Subscribe
The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Why do job applicants insult employers?

In the May 17, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer is miffed at a good but cocky job applicant.

Question

We received a resume which looked very good. The applicant appeared to have all the skills we are looking for, and would have gone straight to the top of the list, but the resume was submitted with an e-mail that read:

thumb-nose“If you are intelligent enough you will find that I’m everything you’re looking for and more. If you are not, then keep on looking…”

I understand people are trying to get noticed, but this comes across as arrogant and insulting. In the body of the resume, the candidate describes himself as, “Friendly, well-liked individual with a good sense of humor (at least I think so).”

If he was trying to be funny with his e-mail, he missed the mark. If he had omitted the e-mail comments entirely, he would have been called for an interview.

We are a small company and personality is a large part of what we look for in a candidate. Why would a candidate go out of their way to insult a potential employer? What are your thoughts on such bold statements when submitting resumes?

Nick’s Reply

I’ll tell you exactly why the candidate wrote that note: He’s frustrated and exasperated with employers who waste his time again and again. Perhaps not you — but it’s happened so much that he sees no risk in being so bold.

Your company may be different, but the sad story today is that employers in general behave poorly and irresponsibly when hiring. They believe that because millions of resumes are available essentially for free online, they can interview all the candidates they want without recognizing a good hire — and continue interviewing without any obligation to candidates who match requirements. (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.)

Is your company part of a frustrating employment ecosystem?

Good employers who recruit and hire thoughtfully and treat candidates with respect are rare today. I believe the problem is an over-reliance on automation. LinkedIn and Indeed have sold employers a bill of goods – “We guarantee you the perfect candidate if you submit as many keywords as possible… and if you just keep searching our database… eventually, you’ll find your perfect fit.”

Employers who buy into this nonsense start running through applicants like paper towels. This particular applicant is fed up and probably doesn’t care any more whom he offends. That’s not wise. He should stop sending out random resumes, start relying on personal contacts, and emphasize respect. But so should employers.

(To get an idea of how big this frustration is, please see David Hunt’s excellect expose, “The Perfect Fit, Isn’t.”)

I think the recruiting tools that HR departments rely on are the root of this problem. HR’s systems program job seekers to apply for any job they find. HR has convinced job seekers that it’s a numbers and key-words game.

Then the whole thing blows up. HR complains of a “talent shortage” when we’re in the biggest talent glut America has ever seen. Candidates complain they are treated like commodities. And, finally, you get a note like that. It’s silly for any candidate who doesn’t know you to suggest he’s everything you’re looking for — until you consider that you probably advertised your position using keywords. If the candidate matches all those keywords, then he’s right — he is indeed “everything you’re looking for.”

Clean up your recruiting ecosystem

So the next thing to do is look at how you recruit. Is your method fair and reasonable, or is it contributing to a form of dumbed-down “matching” that encourages job applicants to view you with suspicion?

When reasonable people — like your “top of the list” candidate — start showing their frustration, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. Your company may not be guilty, but your peer companies may be creating a communal problem. That affects your business — so, what are you doing about it?

I give you credit for trying to understand what’s going on. Otherwise-smart employers and candidates are doing imprudent things — because they’re frustrated. The system has to be changed, and I believe it’s up to employers to take the lead, since they’re the ones who own the jobs and spend the money.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend a chamber of commerce meeting. Work with other employers on standards of recruiting behavior. Raise them.
  • Ask your HR team to survey other employers: How do they treat job candidates?
  • Work with other employers: Improve the employment ecosystem for everyone’s benefit.

I don’t think the applicant in question was trying to be funny. If you think he’s a good fit, I’d pick up the phone and shock him with a call — and ask him politely why he seems so frustrated. If he’s rude, hang up. But my guess is you might meet a solid, engaging person who’s just fed up with the system. He might be a gem.

(Consider the other side of this: Job applicants often interview with employers even after they’ve been insulted by ridiculous online application forms. Don’t be so quick to judge people before you actually meet them.)

