#127 - Job ads: include the challenges
Plus: Quality is systemic; You own your communication bubble; Get good feedback from peers
I want to continue the discussion about job advertisements. When we left off, we had a description of what the new hire would be doing and succeeding at after 4-6 months in the new job. That can and should be part of your job advertisement.
Let’s start with two seemingly-contradictory points.
First, your job advertisement is exactly that, an advertisement. It is an external document, not an internal one. Its one purpose for existing is to be a compelling description of your job to show to candidates who would be good matches for the job and who might be interested, and to induce them them to apply. It’s a sales landing page. But…
Second, we want to get to “no” quickly. We want candidates who wouldn’t like this job, and who would prefer something else, to opt out of our hiring process as early as possible. Which will mean, for many candidates, reading the job advertisement, shaking their head ruefully, and moving on.
Let’s tackle that second one first.
Hiring is a complex multi-dimensional matching problem between the work your team needs done, and a candidate who has work they want to do.
Finding a match is hard! A candidate will say “no, thanks” to the vast majority of job ads and recruiter contacts and hiring managers they encounter on their way to finding a new job. And you will end up saying no — or at least “not now” — to all but at most one of the candidates whose resume crosses your desk.
Those “no”s are successes, not failures, of the matching process — as long as they were for the right reasons. Out of respect for both the team’s and the candidate’s time, we want to get to those successful “no”s as quickly as possible. We want True Negatives and True Positives! This has consequences for how we communicate the opportunity (and how we evaluate candidates).
When we do too seldom advertise our jobs, often we try to make it sound as perfect as possible, and stay mum about any challenges or shortcomings. This is a mistake, and it comes from a place of fear; “why would anyone want to work here when they could work in tech; let’s just stay quiet about the salary/challenges of working with many different kinds of research groups/open-ended nature of the work…”
Not being completely transparent about the challenges of the job is a mistake. We’re hiring smart, driven people who are looking for tough challenges to be successful at. (There are many easier ways to make a living than working in research!) Our jobs are great; we all know lots of people who wouldn’t consider working in any other community. There are candidates and employees who would (and do!) not only thrive under but enjoy those challenges; prefer them, even. We want to be completely upfront about the challenges of our jobs, so that the people who would love wrestling with those problems apply, and the people who would hate it know right away. It’s the only approach that’s fair to both the candidate and to the team looking for a new team member. The alternative is to have people find out about those challenges three quarters of the way through our process, wasting everyone’s time and making the candidate feel led-on.
Maybe we’re hiring someone whose first responsibility will be to drive a big change effort. They’ll be getting pieces of an organization to work together, cleaning up tech debt, integrating disparate systems, taking over a struggling team, or helping a project team make the tough transition from long-timelines and exploratory to tight timelines and an execution focus. It’s going to be tough. Highlight that. Emphasize it. Candidates who are likely to be successful at that work would love to hear something along the lines of “this job will have outsized impact on our organization, and you’ll get support from your higher-ups, but it will be hard work with success not assured”. And it is unfair to candidates who don’t want to do that kind of heavy lifting work to not tell them right from the beginning. I personally have been both of those candidates at different times (I don’t have it in me to do two of these jobs back-to-back) and in all cases I would want to know right away.
The reason this “get to no” point is not contradictory with “job advertisements are for attracting candidates” is that a description of your job which speeds True Negatives by having people who don’t want that work opt out, will also speed True Positives, attract candidates who would like the work and could see themselves be successful in it.
I can’t emphasize enough, a job advertisement document is not the job req posted to your institutional jobs page. Your HR team, bless their hearts, have their own internal processes and requirements for having and posting job requisitions. They probably have boilerplate text that you fill in, and they have to make sure that the responsibilities you’ve written down (following their job competencies matrix) match with those of ol’ pay band 8Q-17(h). Candidates will be required to see that req before clicking on the apply button. Great. It’s HR’s job to make sure we stay in compliance with laws and their policies (not in order of importance), so let them have this. You do you, HR team!
But we can and should communicate our jobs externally in very different ways. Anything we write likely has to to link to the Official Job Req so people can apply, but we’re not bound to use the wording of that internal process-driven document in our external communications. If you talk to someone on the phone about your job, I assure you that you’re not required by law or policy to read verbatim from the job posting. Same with a blog post on your teams web page (your team does have a blog, right?), an advertisement on an external website, or anywhere else. Just make sure that your external communications funnel to HR’s job posting.
Write a clear, first-person advertisement (“I and our team are looking for”) that gives a clear view of what they’ll be working on, what success looks like, and that you have a clear view for how they’ll grow up to that initial success and how they might grow beyond. Explain what’s in it for them, what challenges they’ll face and conquer, and why it matters.
