Friday, February 08, 2008

Searching for the Right Fit

I just wrapped-up a contract and so starts the time consuming and often educational process of looking for my next ‘gig.’

Actually, my previous client offered me another 12-month contract – with a mere three-days until my current contract ended. Originally, they told me they were going to extend to me a full-time permanent position. I said I’d be happy to consider this full-time offer – so long as I had sufficient time to consider it. To me, as I should suspect to most professionals, two-weeks notice is standard. Anything less, is just unacceptable.

I was actually quite shocked and somewhat disappointed that my previous client not only changed the offer from permanent to another contract (without even asking my thoughts on this), but also that they left it for so long. Their reasoning was, I was an excellent worker, and they didn’t want to lose me, but they hadn’t finalized their head-count for their fiscal year-end yet.

Their fiscal year-end by the way is October 31, and this was just last week, well into their so-called ‘fiscal year.’ I knew from discussions with senior management, that they still hadn’t completed their plans for the new fiscal year, which they already were in. Perhaps they’ll have a plan for this fiscal year just in time for the next fiscal year?

What it really comes down to is finding the right fit. Finding that perfect job is like slipping into your favourite pair of blue jeans.

That favourite pair of blue jeans didn’t just happen. You scoured through numerous clothing stores, trying on many pairs, until you found that perfect pair of blue jeans that just felt right – almost like a second skin.

Finding the perfect employer takes time too. You have to go through countless interviews, being asked the same questions repeatedly. You to ask the same questions over and over again, only to find six-months to a year later, you’re back out there, on the interview circuit.

Or at least, that’s the way it should be. Sometimes it is pretty easy and quick to find out just who is NOT the right fit, and eliminate them from contention.

Today for example, I went to an interview where I had my doubts. There was a little voice inside my head telling me after the initial phone call that this wouldn’t be the right place for me, but I decided to go forward with the interview to see how things panned out.

Turns out that little voice was right.

An interview should be a private affair, with only those directly involved in the hiring process, meeting with potential candidates one-on-one. It is an opportunity for these individuals to assess whether or not there is a good fit.

Today’s interview was done as a group, with four candidates at once. And there were no questions allowed on either side. Instead, we were herded like cattle into a big boardroom, and given a writing test.

“We were told to bring our portfolios so you could look at them,” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll look at those if we call you back for another round,” said the dubiously deceptive interrogator.

I had lugged my laptop to this interview, as I do all interviews. This way, I can show off all my work, paying special attention to the pieces which most resemble the type of work for which I’m interviewing. I was pretty peeved that I not only was asked to bring my portfolio, but that it wouldn’t even be looked at today.

The others in the “interview” were pretty young, they looked like college kids. They probably just graduated from school. I’ve been around the block, so-to-speak, so I not only felt out of place, but really uncomfortable.

I’m way to “senior” a person to be compared to a bunch of recent graduates. That’s like comparing apples to oranges – both are fruits, both are good for you, but both are completely different.

I have mentored junior writers in the past, and I enjoy it. I even learn things from the “kids” too – but to compare someone with over a decade’s worth of real-world experience to some fresh and raw meat “kid” out of school, just doesn’t make any sense.

I knew this place wasn’t for me – not only by their hiring process, but by their lack of process.

Their writing test consisted of two parts – first to write a letter answering the question – and I kid you not, this is the interrogator’s own words: “Why Should We Hire You?”

Very arrogant and sadistic to have to write a begging and pleading letter for a job, for which you have already supposedly been chosen as a potential candidate, from your already submitted resume and cover letter.

The second part, was to write a promotional marketing piece for the company’s products and services.

I started to ask some standard questions about who the intended audience was, and which products and services they wanted us to focus on, as the company had several.

My interrogator said, anyone and anything – you choose.

One thing you learn very quickly in this writing business, is you always need to know who your audience is and what it is you are trying to say. I could roughly guess who this company’s audience was, and magically through mental deduction pick what I thought would be one of their better products to write about. However, the point of this “writing test” wasn’t to see how good we were at guessing – it was – as far as I was told – to see how well we write.

The fact that they are asking everyone to write this “test” without even asking them any preliminary questions says to me that they themselves don’t really know what they are looking for. And by them not allowing those in the running to ask any questions, prohibits people from figuring out if this is the right fit for the candidates too.

Normally, if I’m placed in such a situation, I usually find an out and leave politely. But I don’t know, maybe I was mesmerized by the interrogator’s full head of hair, his shiny smile, or the spot on his tie, because I stayed right through. I even wrote their stupid fishing experimental “writing test.” Though I was very generic, as I wasn’t on the payroll, and giving away free marketing information just doesn’t pay the bills.

Don’t get me wrong, often I am asked to write a writing test. I even get asked to write the odd grammar test too. However, usually this is a last stage in the process, after all the questions have been asked on both sides, and both parties feel confident and comfortable moving forward towards the next and final stages.

To ask someone to write a test within 10-seconds or less of meeting them, is no better than having a current client turn-around less than two-weeks before my contract ends, and offer me a mediocre continuation, when originally they had told me they were leaning towards something more substantial.

Neither “process” is professional or courteous, and it is certainly not well thought out.

It just goes to show how challenging it is to find the right fit. One may actually have a better chance of winning the lottery, being struck by lightening, or inheriting a fortune from some long lost relative. But the main thing is to keep trying, because if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Now, where’d I place that perfect pair of blue jeans . . .

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