I wrote so much about this because it’s a huge problem in our employment system. I think job seekers who behave badly sometimes do it because they feel abused and at a disadvantage. I’m tickled to see an employer pausing to think about what’s really going on. I enjoyed your thoughtful note. But I’d like to know, what are you going to do about this problem?

Do you get cocky with employers? If you’re an employer, how do you deal with good candidates who seem to have an attitude? Is everyone on edge because the employment system is so broken?

: :

 

55 Comments
  1. Paper towels? Most employers run through applicants like drano, to borrow from a recently popular song. Even a successful candidate feels little better than a clog washed down the drain by the time the magical “first day on the job” rolls around.

    A brief examnination of the Labor Force Participation Rate would quickly debunk the “talent shortage” lie. Unfortunately, “leadership” at most companies, large and samll, can’t be bothered. It is just easier to believe the hot air being produced over in HR.

    http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000

  2. The cocky job applicant reads like a narcissist to me. I’d interview him and ask questions and see how much he talks about himself, offers unsolicited advice and makes everything all about him. The way he phrased he is well liked and funny- at least he thinks so- sounds just like a narcissist. These people are hell to work with and for.

  3. Frustration? Fine, complain to your friends, your partner, make anonymous posts on Facebook but on a cover letter? Give me a break.

    Either this person has the worst judgement possible when it comes to business communications or as stated, he has a personality disorder that believes a missive such as this is appropriate and normal.

    Yes, let’s risk annoying the one person who might be able to help you land that job you are “the perfect candidate for.”

  4. Possibly frustrated but this job seeker sounds immature,unsophisticated, and loaded with pseudo bravado –like s/he thinks that’s how grown ups act. I’ve been discriminated against on the job because I’m female, and I’ve been plenty frustrated. Does that mean I approach a job prospect with “If the men there keep their hands to themselves, I’m perfect for the job?”

  5. Interesting point. If the candidate had interviewed for the position, and then made that same statement after that, I would consider it a closing argument, brash, perhaps, but appropriate – especially for a Sales job.

    For a cover letter? On the face of it, I agree with Addie – false bravado. With great resume credentials, I would call them in for an interview and look for the narcissistic factors – and also flat out confront them on that statement and see how they handle it.

    My goal is to land great employees – Im not going to let an email statement that may well be born of frustration get in the way of that.

    • I’d punch you square in the nose, why are you flustered? you have a job, let alone the hiring manager, why would you waste their time and limited resources, i bet youd go into a burn ward and tell people ” you should have turned off the stove ass hole”
      You got no place to be a dick,
      “Let them eat cake,
      poor: what cake?”

  6. Apologies for not recognising @Kathy for essentially outlining the same strategy as I posted above.

  7. Nick,
    I understand what you are saying and you are correct. However, I think it’s also about professionalism and class. If you are going to write something, write something professional that will help your job chances, not a wise ass remark.

  8. Firstly, I would like to congratulate the employer on reading a cover letter! Haven’t they outsourced that to computer keyword algorithms by now?

    As far as I care, life is a two-way street. I will be kind and polite to every employer…until they cross me. Then, they’re gone!

    Call my Captain Carl, because I have a “Ship List”!

    – The ones that kick my tires and disappear? Ignore.

    – The ones that interview me repeatedly then repost and call me back after 8 months of ignoring me? Ignore!

    – The one that dispatched a 22 year old HR person who refused to shake my hand on the way out of a meeting. Double ignore!

  9. @L.T.: Thanks for posting the BLS labor participation rate chart. Some will argue it’s up, but a close look tells us it’s way DOWN over the past many years!

    @Jurassic Carl: “I would like to congratulate the employer on reading a cover letter!”
    Yah – good point!

    @ALL: I appreciate your chiding the job applicant for being cocky in the cover letter. But I see this another way. If we assume the job seeker is serious about wanting a job, why would he be so cocky? As some have pointed out, this may just be a person with no class. Or, it may be a very frustrated job seeker who’s fed up with the way the system works (actually, doesn’t work). I’m not dismissing the first possibility, but I know the second possibility is a real problem most job seekers face. The question is, if the job seeker is not a dope (my assumption – could be wrong!), why is he doing this? I’ve already shared my suspicion. Do you think this would totally kill his job hunting efforts, or do you think there’s an employer out there that would bring him in? Keep in mind – the OP (an employer) pointed out that his qualifications alone would justify an interview.

