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Rob Gilmark http://www.robgilmark.com Fresh Insight on Technology and Culture Fri, 21 May 2010 08:48:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 The Hi-Tech Hiring Circus http://www.robgilmark.com/the-hi-tech-hiring-circus/ http://www.robgilmark.com/the-hi-tech-hiring-circus/#comments Mon, 29 Mar 2010 20:33:42 +0000 Rob Gilmark http://www.robgilmark.com/?p=43 The Truth About Hi-Tech Resumes and Interviews

One of the funniest parts of high-tech industry is its hiring procedure. The main components are the so-called professional resumes and interviews. Apparently, companies aim for hiring the best experts to enhance business, while individuals aim for best balance of salary and security. The huge number of resumes poses a formidable challenge for both parties. When those fortunate enough to get noticed and those fortunate enough to find someone who fits business needs sit down for interviews, sometimes a connection is made, and the lucky ones get hired for better or for worse.

While things may look logical and well-organized, there are a few little problems to consider: a) 80% of resumes are either outright lies or wild exaggeration; b) 80% of hiring managers are simply not qualified for the task of hiring, particularly in the areas of skill and personal evaluations; c) 90% of hiring managers prefer a candidate who is “comfortable to work with” over an expert in the field (whom they can’t recognize anyway). Qualified candidates must actually dumb down their responses to make sure the manager in no way feels threatened.

The math here is simple: there are four “digital” types of manager-candidate combinations in “professional” interviews. Their distribution is as follows:

  • A. A competent manager interviews a weak candidate – 10%
  • B. An incompetent manager interviews a strong candidate – 20%
  • C. A competent manager interviews a strong candidate – 2%
  • D. An incompetent manager interviews a weak candidate – 68%

These statistics may not be perfectly accurate, of course, but they are far more accurate than most exaggerations found in both resumes and executive biographies, and those experienced in either seat can attest to their reality. Let’s take a closer look at the subject.

I believe there are a few capable professionals in each field, but everybody needs a job, right? A paper tolerates whatever is written or typed upon it, doesn’t it? Given this combination, crowds of far less capable or—more often—fully incapable individuals write resumes describing competent, experienced, energetic professionals (easy-going too, of course) and put their own names at the top. The fact that they are poorly educated, slow-thinking, hopelessly untalented, and lazy will not show unless they are in fact so lazy that they have blatant chronological inconsistencies or grievous grammar mistakes. The last point does in fact eliminate quite a few impostors and, unfortunately, some talented individuals, however entrepreneurs have wasted no time in this regard and a booming industry of resume consultants has spawned. There’s an army of “professionals” who can spin any resume into a winner. Unfortunately, these consultants, like those who hire them, have only one thing in mind: the position. Truth, talent, and productivity have no role in the process.

With enough experience, one can decipher the cryptic language of a resume. Below are some of the typical resume fragments along with appropriate translations.

Resume Translation Table

Resume Phrase True Meaning
Looking for a challenging senior level position. In a challenging search for the position offering the highest pay for the least amount of work.
Experienced senior process/product engineer Knows how to push a few buttons on a specific machine and can take a few high-school level measurements and can (usually) follow the data analysis instructions out of a manual or get an intern to do it.
Strong background in XYZ field. Capable of using Google and memorizing a few key terms and facts about the XYZ field.
Proficient in statistical data analysis (SPC) and design of experiment (DOE)* Knows how to find the mean and sigma in Excel and can summarize disorganized trials with pretty charts on a PowerPoint presentations. Cannot design a statistically justified sequence even if own life or money depends on it.
Designed ZYX device or product. Copied the product from a book, article, or previous report. If candidate brings a portfolio, the candidate has expertise in selling other people’s ideas [as their own] and should be considered for as a sales engineering position.
Developed a new method of YZX Copied the method from an article, often without a clear understanding of either the method or its relevancy. If candidate can explain the process somewhat coherently, consider for a sales engineering management position.
Significantly improved yield (or quality or throughput) Was present when company upgraded equipment.
MS in ZZZ Science from YYY University May be as capable as a European BA program graduate.
Proficient in Word. If prominent, translates: “I am completely incompetent.” If minor, translates: “You, your HR filters and staff are completely incompetent.”
Familiar with ATLAS, CAD, DB, etc. Shows off knowledge of acronyms to cover up for incompetency.
Hard-working, dedicated, energetic, easy-going, friendly, etc If self-describing adjectives account for over 5% of the resume: lazy, non-motivated, slow, and hated by fellow peers. Has to use self-describing adjectives to make up for lack of relevant experience. If you see a solid resume with a few of these terms thrown in, the candidate probably considers the hiring manager lazy, non-motivated, slow, and incompetent.

