Thursday, March 2, 2017

An Unlikely Boss



I worked for a large east coast university for a percentage of my life. I had the dubious distinction of being the team leader for a group in my department. One of my jobs was to hire new people.

Once, we had an opening and I had to fill it. I assembled a team, wrote up a job description, and went through HR to get it published.

And the resumes flowed in.

It was always fun reading resumes (I started rhyming 'resume' with 'legume'.) A lot were padded. Some were bullshit. A few were obviously for some other job. I think they must have been submitted by a robo-interviewer.

So we pared them down. Assigned each resume (remember: Legume!) a rating number, 1-10, and got together to discuss who we'd like to bring in for an interview.

Interviewing is kind of like dating, only your date is a committee. You try to put on your best face, of course. And we want to present ourselves and our institution in a positive, professional light. The prospective employee wants to get into our pant-er, our panelled halls.

Some candidates were knowledgable and easy to interview. Some were obviously unqualified for our position. Along with aptitude we had to assess intangibles like personality, ability to work in a team, ability to put up with not only State bullshit but academic bullshit. These qualities are obviously harder to quantify. Did I say harder? I meant impossible.

And HR had their requirements. You had to be able to prove that your hiring decision was based entirely on your job description. I would get questions from HR. Why did you rate candidate X as an 8 and candidate Y as a 4? Their resumes (legumes!) looked identical to us.

And you had to have a good answer. We were not to discriminate. Not according to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We were to hire people because of their qualifications.

And working in a university was a wonderful experience. I worked with all sorts of people. I knew some Iranians who had been radical dissidents fighting the Ayatollah in Iran. I knew Chinese grad students. I worked with a very intelligent woman from Venezuela. And I regularly hob nobed with lots of international people in the day to day course of academic life. You learned a lot about people. You learned a lot about yourself.

Most were nice. Some were jerks. The jerk gene knows no racial or political bound.

One or two candidates were obvious phonies. There resumes looked good, but that was just a kind of office camouflage, like those fish with the worm shaped lures hanging off their heads. We took the bate, read the resume, and gave it a 10 rating. And we were taken.

Some people answered all the questions correctly. They had encyclopedic knowledge of users guides. I'd ask a question. What would you do if a user called and said they were having a problem with some database query? The answer offered was, I'd check the query for indexes on the database and make sure there was referential integrity. So they were just repeating a manual in database tuning 101. I could have looked that up myself.

One day I interviewed a candidate. Let's call her Carmen. We all asked her different questions and she answered quite well. She was relaxed and knowledgable and seemed quite confident. So I asked her about something, I don't remember what. The topic was irrelevant. It was the answer that surprised me.

"I don't know. I've never worked with that before."

So you're giving me some bullshit about-What!? You don't know!? Obviously, from everything else she said she was capable and intelligent and willing to take initiative to learn something new. Those three words told me something more.

She won't bullshit me.

If I ask her something, I can trust what she says. If I give her something to do, I can trust her to come to me if she has a question or an issue. If she doesn't know something, she will admit it and together we will find the answer. She would be loyal to me as long as I was loyal to her.

That brought me back to when I interviewed for my job here. During the interview, which went on for most of the day, I was asked one long, complicated question from the woman who was to be my boss. It went on for paragraphs. After it mercifully ended, I just looked at her and said, I haven't the slightest idea. But I would go and find the answer. Later, I started to get the idea that the job I was applying for was the butt job that nobady else wanted. I wasn't sure if I wanted it. So I got a lot more relaxed. Note to interviewers, act like you don't want the job. On my way out I asked my futere boss one question, If you were me, would you take this job? She thought for a moment and said, Yes. It is very challenging in many ways, but, yes. I would take.

I got my job. Carmen got hers.

I'll take more Carmens, any day.

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