  10. While I know I would do a double-take if I read a cover letter like this, I’m glad Nick provides an alternative explanation to check my pride. Spending 1-2 hours on a single application (searching for the right opening, writing a cover letter, filling out forms, etc.) is exhausting and repeating this process again and again, without any feedback from employers, ultimately builds resentment for a candidate whose job search is long in the tooth. In more desperate times I know I have resorted to trying unconventional cover letter strategies, just to see if it would help me get through the door. They did not work, I must say, but they were always the result of desperation, exhaustion, and frustration. As a search committee member, I’ve learned to not take too seriously a social faux pas or a sentence I think of as aggressive or risky – although I don’t necessarily recommend them!

    As another comment says, if everything else fits, just talk to the candidate and see what comes out. No one wants to have their life and career judged solely on 3-5 paragraphs.

  11. @Ian: I believe HR’s own frustration comes through in the way it communicates (or fails to) with applicants. What I’m trying to shine a light on is how this same “system” affects applicant behavior. I think HR quickly rationalizes its own unprofessional behavior, while it chastises applicants who express their own frustration with the very same system.

    I should have expressed this in my column.

  12. Nick,

    I agree that most people who come off with a bad attitude are likely frustrated due to gross incompetence encountered during the job search. I like to call this fighting the last war. Employers are guilty of the same in the way they write job descriptions, interview candidates, and generally conduct business.

    For instance, many weak managers treat candidates like garbage because they forget that hiring is about finding talented people to help the business make money and be successful.

    Candidates with choices will quickly self-select out of such situations and to avoid such bad-actors may open with statements that appear off putting and offensive but actually designed to self-select out of the wrong opportunities. Filtering is sometimes a two way street.

    See: “Corporate Gut Check Time: Be Honest, You Don’t Want The Best People To Work For You.” — Dan Calinescu

  13. Two points:
    Smart ass lines seldom, very seldom, work.
    I agree that the line may be the result of frustration. Why take it out on a prospective employer?
    The source of frustration is probably an applicant tracking ‘system’ or a HR rookie who reviews resumes.(or an applicant who applies for lots of jobs that they think they could probably do if given the chance,you know, ‘I’ve always wanted to be a CFO’)
    Past a low level the system/HR person doesn’t know anything meaningful about the job – why aren’t managers reviewing the resumes after a crude initial sort by HR (degree, required certification,local resident required,etc.)
    By the way, The number of companies who don’t acknowledge receipt of resumes astounds me.They never heard,” you can’t always make a hire but you can make a friend.”

  14. Yes, the applicant is *frustrated* just like I was when I finally tipped “over the edge” and officially gave up on this job market. There was a brief period when applying for jobs just became a “game” for me (how many rejections can I get this week), I added a little blurb to my cover letter which stood as a middle finger to the employers who posted massively detailed job descriptions for creative design jobs that also required programming knowledge and ended with “1 to 3 years of experience” required (in other words, they really just want a 22-24yo kid): “In summary, if you want a recent graduate who has no experience in properly kicking off a client meeting, or if you only want a programmer who knows Photoshop, then you should pass on my candidacy. If, however, you want an experienced design professional who can easily complete a creative brief and is well-versed in working collaboratively with diverse teams from writers to C-level executives, then please do not hesitate to contact me.” No, I didn’t receive a response, nor did I expect one. But, like I said, I had passed beyond the point of caring. Btw, it’s great not to care anymore.

  15. “If you are intelligent enough you will find that I’m everything you’re looking for and more. If you are not, then keep on looking…”

    This screams to me, “non-native speaker of English.” No way to know, and it doesn’t help much, but I’ve helped enough Polish, Ukrainian, Italian, Israeli, and even people from the UK(!) write resumes and cover letters to see, this is someone not fluent in English. There’s also another possibility: high functioning autistic or similar. Both of these categories would benefit from a friendly phone call, and so might the employer.

