For our Foodie Friday Fun this week we’re having eggs. I love eggs. I also have a daughter who gags at the mere mention of them, so I’m well aware that my admiration of them isn’t universal. Too bad, because in addition to being part of many of the great dishes in the food world, eggs also provide a few insights into hiring.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Think for a second about the role an egg can play. A fried egg placed on a burger certainly isn’t meant to be the star of the show and often the burger is just fine without it. The egg, however, adds a richness and provides a secondary sauce, almost transforming mayo (if you use it) into a hollandaise. The egg is in a supporting role that makes the entire production better.
Then there are the dishes in which the egg is an equal player. A bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (one of the world’s great dishes, IMHO), plays the various flavors and textures off against one another and weaves them into a harmonious whole. No one flavor should dominate, and in this context we see the egg holding its own but playing nicely with the other components. Huevos Rancheros or Chilaquiles are other examples.
Finally, we have the egg as the star. Deviled eggs, egg salad, or some perfectly cooked scrambled eggs are dishes in which the egg must be front and center and in which lesser eggs means a lower quality dish. As it turns out, a few studies have found that it doesn’t really make a difference in taste or quality if you buy regular old supermarket eggs instead of from your local farm stand (but you should support your local folks anyway – it may not taste better but you’ll feel better).
What does this have to do with business? I want to hire employees who are good eggs, and I mean not just in temperament. I want people who can play any role from supporting to leading. I want people who work well with others. I want people who are versatile. I want them to be of high quality. In short, I want people who are as wonderful as an egg. Don’t you?
One summer when I was in college I found myself without gainful employment. I had spent many other summers as a camp counselor but I had decided not to spend 8 weeks locked in a bunk with a slew of six-year-olds and hadn’t really found anything to do that didn’t require an investment of cash (like an ice cream truck route). All the “good” jobs were taken, and while a buddy and I were offering our services out to paint houses, I really needed to do something to generate cash. That’s how I ended up with a crappy job for which I am still thankful.
My crappy job involved going door to door selling encyclopedias. I’m not kidding. For the younger readers out there, printed encyclopedias were pretty popular (think analog Wikipedia) nearly half a century ago. Every day I would drive my car into some neighborhood and walk the streets knocking on doors. The case I carried was not light, even to my younger, in-shape self. I got rejected nearly every time, at least when someone was nice enough to actually open the door, hear my spiel, and not threaten me with a dog. I also made a few bucks in the process, but calling it a crappy job is an understatement.
I learned a tremendous amount from my crappy job. First and foremost, I learned patience and what is commonly called sticktoitiveness. I didn’t quit; well, at least not until my painting partner convinced someone to let us paint their house, which was 8 weeks into the summer. I learned cold-calling and how to qualify leads. I learned not to fear speaking to strangers. I learned that, just as is baseball, it’s possible to fail 6 times out of 10 and still be an all-star. Most importantly, I gained perspective. Nearly any other job seemed great by comparison, and I could mentally return to knocking on doors any time things got bad at some subsequent job.
Many years later, “tell me about the worst job you ever had” became one of my standard interview questions. I looked for people who had a crappy job at some point and we always talked about why it sucked and what they learned. I always leaned toward candidates who had done the worst jobs.
What crappy job have you had? How did it change you?
I mentioned the other day that we’re getting Rancho Deluxe ready for sale. Part of that process is choosing a realtor. It’s a very important part of the process since the realtor is your guide. What work should we do on the house prior to listing? How much is a reasonable but aggressive asking price? Where is the local market and are the offers we get worth considering? It’s a job interview, even if the job is temporary. I thought some of what we found is applicable to any form of hiring, and that hiring might be personal (a job) or organizational (by a client).
We got the names of three realtors from friends who had worked with them. Each walked through the house and scheduled a second meeting, the purpose of which was to give us their thoughts on the questions I mentioned, above. It was also a chance for them to demonstrate their thinking and competence.
Two of the three came back with folders containing listings of comparable houses to help us price. They gave us a good overview of the marketplace and described the buyer they thought would be looking at our home. The third showed up with nothing. When asked about comps she scrolled through her phone looking for some while we sat and waited. While she could talk about the market, her conversation was very general and not specific to our situation (location, the age of our home, etc.). Had it been a business meeting, I would have tossed her out of my office after 15 minutes. The point is preparedness. While Woody Allen may have said that 80% of success is showing up, I think showing up prepared is far better. Needless to say, she was disqualified from consideration.
The choice between the other two came down to a few things. Personality (with whom dd we feel most comfortable) was a big part. How hard we felt they would work on our behalf was another. While they each told us what they thought needed to be done to get the house ready, one of them offered to help us make those things happen by offering to hook us up with some reasonably priced contractors/handymen. She didn’t just identify our issues; she offered to help us resolve them. In addition, she described what money she would invest, putting her own skin in the game. It means that if the house doesn’t sell she is not just out the commission she won’t receive but also some funds she has invested herself. That was the tie-breaker.
Each of those points – preparation, personality, problem-solving, and commitment – is something that should come up in any vetting process, whether you’re hiring or being hired. How does each candidate stack up? How do you?