Dating, Buying, Recruiting

Originally Posted December 2012

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Since I last wrote, the Bronfman’s ideas presented in SWAY, continue to bubble away in my thinking.   First impressions are not always what they seem.

As a home owner and former first time home buyer, first impressions can be misleading.  Sure the kitchen needs to be updated. Avocado green and Harvest gold are so 1977.  Yes the closets are a little small and the roof is less than exemplary; but the floors are beautiful, there’s a jacuzzi tub on the deck, and it has great gardens!  Is this really the house for me or am I caught up in the moment? Am I looking at the right things or am I looking at only what I want to see?  Is my first impression correct?

Going on a first date is another experience where people can find themselves getting caught up in the moment.  It’s been a while since I’ve been on a first date, but I can remember finding myself having coffee, sharing a meal, taking a stroll and later wondering — Was there chemistry?  What kind of connection did we make?  I wonder if they like me?  Will I hear from them again?   Buying house and going on a first date are emotionally charged situations. People aren’t always at their best under these circumstances.

Dating and buying a home are a lot like recruiting. It’s easy to understand why home owners and people in search of a connection get caught up in the moment, but what is really interesting is why hiring managers, across all professions, including education, make the same mistakes.  According to the Bronfman’s, it is because recruiters simply don’t ask very good questions.

Here are a few of the most common interview questions.  Do any of them seem familiar?

Why are you interested in the position?
What do you offer this position?
What do you see yourself doing five years now?
What do you consider to be your greatest strength / weakness?
Tell me about a recent success / failure?
What subject did you like the best / least?
What do you know about our company / school?
Why did you decide to seek a job with our company / school?“

adapted from Sway

As someone who has experienced both sides of the table, I have asked and endured similar questions.  Semi-insightful and self-evaluative questions don’t really let anyone get or give a sense of the real candidate.  “They are taken from the Barbara Walters school of interviewing.” ( p. 81).  Likewise, “Why should I hire you?”, is too predictable.  Prepackaged questions elicit prepackaged responses.  They do not provide an accurate reflection of the true candidate.  Other questions turn candidates into historians or require them to gaze into the glass ball of the future.  Are these questions going to provide you with the best insight into an individual?

When hiring, principal’s can make the same mistakes as a home buyer and first dater … they focus on the wrong things — chemistry, connection, likability.  When recruiting, “we often base the image of the ideal candidate on ourselves.  Somebody comes in who’s similar to us, and we’re going to click; we’re probably going to want to hire them”. (p.86).

How do you ask the “right questions”?  Is staffing a collaborative decision making process?  Is the interview format structured, relaxed, or some sort of combination?  What types of questions do you pose?  Are candidates asked to demonstrate anything, like complete an IN BOX activity?  Skype is now an important tool for recruiting.  How often do you ask to watch a candidate’s lesson?  Or talk with their students about learning?

I find myself fascinated by the recruiting process.  What questions do you ask? How do you manage first impressions?

First Impressions

Originally Posted November 2011

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I just finished reading SWAY: The Irresitable Pull of Irrational Behaviour.  A friend and colleague who recommended the book described it as the opposite of Gladwell’s BLINK.  It is a fascinating book that examines the pull of irrational behaviour.

The authors of SWAY, Ori and Rom Bronfman, share an interesting study about the draft rankings of NBA players and their resulting professional careers.  It turns out that scoring points, rebounding, blocking or stealing shots does not impact the playing time or even the career lengths of NBA players as much as draft order does.  In essence, “once a player is tagged as a ‘low pick’, most coaches let that diagnosis cloud their entire perception of him.” (p.71-72).  We all have a tendency to label ideas, things, or people on the basis of our first impressions, and find it difficult to change our perceptions once they have been established.  In essence, we are inclined to see what we want to see, expect to see, and what seems to reinforce our opinion.

As an educator, this is a big concern.  I don’t want to have any pre-conceptions concerning my students.  I know that it will interfere with my work in support of their learning.  I make conscious efforts to avoid having a fixed opinion of my students.  Perfect, I am not.  But I know that I am doing well simply because I continue to challenge myself, ask questions, look at things from multiple perspectives, use multiple sources of evidence, and remain flexible.
As a colleague, I know I can do better.  I need to do a better job of managing my diagnosis bias.  Like most professionals, I have an opinion of my colleagues, mainly based on first impressions, limited evidence or perspectives.  Regretfully, I have certainly not been as flexible with my colleagues as I have with my students.  I am striving to challenge myself to re-think my first impressions, to ask questions that will challenge or highlight my own personal bias.

As an inspiring administrator, monitoring diagnosis bias, is of keen personal and professional interest.  I am equally confident in saying that I have benefitted from, and been restricted by, the bias of administrators that I have worked with.  I have witnessed colleagues who struggled to overcome this bias. As an educational leader, your bias has an enormous impact on the culture of your community, and ultimately on the quality of the teaching and learning in your school.  Do the first impressions you make of people help or hinder your efforts as a learning leader?  Are they empowering or limiting?

As educators, we need to avoid the pitfalls of the NBA coaches. But how can we do it?  I think the best place is to simply try.  Be meta-cognitive.  Be flexible.  Be reflective.  How often do you change your first impressions?  Challenge yourself to look at things with different lenses.  I think if you do, like the Houston Rockets, you will be able to recognize the talents of individuals that may have gone unrecognized or under appreciated.  And like the Houston Rockets, you are likely to find your own Shane Battier, your own superstar.