    If they were raised in the US and went through the public school system where you are required to take four years of English, and they aren’t fluent in interpersonal communication, that will be pretty obvious from a phone call as well.

  16. @lee

    “See: “Corporate Gut Check Time: Be Honest, You Don’t Want The Best People To Work For You.” — Dan Calinescu”

    CEO – “I want the best people I can find for my organisation”
    CFO – “I want the best value I can find for my organisation”

    This is a natural and healthy debate in the Board Room.

    Who wins in your company?

    Hint – if you set the ‘salary pay scale” before you make up your short list, the battle is already over.

  17. @Nick: “I don’t think the applicant in question was trying to be funny.” I think he was very successful at not being funny, but he was also successful at not coming across serious about the position or wanting to be a part of the organization he applied too. IMO, It’s like he just needed to satisfy the requirements for unemployment and didn’t really want the job.

    @Kathy, @Hank, @Addie, @Peter: I totally agree.

    Regardless of ones frustration at the job market, a persons choice of words can be very telling and I can vouch first-hand that working with a narcissist is an easy way to ruin a well-oiled machine.

    Case in point:
    Last year we had someone start in our office, without the traditional interview process. It turns out the person was a super narcissist and openly declared that only 3% of the population had any real level of intelligence. Of course he also shared that he “didn’t need this job”. At that point, he was on my ignore list, as he clearly wasn’t interested in being part of our team. This proved to be factual and fortunately for us, he was not immediately placed in a permanent line. He was let go after 5 months. 5 long months.

    He had a masters degree and had been working on his PhD for over 7 years. More times than not, the more “education” a person has, the less common sense they seem to have. Turns out he quit his last job and as a favor, our director had hired him on with out properly vetting him in an interview process.

    Arrogance is fine from time to time, once you’ve proven your worth to your fellow employees/employer. Arrogance before even being interviewed, is just a display of ones ignorance IMO.

  18. You hit the nail on the head Nick and so happy to hear you immediatly recognize his frustration.

  19. @Nick
    I look at the BLS labor participation rate. I do a little grade school math and arrive at some 37.2% of the US population ready, willing and able to work, yet is not participating, and is un-employed.

    I hear on the evening news that the unemployment rate is like 5.5%.

    I can only assume that Government cannot do math.

  20. I’m baffled as to why an employer would care and why a letter would be written. But, there is the human tendency to generalize (stereotyping). Not all employers are bad, but articles written tag employers as knuckleheads who possess these narcissistic attributes. When I was looking for work years ago, I responded to about 95 online ads and received one response. I was frustrated beyond belief. Our brains take in this information and it gets solidified. We then envision a potential employer ignoring our resume and become cynical. This is what Nick is talking about. I wish we could have standards for hiring managers and teach them how to actually look at the resume rather than stupid keywords. A lot can be said about someone who takes the time to create a GOOD resume and cover letter. These are the ones employers should consider rather than individuals who have 4.723 weeks experience in some obscure software program. This is what frustrates job seekers who are an asset. I can see someone sending this message along with a resume. Personally I would not do this but, as an employer now, I would at least contact this person. They may be someone who gets the job done.

  21. @Nick: Thanks for the praise and the plug! :)

  22. I wonder if this letter was the required cover letter on a ATS application. I have had instances when I have spent upwards of two hours on an ATS application and never complete the application. I have gotten stuck on ATS fields where the autofill dates for degrees don’t go past 2000. Or I need to put references in an ATS-which I won’t do. Or I need the exact address for each of the last ten places I have lived in. Maybe the candidate figured the questions on the ATS would not allow the application to get to a human set of eyes and wrote the cover letter with that in mind.

  23. Totally agree with you Nick. And our ‘narcissist’ ‘arrogant’ and ‘unprofessional’ candidate, although this kind of approach likely won’t work for him, is well on his way to saying: “screw the system, I’ll make my own magic.” And that will change his life.

