. It only matters when they get hired. Our job is to help candidates flip that switch if needed and to help employers identify who actually has it flipped. Then the employer hires the people they want and we try to place the rest.

If that intrigues you then please write.

I am Brooke at Brooke@BetterWorkWorld.com

Thank you very much.

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