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February 15, 2011

Day 6 of 30: Challenges of hiring, or what HR and surgery have in common

When human resources meets surgery...

Today I placed a help wanted ad. What I got was a reality check.

My dad called this morning. He was taking a walk during his lunch break and wanted to talk to me about something.

"So.... how's business?"

"Business? Fine. Why?"

"Are you getting enough work? Or are there any troubles you want to talk about? With finding clients, or maybe getting new projects...?"

"Mmmm, not really... everything is fine."

"Let me tell you why I'm wondering. I noticed an uptick in your blogging, and that made me guess that you mush have some time to kill."

"Oh, the daily asking again? No worries, everything is ok!"

Actually, I'm having the opposite problem. Things are bordering on crazy busy. These extra hours asking and blogging are coming from the sleep department. I got enough sleep during grad school.

But after we hung up I started thinking... for a few months I've been saying that when the time comes, I'll have to hire someone. Not full-time, since that would be a huge jump for me (i.e. doubling my business's man-hours). But a few hours per week, to start. Right now I have just enough work to be stretched comfortably thin, but if I add even one more account things will start to get hectic.

I decided now would be a good time to collect some resumes. That is how I ended up posting my first ever help wanted ad, on Craigslist.

Since I've never written such an ad before, I looked around online and then realized that I needed to do something to single out the candidates who were applying in bulk from the ones who actually had some enthusiasm and spunk. So I decided to invite them to answer one of 3 questions. Here's what I asked at the end of the ad:
Send your resume and a brief answer to one of these questions: 
1) What's one way you wish Facebook or Twitter were better? 
2) What's your dream job? 
3) What are your 3 favorite brands? 
There are no right or wrong answers. We just want to get to know you! 
So far, I've gotten about 40 replies. A few have blown me away with their professionalism and eloquence. These were all from bright college students or recent grads, aching to bite into something challenging and rewarding.

More than a few were disappointing. Grammar mistakes. txt speak. Form letters: "Dear Hiring Manager: I am applying for the position of marketing specialist. I am confident I would be a great fit because..." A few sent a resume with no answer. If they can't follow that simple instruction, why should I believe they'll be any different on the job?

Then there were the applicants that came out of left field (one science major, one with extensive quality control experience), hinting of pinkslips past. These were heartbreaking. How long had they been unemployed? Why this job, for this pay? I'd actually love to hire someone with an unexpected background -- that experience would add depth and maybe help me connect with clients in a different market -- so I wasn't worried that they couldn't do the job. I was just worried about if they had a place to sleep.

Suddenly all those articles in the news about hiring trends and unemployment, the diverse challenges faced by Baby Boomers and recent graduates, hit me like an icy, raging river. Abstract and incomprehensible, until you get thrown in the middle of it.

I guess working in HR is like being a surgeon. Over time you get used to seeing the bloody entrails normally tucked behind smooth surfaces. Give me a job. Give me a chance. This is my story. This is where I worked, lived. My dream job is to design clothes. Make movies. Work for Facebook. This is the font my career counselor told me you'll like.

As a reporter, I'm tougher. I've interviewed parents of murdered children and the family of a man on death row. It's not that I wasn't affected, but over time I came to accept the horror as a fact. Not ok, but there.

I guess I thought hiring someone would be different. 

Lost: Blissful oblivion about the harsh realities of this employment market and $25 for the ad.

Gained: A few promising possibilities. 

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