  24. Reading through the comments, I’m noticing a theme. Specifically, that people commenting have become poisoned IN GENERAL by their treatment by individual companies.

    At the risk of shameless self-reference (cue Emperor Palpatine cackle), “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen”. To wit:

    https://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/peeing-in-the-candidate-reservoir/

  25. @Kathy:
    As long as the interviewer can recognize the difference between “unsolicited advice” and “I’ve studied your company, and here is where I can improve (fill in the blank)”, invite him in for an interview. If the interviewer does not recognize the difference, let’s not waste the candidate’s time.

    @ Captain Carl:
    We may talk about the potential candidate having no class, but the average 22 year old HR person knows nothing about the company, the job, the actual requirements needed or how to treat people.

    I get more respect from a Prospect of the shabbiest motorcycle club in town than from most HR folk. At least the Prospect will take off his gloves, take off his sunglasses, look me in the eye, introduce himself and shake my hand.

    @Nick:
    “I believe HR’s own frustration comes through in the way it communicates (or fails to) with applicants.”

    Assuming this is a large part of what HR is tasked to do, most enterprises commit corporate seppuku on a daily basis by directing potential employers to their demeaning ATS process. (As I look at that sentence, calling the ATS process “demeaning” may be redundant.)

    @Peter Miller:
    If HR does not know anything meaningful about the job, why should they even be given the responsibility of a crude review? Let the hiring manager write the qualifications, review resumes (not ATS outputs), etc. and bring the selected candidate to HR to take care of pay & benefits.

  26. Nick: Thanks for your reasoned response.

    All: Lack of “professionalism and class” has been evident for some time – not just in the candidate’s letter and not something new.

  27. Just a couple of random thoughts:

    There probably was a better way to word what the candidate was trying to get across, or it may have been wiser to drop it all together.

    Certainly, there are people that have issues in relating to others; however I think people should be generally be given the benefit of the doubt unless there is some compelling evidence to suggest otherwise.

  28. If you are not acquainted with “Opposite George” of the “Seinfeld” TV series, please watch this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiwtXHPwGPE

    The applicant in question can take great pride in achieving what is surely one of the greatest coups of the year: HE GOT NOTICED! If the company in question is not staffed by a collection of überjerks*, a competent, responsible person will contact the applicant via telephone — like it was done back in the Mesozoic Era. (Was the dinosaur reference too subtle?) The mutual degree of interest should reveal itself soon enough.

    *How does a collection of überjerks behave? “In 1991, a potential employer had me travel 200 miles one-way and stay overnight at one of the better hotels in the area (all at company expense) for two days of interviews. Subsequently, each person that I had spoken to face-to-face adamantly refused to speak to me over the telephone. This is how I was able to figure out that they would not be hiring me.” See my original post at:
    http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/8651/does-your-company-have-clean-underwear

  29. When I first read the letter, I thought the writer was cocky and arrogant.

    @Nick: thanks for your response and for providing an alternative way to look at what prompted him to write such a thing. In that sense, it reminds me of one of my high school teachers, who was famous for assigning long research papers and NOT reading them. What some of the (braver) students did was insert completely off-topic comments, sentences, and even whole paragraphs and pages in the midst of their papers, just to see if he’d notice. He didn’t–no snarky comments from him, no grade deductions, nothing. What the letter writer did in this week’s Q&A reminds me of high school–he has probably long since learned that no human being is reading his résumé, application, cover letter, and this is his way of thumbing his nose at the system.

    In this case, he miscalculated, but if I were the employer, I’d take Nick’s advice and at least call the guy, talk to him. He might not be as arrogant and cocky as his cover letter implies, and the employer might find that this is sheer frustration (just like my high school classmates took out their frustrations on the teacher who didn’t bother to read their papers, then had a private laugh at his expense,and proof to show their parents re this teacher handing out grades and not reading). And if he is cocky and arrogant, then the employer can simply end the call.

    I wouldn’t do it for precisely this reason–you never know whether someone who is in a position to hire you or even recommend you to someone else, will be reading it.

