Recruitment – can we do it a bit better, please?

I enjoy recruiting. It gives you a chance to meet new people and find out about the qualities they have, perhaps offer them a job.

But often the process – standardised questions, very specific answer requirements – robs you of any chance of developing a mutual understanding.

As a recruiting manager, I’ve found myself asking questions like:

“Can you tell me about a time when you have done a big project which went a bit wrong, but ultimately turned out all right due to the skills and behaviours you demonstrated which perfectly align with the score sheet I will have to fill out at the end of this soul-eviscerating process?”

Ok, it’s possible this isn’t exactly a HR interview question, but it’s not far off how it feels.

It is at best stultifying; at worst, you might turn down someone brilliant.

Fear not, though, as here to save the day with their big brains and capes is economist Tyler Cowen and investor Daniel Gross who have written a pleasingly snappy book on the subject, called Talent.

This book is a must-read for those involved in recruitment, but if you don’t want to shell out upwards of a tenner on it, here are some key take-outs.

Have an actual conversation

This is probably their most important, and simple, piece of advice. You must do everything you can to get away from the pre-packaged answers that a candidate arrives with, and move onto more interesting terrain. You could establish some kind of common ground, such as where they have worked, where they live, or cultural or sporting interests. You could ask them something about what they did that morning, at the weekend, on the evenings – anything so that the candidate starts to reveal themselves.

Ask questions that surprise the candidate

This sounds obvious, but often an interviewer is simply asking questions supplied by HR, rather than something they are interested in. The candidate feels this, and the whole process can veer dangerously towards a meaningless charade.

Tyler and Daniel suggest questions which perform the function of surprising the candidate and forcing them into spontaneous answers.

For example:

  • How do you feel you are different from the people at your current company?
  • What subreddits, blogs or online communities do you enjoy?
  • And the slightly terrifying: What’s a story one of your references might tell me when I call them?
Annoyingly young, rich and talented: Daniel Gross

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

If you want to have a meaningful conversation with a candidate, it is inevitable that there will be times when the person either has to think for a while before answering, or gives you a look which says, ‘do you actually want me to answer that?’ Tyler and Daniel advise – this is all good. As long as you are asking questions in good faith, and not trying to trick a candidate, then it’s ok to have moments when things get a bit sticky. That means you have moved away from standard questions and standard answers, and may just be getting somewhere interesting.

Zero in on a candidate’s motivation

I have asked why someone wants a job, and I have sometimes asked motivation related questions.

But I have never asked, as they suggest, “How ambitious are you?” This obviously reaches beyond the present job for which they are interviewing, and looks at something longer term. If the candidate has an ambition that is genuine, then it will be likely well thought-through. If it isn’t, of course, then you gain a not particularly positive insight.

Go meta

They suggest allowing a person to talk about their belief systems, and be analytical about it. To this end, asking: “Which of your beliefs are you least rational about?”

I have a whole stack of these, as perhaps we all do. I like cyclists generally, but hate Boris bikers. I like vegetarianism but think veganism is ridiculous. I like 60s music, but loath Paul McCartney. And so on.

This gets you closer to the actual person and helps to see how their mind works. In my case, they may think me a charming addition to the team or a bizarre weirdo who should be shown the door.

They also suggest the rather brutal: “How do you think this interview is going?” This might allow for some good self-analysis and allow the candidate to shine, but some good people may just dead-bat it. Proceed with caution.

Interview referees

This again might seem completely esoteric for many companies, who only ask a referee to confirm the basic truthfulness of a candidate’s CV. But I was particularly struck by this as a useful approach.

They suggest asking: Is this person so good that you would happily work for them?

I love this question. It makes the referee, and you, consider the person at least a level or two above the job they are applying for. If a referee can say, I was this person’s manager, but I would be happy for the relationship to be the other way round, that is a massive tribute to the candidate’s all-round behaviours and competence, and probably their willingness to develop their skills. Rather than the formulaic – would you hire this person again – which is a fairly low bar, it takes you into the realm of actual insight.

Being inclusive could very well give you a huge advantage

Tyler and Daniel are mostly interested in high-end talent that can transform a workplace and make outrageous innovations and/or a lot of money. They want people who see the world differently. They argue that the top-end of talent is a rarified place, and most of the available talent is easy to identify. Therefore, they go into quite a lot of detail about why going after diverse talent, ie women, people from different ethnic minorities, and disabled people, is potentially hugely rewarding.