* DOE requires conducting trials in a certain statistically justified sequence.

The strange thing about this high-tech hiring circus is that employers force you to lie on your resume and lies on resumes force employers to filter out honest and qualified professionals. High ranking “hiring authorities” (formally trained but completely ignorant HR representatives and like-minded hiring managers) look for a specific skill-set, one which they feel their company most needs. This typically means 3-5 years of experience in pushing certain buttons on a certain piece of equipment or running a certain piece of software and reporting an outcome with little idea of what it actually means, if any idea at all. Minor things like intelligence, learning ability, logical reasoning, broad education, and creativity are not completely ignored: if they threaten a the hiring manager’s authority they are negative, otherwise they just have the lowest priority in the process.

Scenario
Sunday, 2:45am: After a particularly bad few hours of first-person shooter games, a candidate chooses three random details to place on his resume from a list one of his brighter buddies suggested. “Hmm. 1909′s a cool number. I hope it really does go with this ZYZ machine, well I guess it does since my buddy said so. I’ll go ahead an add it right there.”
Tuesday, 11:15am: “Look! He used the 1909 version of the ZYZ-AAA tool! This is exactly what we need. Call him now! Hopefully he hasn’t already committed to some other place.”

Amazingly, most of the hiring managers and HR people are sincerely unaware (or pretend to be unaware just to avoid unnecessary competition) of the concept of the human capability. They refuse to admit the fact that most of their “highly sophisticated” technologies, products, and procedures can be learned and put to work by a capable individual within 2-3 weeks, with a much more substantial contribution to their businesses afterward. They don’t believe it because most of them are not of that type people. They would rather hire someone who will stay around and not cause any trouble. They can’t help it, it’s not that they don’t want to hire a “smart” one (competition), it’s because Company Policy demands it. (And guess who put together that policy?)

So they diligently and insistently look for a Mr. (or Ms.) Right, meaning the person whose professional resume (PR) is identical to the job description (JD). Capable individuals and “quick learners” better learn to adjust their resumes. Honest individuals better look for other professions or try to predict the skills for a specific company. Mr. Rights only! First selection rule: PR=JD. Period.

Now, let’s take a look at crown jewel of the hiring process, the glorious show of selecting Mr. Right and filtering out Mr. Wrong: the interview. As the statistics above show, despite resume and phone interview pre-screens, the majority of candidates are weak and irrelevant and the majority of hiring managers are incapable and incompetent. It is almost as if the entire conversation is scripted, and below is a typical example, with translations.

Hiring Interview Translation Guide

Manager: True Meaning Candidate: True Meaning
How do you like it here? None. (This is fluff.) I like it very much. None. (Only especially “talented” candidates can mess this one up.)
Tell me about your experience in XYZ. This makes it seem like I know something. Maybe I can learn something too. I’ve accomplished a lot in that area. John, my coworker, did it.
Can you describe a specific project? I have to ask this. [Cloudy Description] Vague recall of John’s last presentation.
What’s your approach to work? I like the way he looks at me. Seems like a winner. Independent, aggressive, and goal-oriented. I love you interview prep book! That top three adjectives activity sure came in handy! (Actually: refuses to ask for help until last minute, aggressively dumps projects on others, and is very oriented on presenting useless reports.)
How do you work in a team? Will he follow my instructions? Will he cause trouble? I’m a people-person: friendly, supportive, and a team player. I love you interview prep book! (Actually: I delegate out all responsibility, blame all failure on others, and use all results to promote myself.)
What are your strengths? This is in the manual. I’m hard-working, knowledgeable, dedicated, and easy-going. Interview prep book to the rescue again! (Actually: lazy, clueless, fickle, and payroll-oriented.)
What are your weaknesses? This is in the manual. Well, sometimes I may be a little too fast in fixing a problem. Thank you again resume prep book! (Actually: hasn’t fixed anything significant, nor had the concern or ability to fix anything. Ever.)
What are your salary expectations? He seems easy to work with. Hopefully, I can afford him. I am passionate about this work but I expect a fair offer. I’m expecting at least 15% more than the previous idiots paid me.
Thank you very much. We’ll be in touch. I like him. He shouldn’t cause trouble. Thank you! It was nice talking with you. Hope salary will be OK.