    Yes, there is plenty of bad, unprofessional behavior on the part of employers, but that doesn’t mean you have to sink to their level. The employer may think job candidates have no class, as evidenced by this letter, but too many employers show their lack of professionalism and class by the way they treat prospective employees. A colleague who has been interviewing for jobs told me earlier this week that she was treated so badly, so rudely by HR at one of the places that she declined their offer (even though it is for a full time job) and despite getting calls, texts, and emails from the employer, is over them. I suggested that she tell the hiring manager (and the board of trustees) exactly how the young HR employee treated her and how it was the determining factor in her decision to turn down their offer, but she fears retaliation and bad repercussions for her–she will see many of these people at professional conferences and meetings; she is young (29) and doesn’t want to jeopardize future jobs (she could end up working with any of these people at some other job with another employer).

    @David Hunt: love the article! You’ve summed it up well, and unfortunately describes not just the engineering industry but many industries.

  30. David Hunt, PE:
    Once again, you’ve provided us with an awesome collection of articles. Thank you.

  31. I’ve done something like this a couple of times:

    Answered an ad for a marketing writer job. The ad had eight or ten spelling and grammar errors, so I listed each of them in my cover letter. See, I know how to write. Never heard back, didn’t care.

    Had an interview that was going well… a conversation rather than an inquisition. When I was asked why I wanted to work there (I was definitely qualified for the job), I basically said, “I need a job and I can’t seem to find one. I’ve been looking for months with no success.” Raw honesty didn’t get me that job.

    I always know that responses like these probably won’t get me a job. But I probably wasn’t going to get that job anyway. Sometimes you just have to express your frustration.

  32. @Omar: Thank you for the kind words! :)

    TGIF everyone.

    G-d willing, I’m landing a FT job soon. Not as much $ as I’d like, but better than what I’ve got now – and I won’t have to spend close to $1K on health insurance every month on top of it.

  33. Thank u Tessa as honesty is currently held in very low regard, especially when one points out the obvious to the offenders :)

  34. I’m late to the discussion. I don’t know the industry involved, but in my previous hi-tech world it wasn’t unusual to run across highly confident (arrogant), brilliant (self assessed), people. Who sent cover letters, emails that were career limiting.

    But I loved people like this. My peer managers would be outraged, but I’d be curious. Interviewing people like this can be very educational. If as Nick said the reason is frustration, I could take the edge off of that. If they really were arrogant…business as usual.

    If they really did have a sense of humor..all the better. There really wasn’t that many people who defied convention, so I didn’t lose much time talking to them.

    Perhaps they did come on strong, but they stood out. And sometimes they were as advertised…and I found some good people that way.

    Who I might have to hose down, clean up, and send to charm school, but if they could produce as their brilliance implied. It was a win/win

  35. @Don: You remind me of the engineer who came into my office and handed me his business card. Not his employer’s card – his own. On the front it said, “The Answer Is 39.”

    On the back it said, “What is your question?”

    One of the oddest, and most talented, engineers I ever met. I still don’t understand the card. Was he making a point about jobs? Was he being funny? Cocky? It didn’t matter. The card made me smile, we sat down and talked.

  36. @Nick: Interesting take on a Dr. Who (42? 42? The answer is 42…..but what is the question).

    Yes, that would intrigue me too, and I’d at least want to have a chat with him!

  37. @Nick
    That’s a neat story. His approach was the sound of one hand clapping. Being unconventional. Which I think is what the underlying topic is.
    As you’ve noted in the past, employers and job seekers really are locked in a deadly embrace on the “rules of engagement”. Job hunters habitually follow “accepted” job hunting conventions governing knocking on corporate doors, accepting lack of civility, the mysteries of what happens to their overtures and so on. And Hiring Managers/HR follow their established patterns good/bad/indifferent on how they vet applicants and treat them .
    How dare anyone on either side do something, say something, unconventionally outside the rules of engagement!