Of course, writing the ad is just the start - you need to get people to read it. Posting it on your blog and an external job board is a good start, but we’re well past the days where hitting “publish” then passively waiting for people to apply is enough. You’ll need to take a more active approach, and we can talk about that later.
Is this distinction between a job advertisment and a job requisition/description clear? Do you have a job req you’d like to see this approach tried out on? Hit reply or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can give it a try.
With that, on to the roundup!
Good interviews vs. great interviews - Ravi Trivedi
Trivedi’s article is very consistent with what I’ve written above about job ads. The difference between great and good interviews, in Trivedi’s estimation, is that great interviews communicate lots of signal in both directions as to whether the job and the candidate are a good match. The interviewer gains lots of information about hire/no hire, and the candidate gains a lot of information about the job and whether their decision should be take the job or don’t take the job.
That means, for the interviewer, communicating why different parts of the process are relevant for the actual work, letting the candidates meet and talk with many of the people they’d be interacting with, and more.
Quality Is Systemic - Jacob Kaplan-Moss
Kaplan-Moss is writing here about software, but the point applies more broadly. A team producing quality output isn’t because of one or two factors, or because of some inherent quality of the team members; it’s because there’s a system in place to support and reinforce quality output.
The same is true in how are team is managed. There’s no “one weird trick” to manage an RCD team well; if there was, this newsletter could have been one single issue and we all could have saved a lot of time.
Good management - which our teams deserve, and our clients benefit from - is systemic. There’s an interlocking system of practices that make for good management. One of those practices is constantly learning what does and doesn’t work, jettisoning parts of the system that don’t work any more, and adding new parts needed to improve things.
As a Leader, You Own Your Communications Bubble - Jarie Bolander
As a manager or lead of a team, we make a communications bubble around us.
Bolander reminds us that this is not a bad thing, necessarily. All of our team members have one, too. We don’t generally want to be processing news about every ticket or line of code or user support issue or dataset. And our team members don’t as a rule want to slog through detailed meeting notes from every meeting we take with peer managers or stakeholders or funders. (Heck, generally we don’t want to, either, even if it’s a good idea).
But we as a lead or manager have a role power which means that we are singularly responsible for our communications bubble. If information isn’t making it into our bubble, that’s on us. Bolander tells us what to be on the lookout for:
If you find yourself asking questions like: How come I always hear things at the last minute? How come we never finish our goals? Why are my folks unmotivated? Why is it so chaotic around here? Then you’ve built your bubble around folks telling you the good news, holding back the bad news, and not wanting to be the focus of someone’s ire.’’
And how to fight it:
It’s not what you say, it’s what you tolerate: “If you […] let folks ‘get away’ with things, than that’s the standard…”
Battle the 10x Bad News tax: “[…] try to handle good and bad news in an equal way [….] Say Thank you a lot”.
Seek the Truth no matter how painful
[You’re the] First to Blame
[You’re the] Last to Fame
Be compassionate, but hold people accountable
Integrity needs to be your middle name
(Incidentally, Bolander’s article focusses on information coming into the bubble, but we also have responsibility to make sure information and knowledge is coming out of our bubble at the right rate, too. I’m constantly amazed by how easy it is for me to just forget to communicate things that are on my mind to the team; they are so on my mind I just assume everyone else is thinking about them, too)
Managing Your Own Career
Giving a peer direct feedback can feel like a bit of a risky thing - how will they take it? Will they hold a grudge?
If we want feedback from our peers, then — which we should — we shouldn’t just ask open-ended questions and hope they give us clear specific answers. We need to help them out a bit at the beginning, and give them some signals that we really do want the feedback and take it well and seriously. Over time, when they’ve seen we do take it well and seriously, it may take less effort.
Hogan suggests being very specific in our requests, picking an area to focus on and asking for input on exactly that area, e.g.:
“Something I’m working on is getting better at [skill]. Since you’ve seen [example of me using this skill], could you give me some feedback on it?”
And then taking the time to process that information and decide on next steps.
“Enterprise Information Technology and the Department of Athletics and Recreation are collaborating on Huskies Esports…” Oh, man, I missed lettering in Zaxxon by just a few decades.
On Windows? Your file copy taking a long time? Pass the time by playing lunar lander in the copy file dialog.
Visualizing graphs with a million nodes in the browser with WebGL.
And that’s it for another week. Let me know what you thought, or if you have anything you’d like to share about the newsletter or management. Just email me or reply to this newsletter if you get it in your inbox.
Have a great weekend, and good luck in the coming week with your team,