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I have found a new appreciation for the difficult work that hiring managers do. After exploring the hiring process in my management course this week--and, by sheer coincidence, discussing job ads in one of my other classes, some of which were well written and others not so much--I've come to realize just how challenging a task it can be to fill an open position with the right person, especially when there's pressure to hire fast. It was as though the curtain was thrown open and I got a close-up look at what goes on behind the scenes during those nail-biting stretches of silence that every eager job candidate experiences.

Finding the SWANs
I've read many, many job listings in my life so, of course, I feel pretty confident I know what constitutes a "good" job ad. How hard could it be to write one? Well, what I had not considered before is the fact that many job ads are written by people who have never been responsible for the duties outlined in the post, nor have they ever directly managed a person who has held the position before. In my own job-seeking history, I've always been fortunate to interact directly with a person close to the position in all the jobs I've applied to and successfully secured. However, I've always worked for small organizations, never a large company where a dedicated hiring manager might be present. This week's in-class exercise was interesting because it gave me the opportunity to think about the work that goes into selecting a candidate from the hiring manager's point of view, starting with drafting a set of interview questions in small groups.

Information professionals often occupy a space that overlaps different departments or they may act as "translators" for different teams within the organization (such as legal and IT, for example) so my group devised a series of questions that focused on investigating a candidate's qualities in this respect. Some of the questions we came up with include:

  • ■  How would you explain an idea or issue to someone who wasn't familiar with that specific area of expertise?
  • ■  Describe a time you had to deal with an ambiguous situation or problem. How did you handle it? (This question was meant to potentially assess one's tolerance of ambiguity, which we explored a few weeks ago in our class about personalities in the workplace.)
    Overall, what I learned is that it's not easy to judge if a person has the right skills and experience to excel in the position (but also not be overqualified) AND determine if the person is the right fit for the company culture. Both halves of the equation are important for maintaining job satisfaction so the new hire hopefully sticks around for a while. I like the simplicity of the SWAN formula mentioned in this article: Successful candidates are Smart, Work hard, Ambitious & Nice. 

    Difficult Conversations: Cutting the Swan Song Short
    After going through all that work to hire someone, it's reasonable to assume that most companies are reluctant to fire an employee unless they had good cause for termination such as poor performance or inappropriate conduct. However, many of my fellow students were shocked to learn that it's completely legal for employers to fire someone for much less legitimate reasons like being too attractive that it makes the boss's wife jealous or simply posting a Dilbert comic strip that makes fun of management up in the office. As the daughter of a paralegal, I've long known that Texas is an at-will state, which means that an employer can legally terminate an employee for pretty much any reason at any time without warning except where doing so would violate federal statutes protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability as well as a few other reasons.
    Dilbert by Scott Adams | 2007-10-26
    Dilbert by Scott Adams | Friday, October 26, 2007
    But, as I've seen in the case studies we've review in class these past few weeks, sometimes it is necessary for the good of the organization to swiftly fire an incompetent or unproductive employee. Delaying the decision not only costs the company money but also fosters a work environment that's ripe for toxic emotions which will have lasting negative effects on staff productivity and morale. Firing someone is understandably a stress- and anxiety-inducing conversation even when it's the best course of action for all involved. Fortunately, the book Difficult Conversations, which I raved about in my post last week, provides sound guidance on how to handle sensitive situations like this in order to generate the best outcome for all parties involved.

    #1 - Individual Differences: Understanding Myself and Others (MBTI Types + Keirsey Temperaments)
    #2 - Communicating Verbally with Others
    #3 - Hiring and Firing: Difficult Conversations

    NEXT TOPIC: #4 - Group Dynamics: Establishing Expectations