    Oh The horrors of a job hunter seemingly being indifferent, arrogant, trying to be funny, really being funny, over confident etc.
    And you know when it comes down to it, the high tech organizations consist of plenty of people who are…seemingly indifferent etc. Including some of the hiring managers. Yet if approached by someone just like that..oh of all the nerve!
    When you come down to it, in spite of protests otherwise, there’s a strong tendency on the part of hiring managers to clone themselves, and organizations to try and create the Borg. There’s a lot of my way or the highway in managers and organizations. That’s why there’s change adversity.

    To survive and thrive innovation has to happen, & it comes from those who can break free of conventional thinking, actions and behavior. Yet even in companies whose origins and being, depend on innovation, you find recruiting processes where rigor mortis has set in..blinding them to and fending off the unconventional. Go Figure!

    There really aren’t that many people who march to the beat of a different drummer. So you’re not talking about consuming a lot of your time to sit down and talk. So as I said I loved to talk with the arrogant ones, the funny ones, and so on. They stood out. They didn’t always get hired, but they always got an interview, because I wanted to learn more about them. A problem with recruiting is it’s viewed as some kind of chore…instead of an opportunity to learn. Interviewing is educational, on both sides of the desk, especially when you talk to people who have already shown you they are thinking outside of the box.

    I used to keep a file of such stories. Gone, but I remember one from England. The gist of it, is a young lady applied for a job with a cover note that said. “I don’t have the education you want, I don’t have the experience you want, I know nothing about your industry, but I do know I’m smart, hard working, learn fast, and if you hire me, you’ll never regret it. That’s about all she sent because as she said, he resume was nothing. She got hired
    Great topic1

  38. @Don: And how many companies do we know that promote themselves as places that seek people who think outside the box??? What they don’t admit is that those people had better not DO anything outside the box!

  39. @Nick. None come to mind

    Those people get into companies via “fitting in”, tire of it, then go off & start their own companies….then unfortunately repeat the process. i.e. they build a bridge into a new direction, build up, than burn the bridge.

    Way back when I read an interesting study done in the UK. It was a study focusing on unemployed lower and middle managers (I think in the IT space). The question was why unemployed? In a seemingly demanding market. The researches expected they’d find a bunch on incompetence, poor performers etc.
    Instead to their surprise they found they were competent, productive, but…viewed as malcontents. People who bucked the system, ran against the grain, and vocal about it. They annoyed the wrong sr mgmt conventional thinkers in their respective companies.
    They dubbed them “oyster grit”

  40. @Don
    @Nick

    This goes a long way toward explaining the number of innovative mom-n-pop (or 1-man) restaurants, coffee shops, charities, book stores, sewing machine & fabric shop, pet care, etc operations that you hear about being run by someone “formerly in IT” or “formerly in corporate life”.

    At least we know where all the talent is going, since it is not going into the ATS black hole.

  41. @Don:

    Short story. I was at Visteon, a spin-off from Ford (Visteon is to Ford as Delphi was to GM). We went through this enormous training session “Business Environment Learning Initiative” – BELI – in which we quietly joked this was where we’d learn how we’d go BELI up. ;)

    Anyway, among other things they presented THE EQUATION: Profit = Price – Cost. OK, I believe it. But then they said there’s NOTHING we can do about the price we charge, so the ONLY way we could improve profits was to reduce costs.

    I was argumentative, saying that such a strategy would relegate us to being a pure commodity, and wouldn’t it make sense to focus on developing skills, competencies, and technologies, etc., that would allow us to differentiate ourselves and thus be able to charge a premium?

    I could SEE the guy staring at my name tag trying to burn my name into his memory so he could report me later.

  42. @Nick: Another Visteon story: I had come up with a potential way to save over $750K per year with a truly out-of-the-box concept. I had lab proof it worked just as well as the production unit (pending durability testing which I was confident of). And yet I was STILL laid off.

    You’re right. For all the blather about innovation, you’d better not innovate in a way that shows others up… especially those in power who say “it can’t be done”.

  43. David Hunt, PE:
    Your observation regarding innovation and office politics is true. I know that others have been in a situation similar to yours.

