What Do You Assume?

wall of rocksPeople have a lot of opinions about the hiring process in general and resumes in particular. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone opining about how resumes are useless or dead. Side note:  Don’t throw rocks, you might hurt someone.

Many of our opinions are based on assumptions that are often unconscious and just as often unquestioned.  They provide a foundation for views and actions much like these rocks hold up my house.

I like to examine those assumptions because it helps me act more skillfully – much like the work my girlfriend did in re-pointing the bricks and stones of our old house.

Today on twitter I saw this:

Strong opinions.

We have opinions.

Not reflected in that exchange was this tweet:

Another thought

Another thought

If we unpack this exchange we can find at least several assumptions:  1) Anyone  with an up to date current resume is actively looking to make a move.  2) An active stance implies that someone is less skilled than someone heads down working.  3) People without name recognition in their field are less skilled than those with name recognition.

These are not uncommon assumptions.  I hear them periodically, often along with:   4) “I know everyone doing X, or at least everyone who is doing X and who is any good.”  Here X is whatever specialized skill that particular person does or needs and it could be anything from ditch-digging to plumbers to native javascript developers to neurosurgeons – I think you get my drift.

We are so very networked, and we have so much information available it is easier than ever to make a statement like “I know everyone doing X.”  We are not only supposed to be good at what we do, we are also supposed to be good at making sure other people know we are good.   This is part of managing our “professional reputation.” It is so important some people make a living helping other people manage their professional reputations.  Seeing and being seen is part of professional life, especially on the web, but not just there.  Making a name for ourselves is a basic human drive, a reflexive desire.

However, as a recruiter, I’ve learned to set much of that frenzy aside.  Reputation is important, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that competence might be even  more important.  Our current version of the internet and the web have turned most everything we do into performance art.  We measure how many clicks, and how much traffic and how much influence and how many people know our name.  We talk about the work we do at least as much as we do it.  But in the context of hiring, what does reputation really mean?  At a very basic level, reputation is what other people say about us. It is what springs to mind when we are referenced – a conditioned response. It can be cultivated, manipulated, gamed and bathed in snake-oil. It can also be sincere, accurate and representative of a body of work. It is also important to remember this:  Someone can be very good at what they do, and be relatively unknown.

What we think of when we encounter someone about whom we know enough to have an opinion is probably something like “Jane is good. I like Jane.”  or “Jeff is bad. I don’t like Jeff.”  Rarely do we know enough, or take the time, to unpack it further.   Or if we do know someone professionally, “Jane is smart. I heard Jane did a good job with that one thing.” or,  I heard “Jane tanked that project.” Our opinion is based on our own narrow experience, or that of other folks we think are trustworthy.  See how that works?   Also, the art of reputation management is not the same as the work being done.  And perhaps most importantly, most companies are not hiring famous people, they just want people who can do a good job.  And no, I’m not saying they are mutually exclusive.

Hiring is pattern matching and behavior prediction.  It is an art and a science not unlike dating and it is a mental game with rules based on cognitive theory. Searches are fluid, requirements change, and as recruiters, we are doing something very close to reading minds.  In successful hiring there is no room for an assumption like, “I know everyone doing X” or, and this is especially for you, recruiters “I’ve already talked to everyone doing X.”  The thing I keep in my head is this:  “The winning candidate is out there. What can I do to further hone my search?  Where will I find her or him?”

In my almost 20 years of doing the work of recruiting I’ve developed a mindset/stance that I think drives good behavior on my part and helps both the companies I serve and the candidates I represent.

  1. Despite the number of people I know doing X, there are always more people doing it that I must work to discover.  The talent landscape changes constantly. I can never assume I have a handle on everyone doing any one thing. This helps me stay on point, focused on searching for and presenting great candidates – I’m never done until I am, and there is always another way to frame the search that will net  me additional candidates.
  2. A key focus of my role is to help the candidates I represent showcase their skills/experience in the best possible way in relation to the position for which I am recruiting. I assist in crafting a thought argument for continued conversation (otherwise known as a resume). I personally call that thought argument a presentation. Reputations are simply too general to be effective, thus the necessity for a tailored presentation. An effective presentation, whether done by a recruiter or the candidate, sets the stage for future interaction. It provides context,  nuance, and an argument for why that candidate should advance in the process.  At best a presentation can compel, but it should at least guide perception.
  3. By assuming that there are always more candidates out there I develop a richer selection pool, upping the quality of those I present, and helping my client make the best possible choice.

So when people say, resumes/cover letters are dead, I chuckle.  When people say I “hire by reputation” I know they are fishing from a pretty small pool, at least in comparison to what is out there.  At the very least I’m confident they are not casting their net as far as I am prepared to cast mine.  When a recruiter says, “I’ve talked to everyone who does X”,  I know I’ve got more than just a chance of finding a candidate that will edge them out.  And how can I be so certain?  Because their default is more narrow than mine – they assume a hard limit and I have taught myself to to work without one.  Perhaps most importantly, I remind myself to check my assumptions daily.   Recruiting is what I do.  The way I eat is by being right on the money about the game of hiring, and my reputation is only as good as the last deal I closed.  I need to make sure the foundation of my thinking is as sound as possible in order to maximize my results.



3 Responses

  1. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal March 30, 2014 at 10:09 pm |

    “If we unpack this exchange we can find at least several assumptions:
    1) Anyone with an up to date current resume is actively looking to make a move.
    2) An active stance implies that someone is less skilled than someone heads down working.
    3) People without name recognition in their field are less skilled than those with name recognition.”

    Only (3) was implied in the Twitter conversation. Not (1) and (2). The idea is that great performers have a well-known reputation.

  2. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal March 30, 2014 at 10:24 pm |

    Seth Godin and Shane Mac say that good people don’t need resumes. They are known in their field and there are always companies ready to hire them.

    You counter with 3 points.

    1. Reputation are unreliable and should be viewed with mistrust.
    2. There are good candidates who are not well known.
    3. No one knows every good candidate in a particular field.

    I’m a recruiter. I’ve introduced good people to my clients whom they did not know. And, yes, some reputations are created by braggarts to dupe the naive. Michael Jackson named himself the King of Pop.

    But does that mean that there is not a class of people in a trade or a profession who are not well-known by most people in that field? Especially in their own city or region where the scope is limited? You say no; I’m not so sure.

  3. Melissa
    Melissa April 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm |

    What a strange business, trying to hire people who already have jobs. What is the point of filling an open job with someone who is already able to eat and pay bills and keep their house? Why don’t you focus on placing the unemployed in these openings instead?


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