As you may have guessed, the candidate in question has a good chance of being hired. And others like him are indeed hired, every day, everywhere, in large numbers. Of course the real procedure is a little more complicated and “insightful”, but the general pattern is still there. And so… most resumes are lies and incompetent managers hire incapable employees.

Here’s a question: with all these problems, how come US high-tech is still the strongest and most advanced in the world?

Well, is it?

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A Pessimistic Approach to Surviving the Startup Environment http://www.robgilmark.com/a-pessimistic-approach-to-surviving-the-startup-environment/ http://www.robgilmark.com/a-pessimistic-approach-to-surviving-the-startup-environment/#comments Sat, 10 Oct 2009 16:20:08 +0000 Rob Gilmark http://www.robgilmark.com/?p=17 Can an Educated, Experienced, Creative Professional (EECP) Survive in a High-Tech Startup?

No.

There are, however, a few simple rules that, if carefully followed, could extend your stay, and may even help you win some temporary recognition from your managers and colleagues.

Rule 1 Never expect recognition for anything truly significant.

Typical startup managers have no clue as to how to distinguish major accomplishments. More accurately, the only kind of progress they consider significant is the kind that immediately generates an incoming flood of money (and a bonus). Your technical proposals and results, however convincing they may look to real professionals, look unclear and suspicious to management. It’s not malice, they simply have no way to evaluate the content (due to technical incompetence) or assess its significance (due to lack of vision). As a result, only minor, obvious, and non-critical accomplishments get recognized. Any time you propose something new, unusual, or–Heaven forbid!–a breakthrough, managers (and colleagues) will get confused. In this state of non-comprehension, their fear-of-competition reflex will kick in and you will be at risk of being sidelined, silenced, and/or removed.

Rule 2 Never reveal your full thoughts and knowledge.

Twenty-five to thirty percent is enough. If you explain too much, they’ll think you’re “too smart”, get confused or scared, and won’t really listen anyway, partly due to incompetence and partly due to their ambitions. Providing extensive, well-grounded feedback on their vague, incomplete, and often irrelevant “professional” PowerPoint presentations will make enemies, and if there’s one thing your coworkers know, it’s how to treat enemies. That they know well.

Rule 3 Never openly criticize their projects.

Typically the “projects” they want you to help them with have been conceived and proposed (to investors) by one or two of those incompetent greedy people (IGP) who generally have no understanding of what their proposals are worth and how inefficient and/or unfeasible they are from technical and market points of view. (The ability to raise money correlates very weakly to the quality of proposals as Big Dogs (i.e. VC’s) have no intellectual tools to make fair assessments anyway.) The moment you start making skeptical comments, expressing concerns, or asking essential questions, the IGP- majority of managers and co-workers will immediately hate you. Reasons may vary, but usually include at least one of the following: 1) Lack of mental or tangible tools to verify your statements makes them nervous (“He may be right!”); 2) General dislike of skeptics: (“Hey, we know what we’re doing. We wouldn’t be around if we didn’t and we’re doing great. Period!”); 3) Fierce defense of paycheck stability (“To hell with the project, I’ve got a family to support!”). Threatening paycheck stability is the ultimate sin; even the hint of it will cause immediate resistance and antipathy.

If you absolutely have to bring something up, try to locate some remote, friendly-looking, inactive manager (facility guy or the like) and lightly mention your concerns in passing.

Rule 4 Never trust your co-workers.

They may be nice people, but they hate you (just like they hate each other). They hate you because they don’t know what you know. They can see your broad education, deep knowledge and creativity, and they don’t like it. They have careers to pursue and families to feed and you’re competition. You don’t talk the way they do. They hate your accent and your intolerance of bullshit (BS), which they produce in abundance. They know that most of their work is BS and they hate the fact that you know it too. They hate your independence and your expertise. They hate you with a passion.

The smarter ones may try to form friendly relationships with you, in hopes of “borrowing” smart comments for “one-on-one’s” with management or for use in their future careers. (None of them have confidence in their companies and all of them are constantly preparing for a switch). The friendly ones are most dangerous. Deceived by their friendliness you tend to open up and share your thoughts, results, and experience. It will not be to your benefit, especially if you talk about management, company strategy, or the like. They will report you immediately. Don’t make this mistake.

