Searching

I was at work late tonight, desperately trying to read through a stack of resumes and cover letters before a search committee that I’m the chair of meets tomorrow. By my estimation, I’ve been on or in charge of probably 25 searches in the last decade, which is kind of a lot for someone who doesn’t actually work in human resources. I’ve now spent much more time on the deciding side of the interview table than on the trying to get a job side, which is an interesting perspective.

(I still remember the candidate who had a 10 page cover letter that included a picture of herself and clip art. Please, no. On so many levels.)

The candidate pool I was looking through tonight was fairly small — less than 30 that made it through the HR screen that rejects anyone who is obviously unqualified. I’ve been in searches before where there were over 100 applicants to review and that is a daunting and exhausting task. I suspect that many times candidates have no idea how much time is spent on the hiring process. For this current search, I’ve probably already put in close to 40 hours of work already and we haven’t even picked candidates to interview yet. To get to the interview stage, I had to:

  • create the job description
  • get budget approval to post the position (requiring multiple check-offs and signatures
  • figure out the when/where/how long of posting it
  • get together a search committee
  • play schedule Tetris to find a meeting time for all members of the committee to meet to talk about candidates
  • sign confidentiality forms and watch a video on good hiring practices from HR
  • reviewing all of the applications that come in
  • ranking all of the applicants
  • meeting with the search committee to determine a pool. This is sometimes super easy and sometimes takes hours
  • call the chosen candidates and play schedule Tetris with them to get interviews scheduled

I find that searches take so much longer than anyone thinks they will because it just takes so much work to hire someone. In some ways the interviewing and choosing the candidate is the easiest part of the process. I generally know within two or three questions if I think the person is going to be a viable option. Sometimes it is a struggle to sit through an interview where a really good candidate is clearly very nervous. I always want to tell them, but can’t, that the committee is on their side. We want all of the candidates to be awesome. We are rooting for them to be great, largely because we don’t want to have to fail a search and start all over.

Sometimes interviews are actually fun. You get a candidate who is relaxed and the interview starts to feel more like a conversation. As a committee member, this fills you with optimism that this person will love you back and want to work with/for you. Sometimes they pull out of the search afterwards and it feels like being broken up with before you even got to the second date.

And some interviews are fun because the candidate says something ridiculous that will be burned in the collective memory for years afterwards, like the guy who gave a long and rambling answer when asked a question about diversity on college campuses that included the words “well, you know how Native Americans get when they drink…” or the person who answered a question about his leadership approach by saying “First off, I just think, well, don’t be an asshole, you know?” (I don’t disagree with this but perhaps it could have been more elegantly put?)

The candidates we don’t pick will get a rejection email and I know that will be a big disappointment. I wish I could tell them this: There are a lot of reasons you might not get the interview. A lot of those reasons will be out of your control. Some searches are about looking for people with experience, some are about looking for potential. Sometimes there is a great internal candidate that is going to be hard to beat. Sometimes you just aren’t as qualified as the rest of the pool. Very often, I can read an application and think “Hmm, this person sounds cool and like they are doing great work” and I’ll still pass because they don’t have the particular thing we are looking for this time. I reject a lot of people who I’m 100% confident are great at their job. Very, very rarely is it personal.

Unless you use too much clip art. Then it becomes personal.

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