On disabled candidates they highlight Greta Thunberg (autism) and Richard Branson (dyslexia) and say: “Even if you think disabilities are disadvantages on net, many of them come with offsetting advantages in the overall package. And sometimes these advantages can be very impressive.”

As brainy as his hair is questionable: Tyler Cowen

Women often get ignored for really stupid, man-related reasons

Men, this bit is quite embarrassing.

Tyler and Daniel lay out details of a study of over a thousand venture capital pitches.

It showed that women-only teams were judged more stringently on pitch quality than men, revealing that “women have to walk a thinner tightrope when presenting themselves to the outside world.

“But the really striking result was this: when women pitched on mixed-gender teams, the quality of the women’s pitch didn’t really matter at all. It seems the potential investors paid attention only to what the men said.”

If this isn’t bad enough they continue, “Anecdotally, we have found that men have a harder time judging the intelligence of women, because women often present themselves as more agreeable in an interview setting than men do…Many men will incorrectly downgrade the intelligence of an especially agreeable woman…In essence, male judgement often goes astray when women are (a) quite agreeable or (b) not very agreeable.”

Basically, men: make sure there is a woman on your interview panel or you could be doing you, your company and female candidates a massive disservice.

Conclusion – we can do better.

Recruitment is really important and, on the whole, we can do a lot better. We need to have actual, interested conversations in interviews. We need to make sure we are thinking broadly about the skills we need. We probably need some structure to the interview question process but that should include spontaneous interaction and the possibility of getting to know the person as a person, rather than a series of case study examples of things they may have done well (or may have massively dressed up).

Reading Talent does make me question – what is a fair process? They suggest a loose but earnest approach that taps into who the person is. It’s possible that this could misfire if done badly. But the overall point they make, that you need to cut through the inherent fakeness and preparedness of the interview process to something deeper, must be correct.

All the Mercurcy Music Prize 2022 nominees reviewed + exciting prediction

Here’s my rundown of all the runners and riders in this year’s Mercury Music Prize. Reviews start short and get shorter as fatigue crept in.

Predicted winner at the end. I’ve never been right before so I’ll definitely be right this time.

Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor

The Mercury Music Prize always has one jazz nomination. Never none, which would be rude; never two, which would be overdoing it. Always one.

This year it is Fergus McCreadie’s turn. Forest Floor is a piano-led pastoral jazz album which, despite my tendency to support complicated, commercially non-viable music, I just don’t like.

The first track is one of those piano tracks which is A LOT OF NOTES and strikes me as showing off. Then there are some quasi-pleasant folky/woodland style pieces that are ‘interesting’ but I’d probably never bother listening to ever again.

Apple Music has put McCreadie’s music on a Restorative Yoga playlist, which probably explains sufficiently why I find this album nearer to appalling than nice.

Gwenno – Tresor

Very strong ‘afternoon at Latitude drinking a somewhat stronger than you’d imagined cider’ vibe to this album. Straight out of the dreamy psychedelia tradition of Broadcast and Gruff Rhys, this is one of those albums that I’d never have come across without a Mercury nomination. It’s mostly in Cornish, so I have no idea what is going on lyrically. She could be talking about elves; it could be dark ruminations on former lovers. The fact that you have got those options is part of the pleasure. I loved it.

Harry Styles – Harry’s Room

Apart from once working next to a woman in her late 20s who declared that she found a 16-year-old Harry Styles hot, I have been mercifully unaware of the pop princeling’s cultural impact to date.

Harry’s Room, for the first four or five songs, is really good. It has enough of a Venn diagram crossover with Beck, Nile Rodgers and A-ha to make it quite pleasing in the early stages.

Styles rapidly loses faith in this credible album lark about half-way through, no doubt fearing that long-time fans will be turned off by actually good music. Thereafter he performs a series of psychologically damaging ballads, the standout being the deeply unpleasant Boyfriends, which is basically Styles saying: “Hey girls, boys aren’t as thoughtful as they should be and girls deserve better, but, you know, boys are fairly shit, even the great Harry Styles himself sometimes, despite being really pretty.”

Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile

When you see people jumping around on album covers: take care

I do like Kojey Radical, but I do not like this album.

I am constitutionally opposed to songs called Happy or albums called Reason to Smile, as I’d always presume that the opposite would be better.

Too many tracks on this album sound like a credible artist trying to be as commercially palatable as possible, as if he wants to become an English Will Smith or something. There are a few good songs on Reason to Smile, particularly his duet with Ego Ella May (who needs a Mercury nomination herself one of these days), but I basically much prefer his In God’s Body album.

Yet, still. Kojey can be a monstrously good rapper, and if he wins the prize I’d definitely put aside my concerns and tip my cap to the fella.

Little Simz- Sometimes I might be introvert

Judge an album by its cover – Little Simz

There are people out there who think that a 65-minute rap album with 19 tracks including 4 interludes is too long. I’m here to say – those people are dead wrong. This is a long album, but it explodes from the spectacular title track and keeps going, dipping into classic soul, musicals, Afrobeat, all threaded through with self-examining rap. Sometimes the lyrics can feel a bit like a self-help book to beats, but on the whole this is a banger.

Nova Twins – Supernova

Pop-rap-heavy rock. Strong female Fred Durst vibes, mixed with a touch of Kelis and huge riffs. No doubt enormously enjoyable live, which might give them a chance when the winner is picked.

Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

Earnest anthems by an earnest man. Sounds to me like he’s listened to Hungry Heart by Springsteen and made an entire career out of it. I never did like that stadium singer-songwriter thing and while he’s probably a good lad who is kept up at night raging about the emptiness of the Levelling Up agenda, his music leaves me utterly cold.

Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

Diary entries turned into wild, astringent dance hits. The type of music you listen to if you cannot face going to work or leaving the house and it will give you the boost to do it. Or it may just make you feel good about not bothering. Possible winner.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg

How did the leg get wet? And why just one leg?

While Sam Fender is always trying ever so hard and is permanently sub-par, Wet Leg give the strong impression of being barely semi-half-arsed, and still end up great. Life’s terribly unfair, isn’t it?

Yard Act – The Overload

Northern man does witty lyrics in a pretty decent imitation of the late Mark E Smith. Nice.

Joy Crookes – Skin

This year’s Laura Mvula. Splendid voice, lovely arrangements, lyrics that do enough but not too much. Respect for the name-check of the number 35 bus on When You Were Mine. I’d probably end up listening to this album more than all the others. Apart from Little Simz.

Prediction

Heart: Anyone but Sam Fender.

Head: Sam Fender.

How to make the perfect roast potatoes – a poem

I was diligently following a recipe called
“How to make the perfect roast potatoes”
Thinking, if I can achieve perfection
Here in my kitchen
That would be really quite major
Offsetting all thoughts of career failure.

Like – alright, Macron
You might have become President of France
At the age of 39
And live in the elysee palace
Rather than a 3 bed terrace
But have you knocked out perfect roast potatoes
Not just exceptional
Not just blinding
Perfect.

No. No, you haven’t.

So clear in my superiority
I knuckled down and followed the recipe
Par boiling to the second,
Interspersing garlic among the King Edwards
and as I sat there
oven side, like a midwife
I thought to myself
I’m alright.

BAGEL REVIEW: #worldcupofbread

My review of the immodest bagel…

AVERAGE FOOD BLOG

In terms of bread, is there a bread more bread-like, bringing more pure, unadulterated bread pleasure, than a bagel?

The answer is obvious, but as this is a blog let’s talk around the subject a bit before giving the answer about 400 words further down the page.

Numbers first. A normal, workaday roll comes in at a modest 133 calories. A bagel packs more than twice the calorific punch, coming in at an impressive 289 calories.

These raw, inarguable stats, are at the heart of the bagel’s appeal.

But the bagel isn’t just a heavyweight bread – it is also the most delightful to have and to hold.

As with all the best designs, the bagel’s perfect composition has a utilitarian purpose that would have the Bauhaus lads purring. The hole in the middle provides more surface to allow the thing to bake more quickly and has the added advantage…

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Leaning in at the swimming pool: thoughts on Sandberg, Peterson and men being annoying

So I was in the swimming baths – Beckenham Spa if you want to know, which you do, nosy – and I was doing a few lengths of my pretty average breast stroke in the medium lane, and there’s a guy doing his pretty average front crawl, about the same pace as me, but after a while he decides

I’m in the wrong lane. My front crawl is so superior and stellar that, by rights, I should be in with the champions, in the fast lane.