The best you can do is pretend to be friendly and play nice: overcome your natural resistance and participate in “small talk” (see Rule 8) and limit your communications to vague, optimistic feedback on any of their activities and questions. Never explain the essence, only a surface. Say, “Good job!” as often as you can, even if most of what you will see is garbage. Never share your honest views on management–or anyone else for that matter – except through commonly accepted BS like “Oh, he/she (manager) gave me a hard time…”, “I’m so busy now…”, “I’m gonna have to work on Saturday…”, etc. Stick to commonality, play one of them, and trust no one.

Rule 5 Take it easy. This is the way it is.

Do not expect your co-workers to be interested in actual results. All they care about is making bucks and building their career now (and this includes management as well). Most of America’s so-called high-tech professionals belong to the IGP-group with its common characteristics of either having no clue of what needs to get done for a project or exhibiting extremely low efficiency in getting things done (or both which is most typical). Their “skill”- set is typically either irrelevant to the specific assignment or doesn’t exist at all. All they posses is a sincere desire to make as much money as possible with the least amount of work.

The energetic incompetents with a well-developed sense for “booming” fields will put a lot of effort into making their resumes look relevant and marketable. This means that over eighty percent of their resumes consist of lies and wild exaggerations. They eventually interview with an equally incompetent hiring team and get hired as a result of successful smiling during talks, extensive BS on a theme of their numerous “achievements” (which would be easily discarded were an actual professional present and often “accomplished” by other people anyway), and displaying “easy-going” nature all the time.

Having been hired, the lucky IGP immediately resumes the process of career-building and preparing for promotion. To achieve his goals, he uses a well-known, efficient techniques which includes: establishing excellent personal relationships with all managers(both immediate and remote); fast responses to any manager’s request (most idiotic included); smiling all day long at everybody (including you), chatting with co-workers about “family” issues, sending out dozens of daily emails, making “smart” comments at meetings, demonstrating enormous dedication to the company’s business (while keeping his resume regularly updated), expressing “concerns” and so on. Any activity, no matter how meaningless, is demonstrated as “progress” and that’s just fine, since nobody around can tell the difference between significant results and garbage anyway. This is how it is so: take it easy.

Rule 6 Never say or do anything out of the ordinary.

This can be a general rule for living and working in the US. A startup is a perfect example of this rule. A startup’s environment is generally a mix of mediocrity and hostility. Most of the “players” there are secretive, incompetent, and greedy liars. Lies are the currency of start-ups: from the hiring process, through meetings and operations, to the product they “produce” it in greatest abundance. In spite of a seemingly friendly attitude to one another everyone is trying to compete and make others look bad. An individual contribution to product development is typically hard to evaluate due to the lack of clear project plans (with sequences of chaotic “trials” as the best-case scenarios), management incompetence and employee’s lying left and right.

By saying or doing something non-standard, meaningful, or (Heaven forbid!) creative, you are immediately at risk of either being labeled “too smart” (i.e. hard to work with) and/or of sadly watching your good ideas or good results being distorted and reduced to trash by a “brainstorming” process (more in Rule 8). Nobody will appreciate your inputs unless they are trivial and comply with a primitive “street logic” (see Rule 2). You can afford, perhaps, a few uncommon remarks per month; but please try to make them as vague and unclear as possible. In that case, you’ll be forgiven on grounds that “nobody’s perfect”.

Rule 7 Never openly disagree with your managers or executives.

At meetings with managers, behave! No matter how irrelevant or meaningless their comments are, do not react in any other way except approvingly. Ask nice “questions” (to help them feel smart) and keep repeating “Good idea!” Don’t forget that no matter how incompetent or inefficient they may seem, they own the business and they own you too! Don’t fall for popular slogans of “open-mindedness”, “teamwork”, “be proactive”, etc. It’s all BS. The only “proactivity” you can afford is to suggest some limited, ordinary actions (see Rule 6) to your immediate manager, privately or in the presence of a very small group of people selected directly by him/her. Never invite anyone else to a meeting and never surprise the manager, especially in the presence of others). For brownie points, try to present your inputs as a part of a team’s “brainstorming” (BS). Notice BS stands for both “bullshit” and “brainstorming” and that is no accident; for the latter is just another manifestation of the former (see Rule 9 for more details).

