Thursday, July 29, 2010

Getting a job: the beauty of qualifications

This week marks my 18 month anniversary of unemployment. Jimmy Carter was President the last time I had such a consecutive stint of not generating income, and that was before I started high school. I’ve been reflecting on what employment means in today’s economic climate.

Hiring, firing and managing personnel is one of the most important and challenging tasks that an executive faces. Labor is generally the largest cost center for many organizations. The key ingredients in making personnel decisions are the same whether running a small business with a handful of staff or a huge enterprise with tens of thousands of people. Each position has tasks associated with it that must be accomplished for that position to fit into the overall business objective.

The more specific the tasks are the more effective result will be for the employer and the candidate. It makes the ‘matching’ process much easier. In today’s highly automated hiring process systems are in place where candidates are sorted out based on the matching criteria. It’s an efficient if impersonal way to narrow down a large number of responses. The employer is ultimately left with a smaller pool of candidates who all theoretically highly aligned to the position. This process keeps everybody in their ‘box’ and leaves out the opportunity to engage a candidate who may be a 95% match and brings that ‘something extra.’

The eligible candidates are then put through telephone and/or in-person interviews where the interpersonal matching process comes into play. An employer faced with 10 qualified candidates for 1 position must discern who of the 10 will fit best with the culture of the company.

Last week Newsweek wrote about “The Beauty Advantage” showing that 57% of hiring managers said that qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job. This led me to consider the hundreds of people whom I have transferred, hired and fired. What role did beauty play in my own decisions? Since beauty is in the ‘eye of the beholder’ does that mean it all evens out? I like to think that qualifications and the propelling of the company’s business objectives forward were always the predominate factor in my decision making.

Promoting and hiring people who are not the most qualified is not unique to private enterprise. Barak Obama vs John McCain. No question that attractiveness played a role with one candidate having a few years of experience and the other a lifetime. That same issue was present in the race between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. In any political race many elements go into the hiring of a candidate over the other – but the question of qualifications versus attractiveness is a legitimate one to explore, and one that our media-centric world requires us to consider.

The very local level this week finds Michael LoGrande nominated by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to become the City’s next City Planning Manager. The nomination comes after the Mayor forced out his last Manager whom he had recruited several years ago. At that time she was described as the perfect individual with the qualifications to fix all of the ills of the City’s Planning & Zoning issues. Mr. LoGrande’s fifteen year career as a bureaucrat with the Zoning and Planning Departments seems to be the antithesis of the Mayor’s stated desire to bring in a candidate who can “change” and “be transparent” with the City’s most important executive for business development. (Zoning & Planning has historically been a huge impediment for consistent growth in the City.) My own experience with the City certainly colors my belief that Mr. LoGrande is being promoted for reasons other than qualifications since in my instance he has exhibited no transparency and has instead embraced conflicting policies over serving a taxpayer. None of the news outlets ran photos of Mr. LoGrande, so I can’t speculate on whether beauty played any role in the Mayor’s selection.

I continue to seek opportunities where my professional expertise, skills and passions can be utilized to the mutual benefit of a company and myself. I continue to hope and believe that the best qualified person should be the best match with the needs of a position. And I will continue my daily routine at the gym. Just in case.