A previous boss and mentor passed away recently, and I’ve been reading tributes by his former employees and students.
We should all be so fortunate to leave a trail of people for whom we made a positive career difference.
What jumped out in the remembrances was that he hired people — and put faith in people — who probably shouldn’t have been hired, at least not according to qualification metrics that might have been posted for the job.
But he was a good interviewer. He saw character. He saw potential. He took chances where others might not have.
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Except in small businesses, the opportunity to do this kind of face-to-face, one-on-one job interviewing with a supervisor is nearly a lost art.
In larger organizations, a computer scanner trolls through resumes looking for keywords that match posted job descriptions. Or someone in the human resource department pages through applications, looking for people who appear to fit a department’s needs.
As I hear often from job hunters: Words on a page, even when artfully advised by career counselors, can’t do justice to a candidate’s ability to fill a job. If job history, education or age doesn’t appear to match the expected credentials, candidates don’t get a chance to present themselves in person.
Sometimes, front-line interviewers don’t have insight into the skills or nuances of the job, but a good interviewer lives in the space.
It’s a numbers game, of course. Hundreds of applicants can’t be screened in person. Downsized organizations can’t commit too much time to interviewing dozens for a single spot. They use analytics to zero in on the two or three most promising candidates.
But the tributes I’ve read show that outstanding workers can’t always be recognized by resume scans, or telephone interviews, or cursory group interviews designed to cull the herd. It takes a good interviewer to see an ineffable “fit.”
Sometimes that fit comes from surprising directions. And that takes courage from the interviewer. Without courage, diverse hires wouldn’t happen, at least not in organizations that feel more comfortable when everyone thinks or looks alike or comes from expected backgrounds.
To be courageous interviewers, supervisors have to be confident in their own jobs. They have to defend choices that go against conventional wisdom.
Equally important, they have to stand available to be a mentor, whether their hires are trailblazing wonders or potential mistakes. Supervising interviewers need to own their decisions.
That ownership, that confidence in his hires, also came through in the tributes to a man who followed people’s careers for decades and shared encouragement or criticism in necessary doses. He wasn’t a softie. He was brutally direct.
Technology, organization size, short-tenured jobs — these all conspire against such long-term work relationships. One can imagine the talent that’s being missed.