A good event sparks good ideas, whether you’re a speaker or in the audience. And a recent gig I did for the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) left me with a thought-provoking challenge I’d like to share with you.
In 2007, Microsoft asked me to participate in a webinar titled Ignite Your Career. I’ve listened in on some webcasts over the years, and they typically taste like dry bread… no thanks. This event was satisfying (and not just because I was in it). The MSDN team in Canada did a great job of assembling a panel of speakers who didn’t pull punches. Key to the quality of the thing was that one of our Microsoft hosts continually gave us questions he was receiving from the audience, and encouraged candid dialogue. I enjoyed it so much that I actually did two of these for Microsoft Canada (Building Your Skill Set and Career Opportunities for IT Pros — no matter what line of work you’re in, I can almost guarantee you’ll learn something useful).
The challenge came up during the post-mortem the panelists did after the second webinar. We were talking about what we did right and what we could have done better. One of our hosts — the guy who was reading us questions from the audience throughout the 90 minutes — sheepishly apologized to a panelist for “throwing you an in-your-face question without giving you much time to think about it.”
We all laughed, because it’s the in-your-face questions (IYFQ’s) that make speakers really sweat in live events. And something instantly dawned on me (maybe I’m a masochist) — so I blurted out, “Hey, here’s an idea for an entire webinar. Why don’t we do 90 minutes and take only in-your-face questions from the audience?“
Dead silence. It went over like a lead balloon. I thought it was a great idea. Bring on the pain! Let’s figure out the biggest, baddest obstacles people face when job hunting and hiring. If we can’t deal with them, we’re worthless.
Job hunting, recruiting, interviewing, salary — the only questions about these that really matter are the IYFQ’s.
Job hunting and hiring are often miserable experiences because the process is dumb and endlessly scripted. How many books and how much advice can we stand about “the top interview questions”, and about “how to negotiate”? Here’s what to wear; there’s the right body language; try these 10 active verbs; here’s the best answer to What’s your greatest weakness?; this is the best way to discuss salary; try this clever answer to If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?; here’s what to say at the end of the interview; and on, and on. Makes you cringe, doesn’t it? And what does it matter? It’s all drivel.
It’s all dopey. It’s in a thousand books and it’s why the Employment System is broken. The process is so scripted that a dog with a note in its mouth could do an interview — on either side of the desk! But, does it get anybody hired?
I don’t believe for a minute that there’s a process and steps-you-should-follow to hire or to get hired. If the rules were valid, every job ad would yield a relevant resume, every good resume would yield an appropriate interview, every interview would produce an offer — at least a little bit of the time. But, when you try the process, the empty pit in the bottom of your stomach reveals there is no method to it — just a madness that keeps people running around on the wheel. When you ask, What’s the next step?, the wheel just pulls you along faster to nowhere.
Success depends on stepping off the wheel, and knowing how to deal with the daunting obstacles you suddenly encounter. The IYFQ’s. Questions that fearless job hunters and managers ask themselves but nobody wants to tackle.
Can I tell the employer to take a hike when they ask what my current salary is?
How will I get busted if I lie on my resume?
Is it possible to nuke a bum reference before she nukes my next job?
Can this candidate really do the job — or is he snowing me?
This is why you can’t get hired or hire good people. These are just a few of the real obstacles that can cost you a job — or a good hire. Yah, they’re painful. But, if we can’t figure them out, we lose. What I’d like to know is, What IYFQ’s are stuck in your craw? What obstacles have screwed up your job search, or your hiring efforts?
Or, do you really want to spend your life coming up with another clever answer to, Where do you see yourself in 5 years? No thanks. If we’re gonna talk about anything, let’s make it hurt so we can find and fix the pain. If you’re game, start with where it hurts — and post it.