So off he goes, to the fast lane, where he continues his sub-par thrashing about, where there is a woman doing what I would describe as proper swimming: front crawl, high elbow, easy breathing, not too much splash, cutting through the water with the smooth efficiency of a German stereotype

and she finds herself being obstacled by Mr Sub-Par Thrasher, who absolutely refuses to cede any lane space to her because, well, he’s got some balls, and she hasn’t, and that’s that.

All the other men in the fast lane were also:

  1. Not very good at swimming
  2. Not going very fast, and
  3. Not letting her go by.

So, after a while, she decides to sack it off and goes to the middle lane with a float to do some still-pretty-nifty legs-only lengths.

Which brings me to Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, which is basically 200-odd pages of gentle encouragement for women to, politely, not put up with men in the fast lane who want you to drop down a lane or, better, get out of the pool altogether.

Lean_in.JPG
Sheryl Sandberg: she’s probably doing an email with the other hand while posing for this photo

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook, and probably up there with Stakhanov, Sisyphus and Sonic the Hedgehog as one of the hardest working S’s in the world, ever. Her idea of flexitime is taking a couple of hours off to have dinner with her kids, before working until the wrong side of midnight.

She thinks that if women were better at advancing their own and other women’s causes in the workplace, and men were prepared to do half the housework, you would soon be close to getting 50% of top jobs held by women. She thinks that would be desirable for both women and men.

It is fair to say that Jordan B Peterson doesn’t agree.

In his book, 12 Rules for Life, he takes the view that most women in really high-powered jobs back away from the demands of a career at the very top when they start having a family, because their priorities change.

peterson
Apart from him getting intense on Marxist postmodernists (by which I think he means the kind of spoken word poet types I hang out with) this is a really good book.

Peterson takes the long view that this is how men and women have always been, and it won’t change, so there.

Without wanting to align myself as a wishy-washy centrist, I’d say that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Sandberg outlines, with devastating honesty, the toll her work has taken on her family life. She talks about her daughter holding onto her leg at the airport telling her not to get on a flight (to do a talk about women in the workplace).

She admits, “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or vacation are long gone.”

Obviously, most people aren’t up for that level of work devotion when there’s telly to watch and stuff. But perhaps more men are, as Peterson suggests, by their very nature, driven towards that kind of lifestyle, and to make those kind of choices.

Which brings me back to the swimming baths, and some questions:

Why didn’t the female swimmer simply swim more aggressively so that she asserted her rightful dominance as the best swimmer in the pool?

Is it simply human nature for men to want to dominate literally every situation except childbirth and the washing-up?

Clearly, I don’t know.

But it would be nice if just one geezer doing his bog-standard Sunday morning lengths could notice a woman who is better than him and, if he can’t admit she is better, at least revert to chivalry, and doff his swimming cap, and let her pass.

beckenham spa
A nice head and shoulders of Beckenham Spa. There’s a recycling centre in the car park as well.

Orbit Professional

AVERAGE FOOD BLOG

OrbitProExtraFresh copy-900x900

Finally there is a chewing gum which accurately
reflects the British class system
a gum on which the professional can chew
safe in the knowledge it is way more distinguished
than Wrigleys spearmint or Juicy Fruit

I look forward to the other gums in the range
Orbit working class and Orbit immigrant
so every chew knows its place
and doesn’t find itself embarrassed
in the wrong class of face

I hope, one day, people will recognise Orbit
professional as a watershed moment, with
the government taking heed and ensuring everything
we buy comes with a strict traffic light
class guide alongside the nutritional advice

That way, you could know for certain
if Innocent Foods really are too posh
or if Chicago Town pizza is,
by your standards, a low class of nosh

In the meantime I, a middling civil servant,
can sit back with my Orbit, chewing and relaxing,
happy…

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Namedropping: a poem

At a wine and snacks gathering
in Canonbury, I was stood with
some adults discussing teaching.
In a despondent bid for attention
I said I had met Michael Gove
and liked him. “How can you say that?”
was followed by “he’s a dreadful man,
and you know it, Richard” at which point
I said he was only trying to raise standards
and what was the harm in that. Although
the party began to peter out
shortly afterwards, I stayed
until the end, insisting on
washing-up the glasses
even though the host twice said
there was no need.