Most of the start-up executives occupy the range between downright greedy crooks and ambitious yet incapable “experts”, with the latter often providing “concepts” to develop. (The few exceptions who don’t count are the unfortunate real professionals, who will soon become subjects of the same talent-destroying rules). The distinguishing quality between the crook and incapable expert is the obsession with getting rich by any means necessary. The ability to lie and the absence of moral principles complete the picture. Most “big dogs” come to a given start-up from some small company, claiming countless achievements, most of which in fact ended in failure. They, however, convince themselves and their interviewees of their successes and leadership skills. After they manage to lie their way in, they take on executive level responsibility (and salary) and start “leading”, which is the worst part of all.

Lacking of both technical and managerial competence, top executives tend to choose subordinates among the people they feel most comfortable working with, fellow members of IGP type (see Rule 5 above). Anyone with real (uncommon) personality, especially one who dares disagree, deeply worries them, because they are incapable of assessing an individual contribution of their employees and, more importantly, they care no more about the results than anyone else does. All they care about is keeping their high compensation rates for as long as possible and maintaining their marketability to ensure their next startup will pay them decently as well. So don’t worry them!

Rule 8 Do “small talk.”

For some EECP’s this is one of the most challenging tasks. The thing is that “small talk” (ST) and socializing are actually as important (in fact, more important) as your technical skills and accomplishments. Since no one has an ability to evaluate the latter, the focus automatically gets shifted to the former.

The history is that once upon a time some IGP “experts” in hi-tech business, told some idiots about the wonderful concept of Team Work (TW). It has become a very popular hi-tech concept, and today everyone loves it, especially IGP s, as it gives them an opportunity to hide their technical incompetence and laziness behind a TW shield. All kind of tricks are in use, including delegating tasks, asking more competent peers to “review” results (typically messy and leading to no conclusions), and blaming other members of the team for delays and failures.

The typical strategy of a smartest IGP is this: walking around with smiles and “How are you?”‘s, asking unnecessary questions, sympathizing and–but of course–doing ST. “How’s your family (kids/house/car)”,”Oh, really?!” My husband (wife, son, dad…)” etc. It’s very important to go out for a lunch together or eating with a team in a local cafeteria, a true celebration of TW and ST. Unfortunately, given very different cultural and educational backgrounds there’s, in fact, very little to talk about, but they do it anyway. It’s a smart way to substitute for a lack of skills and capability. ST is king; make sure you’re part of it. It may be hypocritical, but such is the game!

Rule 9 Never laugh during “brainstorming” (BS) sessions.

One of the funniest parts of the start-up environment is the “brainstorming” routine. Everybody likes it and looks forward to participating. It is undoubtedly the best part of work for many, save for company’s picnics. What brains are they storming or what brains are at all present remain a mystery? Apparently, everybody there is welcome to come forward with “smart” ideas, propose things, find solutions etc. All are equal, smart, creative, knowledgeable, and insightful – no question about it. Who cares about minor things like education, experience, real problem-solving, analytical skills? That’s not the point! The point is, “Let’s do it together! (“Altogether!! Right now…over me.”) Let’s talk at length and come up with unique creative solutions and pat ourselves on our backs. Yay! Problem solved, case closed. Well, what are we going to do now? Obviously, we’ll do as the manager says anyway. But we like “brainstorming”, it’s very refreshing and we all have brains after all, don’t we?

The idiotic idea of “brainstorming” with an entire team is just another aspect of a universal teamwork approach that contributes dearly to wasting time, money and… professionals. This alone makes the majority of solutions used in a project unprofessional and inefficient. “Who cares? Let’s have a good time, work as a team, and we’ll get there soon!” Which is sort of true as investment is practically unlimited (investors can’t separate good and bad ideas anyway), “time to target” is undefined and, yes, after years of random (mainly meaningless) trials the result can be achieved. Who cares about the possibility of accomplishing all of that in less time and with less money just by using some expertise? At the cost of brainstorming – don’t even consider it.

But please, don’t tell them what you think about their brainstorming. You’ll make yourself an “enemy of the people” right away, even more so than you already are.

Rule 10 Don’t give a damn!

This is the key: The less you care, the longer you stay. The moment you take their business to heart, bad things start to happen. So don’t. Good luck!!

 

This guide was originally posted on robgilmark.posterous.com in October 2009 while this website was being developed.

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