  44. @L.T.
    @ David Hunt

    It’s much more about risk than anything. There’s business risk in innovation. It may not succeed. But more than that there’s personal risk, …the belief that failure is career limiting.
    It’s so much safer in some comfort zone milking a cash cow and innovate on the marketing side, where revisions to the status quo are trumpeted as ground breaking leaps forward. (The Emperor’s Wardrobe)

    Some maverick that suggests something truly radical is like kicking over a rock and all the in the box thinkers run for shelter.

    It means that someone has to make a decision, spend money, take a chance, in (company) public view. All because someone opened their big out-of-box thinking mouth.

    If you still manage to get some backing and get going in a new direction…there’s 2 rules of thumb I’ve learned.
    1) Executive Management has about a one year attention span. they want instant hits & if not forthcoming..get nervous.
    2) Which flies in the face that it takes about 3 years to really get something moving.

    And innovators really need to keep machiavelli in mind who said something like this

    And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only the lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event.

    That’s why as L.T. said you find many people fed up with being at the mercy of the slow witted risk adverse management…and take a risk and going it on their own…to the detriment of their former employers.

  45. @Don

    “It’s so much safer in some comfort zone milking a cash cow and innovate on the marketing side, where revisions to the status quo are trumpeted as ground breaking leaps forward.”

    I first hand experienced the downfall of Kodak.

    They basically had first class engineering/R&D – for example they had the first working digital camera in the 1970’s and had done a ton of research (and patents) into OLED.

    Unfortunately, the profit margins on film was really big and the corporate types failed to see the writing on the wall with Moore’s Law and did not pivot in time or at all.

  46. @ Dave
    Skim through Clayton Christenson’s The Innovator’s Dilemma

    He covers this kind of scenario well. Disruptive Technologies

  47. This is OT, but I would love to hear about how Michael Vodree’s (sic?) new BSME from WPI eventually works out for him. Watch the video at:
    http://tinyurl.com/michael-wpi-bsme-2016

    NOTE
    If you are reading this, putting “off” and “topic” (OT) next to each other is definitely verboten. And I did report the problem via Nick’s e-mail.

  48. @Don and Dave:

    You both are correct. Being presented with a truly “out of the box” innovative idea means risk – not only to the organization but to the individual who has to… drum roll please… MAKE A DECISION to support/sponsor it.

    There’s a great book about the Leadership principles of the US Marine Corps: “Corps Business”. Really eye opening.

    But this discussion and the points you raise make a critical point about management: it involves making decisions based on incomplete and sometimes contradictory evidence. It means ignoring multiple doors for the one chosen. That applies to innovation, that applies to hiring, it applies to everything.

    At the risk of arousing ire by some, I’ll put on my Drill Instructor’s hat. (Trigger warning for those too sensitive to microaggressions.)

    You wanted the manager’s job, cupcake. You wanted the salary, the perks, the office, the title… you wanted the prestige and power. Well along with that comes the need to decide and the responsibility to accept the consequences of those decisions. Either you develop some intestinal fortitude and start doing the job – making decisions – or get out of the chair in favor of someone who DOES have a set.

  49. There used to be a corporate entity called Bell Labs. It was nirvana for scientists, nestled in suburban New Jersey. They used to give scientists a lab, equipment, assistants, then tell them to go invent something. They invented the transistor, and beat NASA into space with Telstar. Then the bean counters arrived. Development suffered. They were spun off and renamed as Lucent, and absorbed by HP.

  50. @Jim: And thus we lost a national treasure. I had the good fortune to work at “the truncated pyramid” for a time while I was in college. The Labs invented a lot – including C, which came from B, and UNIX, which came from Multics and spawned Apple and the software industry. Where are such core technologies being developed now? Who’s thinking out of the box?

  51. @David Hunt: I’ll have to check out the book about Marine Corps leadership, but I suspect that it is very similar to a book I own about Air Force leadership. The military (all branches) do a great job teaching leadership.

  52. @ David

    Semper Fi!

    Marybeth, I think you’ll find some useful differences in Marine Corps Leadership

  53. @Don
    @David

    Semper Fi!
    (`74 – `78)

  54. 1961-1965: 2nd Amtracs, 1st MAW, 9th MEB

Leave a Reply