I hired a personal assistant who came highly recommended. And, while I admit, at her previous job she was more receptionist than personal assistant, she spoke both Hebrew and English, and with me needing an emergency replacement due to illness of my then-assistant, she was hired.
She did very well at what she was told to do. “Please email that person and schedule up a time for us to meet,” I’d say. Within minutes, it was done.
She was fast, speedy, and efficient. She would go far, I thought…
One day, I asked her to prepare a list of credit-card numbers in an Excel spreadsheet. It was a long list, and she did a spectacular job of filling in the fields and putting it all in order. Well, except for one minor detail…
It seems that in Excel, you cannot place a 16-digit number as a standalone in a field.
As Microsoft help explains it (somewhat cryptically for common folk):
“When you type a number that contains more than 15 digits in a worksheet cell, Microsoft Office Excel changes any digits past the fifteenth place to zeros. In addition, Excel displays the number in exponential notation, replacing part of the number with E+n, where E (which signifies exponent) multiplies the preceding number by 10 to the nth power.”
So, the Excel spreadsheet I received looked something like this:
(Don’t worry, these credit card numbers aren’t real even if you can figure out the formula!)
So, after paying her for the time it took to do all this, and being under deadline to get it done, I ended up being up half the night, changing every one of the numbers to the correct number so that the bank could process the transactions before the deadline. (I’m sure some Excel whiz could make a formula or macro that would do it for me, but, alas, I wasn’t able to do it that way under the circumstances.)
This past week, I found myself relating this story at a client meeting.
There are people who do what they are told. So, “You said to put the numbers in and it didn’t work, so I had to do it a different way to get it done.”
Then there are those who would try to input the numbers they were told and when that didn’t work, they would spend a few minutes trying see why it wasn’t working and what they could do to change that.
It didn’t take more than 10 seconds to find the answer on a quick Google search:
And that is the difference between someone who grows within an environment (any environment!) where thinking, the actual ability to “think on your feet,” is valued. It is what separates those who “do the minimum” from those who are constantly looking for how to deliver a better result.
From the assistant’s point of view, it certainly may be true that she tried to do what I told her to do and it didn’t work.. But do you think the boss will be happy with that inability to get it done? They may accept it if they have no choice, but if you want to grow and move up the ranks, shouldn’t you try to go the extra mile and see how to -- YES -- make it work?
These days, when I hire help, I don’t look at the resume all that much. Think of the folly: You write, “Looking for someone who knows MS office, is able to work flexible hours, and knows basic Photoshop.” You get a resume that says, “Experienced with MS office, ability to work flexible hours, and experience with Photoshop at the basic level.”
You exclaim, dancing for joy -- Bada Bing -- exactly what I was looking for! And you are ready to hire, sight unseen.
Hey! Hold your horses there a minute!
In this day and age of customized resumes based on the ad wording, isn’t it obvious that the resume will match (or “mirror,” in NLP terms) exactly what you said you wanted to hire? And if so, isn’t this a ridiculous exercise in futility?
You are much better off to give your potential hire actual questions to answer -- things you don't expect them to know but which will show if, in fact, there is what you are looking for between the ears of the person you are considering hiring!
Some questions I use:
1. How many pages are there in the Babylonian Talmud? (This question is easy to find out on Google, but for the average person requires the reading of material in an area they know nothing about. This lets you know if they can grasp new, unfamiliar information.)
2. What airport is YMQ? And why is that the airport name?
3. What are three alternatives to (particular invoicing software) and how do they compare?
4. How much will a car rental cost me in New York City, pickup and drop off in JFK, in the week of March 8th? Arriving Sunday morning 5 am, returning it Thursday 4 pm? Midsize, luxury, minivan? Did you use a coupon code? If so, where did you find it?
In that last question, can they pick up on the fact that there may not be pick up availability at that hour? Will they call and find out? Can they find a coupon code for a car rental?
When you are looking to hire someone for work that requires skill, and want them to be around for a long time, what you also want is the ability for them to grow along with the business so that the worker and the business can both succeed (and be worth an ever-rising wage).
But to allow that to happen, it’s best to weed out those who want to merely work from those who want to work and grow. And the best time to do that is when hiring, which is one of the reasons that Google uses mathematical challenges on billboards to recruit fresh talent. If you don’t get the math, you don’t find the hiring page.
So for now, I have a new question for potential employees:
“Please take the following list of 16-digit numbers and put them in an Excel spreadsheet…”
If I get back something that shows me they have the time, and have the skill, to deliver what I want, I know that this person has a fighting chance of making it in an environment that requires both the desire to accomplish and, and the same time, using their noodles to get the job done.
There are so many business owners out there who are actively looking, and yet unable, to find the help they need. It isn’t because there aren’t people without jobs out there, but rather because many of those people, either from birth or from discouragement of being without work, are not thinking about the bigger picture, “making the employer happy” as much as they are following what they are told “fill in that sheet of numbers.”
Hiring smart is the only way worth hiring—it’s an investment in your own, as well as your employee's future.