Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No Wonder Good Help Is Hard to Find--
I attended a delightful presentation at the local STC meeting last night called "Why I Didn't Hire You." Slides were clever, speaker was witty, and the content was a good encapsulation of conventional wisdom and sound advice for technical writers looking to get hired.

And that's what disturbed me.

The only part I liked was the part was about using the applicant's resume as an indication of the applicant's document design and information organizational skills. Right on!

The disturbing part was the behavioral advice concerning the interview: Hiring managers make their decisions based on criteria that have no correlation to what makes a writer successful.

Speaker's advice: "Dress professionally; who would you hire from the four men in this slide?" The right answer was the older white guy in the suit. One of the wrong answers was the younger African American man well-dressed but wearing a turtleneck shirt. Anyone want to venture a guess as to the speaker's demographic?

Similar question for the slide with four women. The winner was the attractive woman in a dress suit and perky tie. Loser was the slightly overweight woman wearing slacks and a man's tie.

My question was, "Who in these pictures look like the really good writers and editors I've worked with?" Losers in that category included the older white guy in the suit and the woman wearing the dress suit and perky tie.

OK, bad question. Try this one, "Who in these pictures look like the development team our writers would work with. Oops, same answer as before.

Other disturbing advice (disturbing because it really is practical and accurate): Don't ask questions about the work hours or the environment, like cubes versus offices. Yes, God forbid that hiring managers should act like they are recruiting talent, like they have a need to fill and they should try to understand what the candidates would like to know about where they will spend the majority of their conscious hours. The jobs are things the managers have and they will choose who is worthy to receive them.

What is wrong here? We have set up a system that evaluates candidates on criteria unrelated to success on the job, and we encourage candidates to present themselves disingenuously. What makes us think this is a formula for success?

I'd like to change the rules:
Candidates: Dress appropriately for the work environment and people you most likely will interface with. Be clean and neat, but be you.
Hiring Managers: Does the person look and act like someone who would fit in with the writers and SMEs he or she would work with.

Candidates: Ask questions that will help you make your job decision, don't make up stuff to sound good.
Hiring Mangers: Answer the candidate's questions and take them at face value. They have skin in the game too and have a right to interview you about how they will be treated by you.


Interviewing and hiring are fraught with subjectivity. Don't make it harder by introducing artificial criteria that at best can only tell you how well someone interviews.

It's bad enough that we practice all this deception when choosing life partners and people to make babies with. Must we muddy up the workplace as well?

IMHO :-)

1 comment:

Al said...

One small question, Mike: Would you have said all of this if you were a 20 something with a Bachelor's degree trying to land your first gig as a technical communicator?

If I were you, with your credentials, I probably would respond the same as you. If I were the 20 something, I'm not so sure.