30 April, 2008

Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions

So, last rant I waxed lyrical about the stupidity of the process of selecting the best person for your vacancy from a pool of people who are all lying to you about how great they are (except the internal applicants who can’t get away with it), using a process which relies on three people (one who is a stooge from HR) to decide on things which tell you very little about who will fit into your organisation.

And me being me, I was critical without offering any alternatives. Well, what alternatives could I offer?
Firstly, despite the fashion of late (especially in public libraries) to think that everything is all about customer service, I would still be putting library experience higher up the scale than any other experience. I don’t care if you have glowing reference from dusk, lush or some other John Stanley friendly workplace. Library experience matters.

Next, I’d be saying that the resume and the referees are the best thing we have for assessing job experience. If there resume says they can catalogue and they have their library manager as a referee asking cataloguing questions in the interview is pointless. Case in point, in one of my recent interview I was given a sheet of paper with mark numbers on in and a book and told to get busy.
What does that prove? Well it showed that can’t remember the numbers that well. But if I got the job I wouldn’t be cataloguing on paper, I’d be using a computer system (probably with a help function) and I have plenty of experience cataloguing so I know that I can do the job. My referees could tell them I catalogue well. That said they had even told me previously that there is almost no original cataloguing involved, it’s all copy cataloguing and I did that when I was a 20 year old ALT (using microfiche records and transcribing them into the computer system).

What else makes an employee? If I don’t want you to ask me questions what do I think you should do? Well, ask questions I didn’t already answer in the resume. If you’re interviewing me it is because you already know I meet the essentials and desirable of the job (35 essentials and desirables in one I applied for recently. I had to write War and Peace before they’d interview me – but more on that in a future post). Well, what is your culture. Who will fit in with your staff, what personalities are you missing what non-core skills would it be nice to have.
I’ll say it again, everyone you are interviewing should be able to do the job. If they haven’t proven that in the resume then don’t interview them (they’ll learn).

I’m still telling you what not to do though, well lets see if I can give you an alternative. Anything else. That’s my basic advice, at the moment most of us are aware that the process is fundamentally flawed but we are hanging on to it because no one has a decent alternative written out in easy to follow dot points for you to pop into the procedures manual. It is time for us to admit that we don’t know and time to be experimental in how we do things.
  • Interview very few people. Be harsh in how you cull, then take the top five out for a coffee.
  • Make sure the ALT they will supervise is on the panel.
  • Do the interview while high on LSD (caution I have been reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas so this may not be a good idea – but who will know until we try it?) Or perhaps do the interview while they are high on LSD, see how they cope with being interviewed by a giant mutant llama, if they can cope with that then they may be OK on the service desk.
Back to reality (briefly, I don’t like to be sane too often)
  • Don’t interview, take each candidate on a tour of the library. Introduce them to the staff and see how they communicate. Try and make it a natural conversation, let them ask the questions and you’ll find out from that what they think is important.
  • Ask them to show you their blog. What library employee worth their salt isn’t a blogger these days. That is a psych evaluation in itself. I’m stunned no one has asked me about that. I would happily point any prospective employer to the blog, don’t know that it would help my case but if someone employs me after reading it they’d have a better idea of who they are getting and what my passions are.

You get my drift? Be creative don’t make people answer the same old OH&S questions. Who cares if they know OH&S, if they don’t (what have they been living on Rygon 7?) then send them on a course. Know what they need to know, what bits of that can be taught when they get the job and what nice extras each one brings to the organisation.

All that said, management is a different animal, my advice has been about employing library staff be they Technicians, Assistants or Librarians. I might talk more on how to employ a manager at some later point.

/"Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions" is the sort of managementspeak crap that should resultin whoever says it being beaten with a sock full of $2 coins.
//while I (slightly) bagged John Stanley above I still think the guy is worth listening to, unlike some however I don't believe he is the messiah.

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