The Hidden Curriculum of Work

I think part of the problem I have in dealing with the current generation of head-hunters and corporate recruiters is that they focus on the job description, the check-list. They focus on it two ways: the first is demanding it of the hiring managers, who are often ill equipped to write one. Many jobs are not circumscribed, especially in a field like IT which is dynamic and about continuous learning and adaption to changing circumstances. All to often the most valuable question I’ve been able to ask of a manager in a hiring situation amounts to “what do you need done?”.
Their description of the work – the WORK not the JOB – only makes sense in context, a context that another practitioner understands, but someone in HR would hear as the gobbledygook of technology-talk. How can you base a bullet-list Job Description on that? Trying to translate it into a vernacular that allows the HR-droid to ask appraisal questions of candidates that the HR-droid can make sense of removes it from what the work is about.

Which leads to the second point.
Traditionally, HR only became involved AFTER the hiring was done. They took the new employee’s details for salary, UI, health plan, access cards, policy and all the rest. The manager initiated and managed the process of finding and appraising
candidates. Somehow, without the Internet, without job boards, without government agencies, the system worked and worked well. It relied, if I recall, on personal contact. I got my first job after university because of the recommendation of one of my course professors. That was considered normal. My student vacation jobs came about through contacts of my father or teacher at school. Later jobs came about via other professional contacts. When I worked for a consulting firm in London before coming to Canada, work came from the contacts of the partners or though a select head-hunter – of the old school, the kind that spent time playing golf, sitting in the sauna or having three martini lunches. All our projects involved submitting proposals; most were fixed price and were based on our skills, not just on the doing, but also on the project
management; we were profitable because we delivered on time and exceeded what was in the proposal/agreement.
The idea of a hourly rate meant that the manager couldn’t tell what he needed done and the contractor didn’t know what it would take; both were operating in the dark.

I took a fall in salary to come to Canada but the quality of/nature of lifestyle more than made up for it. I was 18 months at HCR and part of the reason I left was that they had a problem with someone they hired as a programmer knowing more about project management and client relations that the founder, a UofT professor did. Even so, work over the coming decade or so was again though contacts, the UNIX community of the 80s and 90s was small. The couple of head-hunters I dealt with occasionally were very technologically knowledgeable and usually placed me without a resume, their reputation and contacts being the basis. A couple here will remember Howard Prince, who was first in that, a friend, someone with many cats, a good buddy who died of Cancer while I was hurting and dealing with my father’s death. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for him.

When today’s crop of head-hunters think about ‘contacts’, they mean how many links they have at LinkedIn.

When I ask about the work rather than the job description, who the manager is, what’s he like, the team, the office, the lunch facilities, parking or TTC access… it confuses them. Its probably cost me many follow-ups. Its not in the job description, its not in the firm’s promotional material about how long they’ve been in existence, how profitable they are, who their customers are, what great people their founders or management team are. its only the stuff that makes the work and the work tolerable. They don’t know what the managers objectives are, what he (or she) is trying to get done; they’ve never asked and being the kind of  “general” HR they probably wouldn’t understand or understand well enough to use the answer to appraise candidates.

But as this article says:

What do you do for work? Not, what is your job title, or what’s written in your
official job description? But what do you actually do?

It’s potentially the most important question you can ask yourself if you care
about standing out, staying ahead of the change curve, and continuously
elevating your performance to gain access to choice assignments and
opportunities to advance.

The article then goes on to identify part of that the process actually involves though is almost never formally stated, and that, while implicit in almost every job, seems beyond they ken of today’s crop of younger recruiters and younger  HR:

• Know her own department’s goals, as well as the company’s objectives, well
enough to interpret what is most important among many competing demands
• Understand the varied communication habits among the different stakeholders,
including the various “triggers” to avoid
• Stay mentally flexible and willing to adapt her own leadership style to build
rapport and establish trust with others who may define success differently
• Avoid over-collaborating, but have the wisdom to know what requires closer
oversight, discussion, and shared decision making

Clearly corporate HR aren’t in the business of empowering the hiring managers to “add value”. That’s how come we have the miss-named “skills gap”. The skills are there, the candidates are there, but HR doesn’t know how to recognise them
or hook them up to the managers.

This is an old, well over a decade old, vignette. It was true then, its true today.


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Security Evangelist

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