Michael Gove

The fundamentals are looking good

The fundamentals are still quite good.

Cornish pasties are still being eaten
Office workers still having heavy weekends

Painters and decorators still being paid cash in hand
Ageing Prodigy members still living off the fat of the land

Dad’s still drinking whiskey, talking about fiscal instability
Mum’s still like when he’s like that I make myself a tea and go and watch the telly

Charity workers still doing their bit
South eastern trains still running like shit

Indie kids still wearing skinny ribs and smoking spliffs
England midfielders still got good engines, still lacking width

Renters still paying over the odds for poky digs
Quitters still nipping off for cheeky cigs

Yes, the fundamentals are still quite good.
The fundamentals are looking good.

Sadiq Khan is an extremist and always will be, whatever the evidence suggests

 

Sadiq_Khan_MP_3551269b
Despite a life of complete moderation, Khan is a dangerous extremist

Having read the national newspapers and listened to the comments of the Prime Minister over the past few weeks, I have become convinced that Sadiq Khan is, and always will be, a dangerous extremist.

I have noted with horror that, as a lawyer, he sometimes interacted with people accused of crimes. I have been left open mouthed by his willingness, as a Muslim, to talk with other Muslims – some of whom don’t preface every remark they make with a full-throated rendition of Land of Hope and Glory and a sizeable donation to Help for Heroes.

Needless to say, I was not expecting such a man to win the London Mayor election. I expected the noted beer-drinking, tube-travelling, Bollywood-loving man of the people Zac Goldsmith to canter to a comfortable victory.

Aghast at such a turn of events, I read, in my Daily Telegraph, remarks made by Mr Khan in his victory speech – and after contorting his words out of all context I realised my views about this man’s unsuitability for office were confirmed.

You have probably already realised that I am referring to Mr Khan’s incendiary assertion that he will run London “for all Londoners.”

This shocking statement means the man now in charge of our capital is not just running London on behalf of decent, hard working people who pay their taxes and want to get on.

Khan is running London, brazenly and unashamedly, on behalf of pimps, vagabonds, litterers, terrorists, fakers, wake and bakers, narcissistic selfie takers, doggers, diggers, liggers, laggers, taggers, newly-returned backpackers, members of the campaign for real ale, people who eat crisps made out of kale, traitors, idiots standing on the wrong side of escalators, thieves, northerners who talk constantly about how bad London is but somehow never leave, looters, Gooners, those smug posh people out after the riots waving their brooms, thugs, people who reserve tables in pubs, arrive late and don’t even have the decency to get drunk, retards in moustaches, members of ISIS, people who think they are saving the planet by driving a Prius, and, finally, people who act all polite and nice but are quite the opposite.

Khan, with his being the avowed Mayor for all Londoners, brings the above under his banner of seeming moderation.

Yes, this even-handed approach by Khan might not seem like much of a reason to criticise him. Yes, Mr Khan may, on the face of it, be the blandest of bland politicians. Yes, he might have an entirely modest agenda of restraining transport costs and doing a bit to make the housing system fairer. Yes, it might be quite good the way his dad was a bus driver and he grew up on a council estate.

But I am not going to sit back and accept that the Daily Telegraph, The Mail, the Prime Minister and all the rest didn’t have a fair point when they suggested that Sadiq Khan is a dangerous extremist.

I, for one, will continue to believe these trusted servants of the public interest – whatever the facts suggest.

I am not for ducking

Despite there being no evidence for this whatsoever, my predictive text seems to think that I constantly want to use the word ducking.

Perhaps I should write a formal letter,

Dear Android/Apple,

I am writing to you, very politely, to say that as a small man and I am rarely, if ever, ducking.

Did napoleon duck the big issues?

No. And nor do I.

I do, however, occasionally get slightly irritated by some things (humans, etc) which occasionally gives me cause to colour my language. So when I hit the f, and follow it with, ucking, there is no mistake.

I am definitely not fucking ducking.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Purnell

Napoleon-aux-tuileries