Archive for September, 2020

Impressive-ish

Hello hello! I’ve been meaning to write a post for the last week and keep getting distracted by things like, ya know, life. I have two quick stories that share a theme: they should’ve been more impressed. I’ll get right into them.

About four years ago, I was at work and was having a conversation with someone I hadn’t really interacted with before. As we came to the end of the chat, I asked if she wanted me to email her what we talked about. “Yeah, it’s just A, my last name, at (company).com.” “Ok, and what’s your last name?” I asked. She then said a long Russian last name that I think I had seen written one time since she’d started at the company. “Is that…” I said, and then spelled aloud 13 letters. “Uh huh,” she said flatly. I was pretty amazed at my ability to do that, and I had to imagine most people would’ve said something like, “Whoa, can you spell that for me?” I couldn’t help myself: “That was kinda impressive, right?” Still completely flat, she shrugged and said, “It’s just like it sounds,” and then walked back to her desk.

I sat there for a couple of minutes feeling like I’d been shorted the credit I deserved. She’s right, I suppose, that it sounds like it’s spelled (much like long Japanese last names would be easier to spell than others), but 13 letters and starting with an uncommon “Sm” should’ve gotten some acknowledgement. That said, it’s nothing compared to the lack of astonishment I received in my next story.

It was about a year later, and I was on a company fishing trip. My favorite brother and I were having some breakfast they cooked on the boat and chatting in the indoor area, when I overheard a nearby conversation. A few of the newer employees appeared to be having a disagreement over what went into different cocktails. One boldly asserted something, another said, “No, that’s in an Old Fashioned,” and a third countered with what he thought was in an Old Fashioned. Seeing my opportunity, I walked over. “Excuse me,” I said casually, “but I think I might be able to help with this.” I unzipped my hoodie and revealed the t-shirt I was wearing underneath:

“See!” one guy said. “Told you it had a cherry.” Then they turned and started going back to their conversation. I was in shock. How incredibly unlikely was it for me to be wearing a shirt that listed the ingredients of something they were randomly arguing about? Again, I couldn’t help myself: “Good thing I was wearing this shirt today, right?” I asked. They all smiled and nodded and mumbled some “uh huhs,” but it wasn’t nearly enough for that level of coincidence and timing. I even unzipped and revealed in a cool way, but all for virtually nothing.

That’s it. Just wanted to get those two thematically-related stories out. I’m still a little pissed about both of them, but it’s impossible to make someone more impressed than they are. I should take solace in the fact that I’ve had way more instances where the opposite has happened. That is, I’ve said something that I thought was common knowledge or trivia I happened to have stored in my head and people ended up being floored. Mata Hari being Dutch, for example. Yeah, I should think about that instead. Nope, not working. I was wearing a fucking t-shirt with how to make an Old Fashioned on it! Ok, deep breaths. Have a lovely rest of your weekend, everyone.

Standing out in a small way

Hello, and happy Labor Day weekend. Right now it just feels like a regular weekend that’s slightly longer but not long enough. But who knows, maybe I’ll brave the 115 degrees outside and stand in front of an open flame and grill something up. On second though, that sounds like an incredibly stupid idea. Oh well.

In my career, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a couple hundred people. I enjoy it, and I’ve gotten much better over the years at asking questions that get to the heart of what we need for a particular role. I’ve also gotten better over time at looking at resumes and seeing things that are either deal-breakers or things I’d want to dive into much more in an interview. But out of the 500-1,000 resumes and cover letters I’ve reviewed, one stands out above all the rest, and for good reason.

I was hiring for an important role to lead a pretty big part of our business, and dozens of resumes had come in that weren’t even close. I needed someone who had already been doing similar job duties at a high level, so I wasn’t interested in all of the people promising to be “fast learners” despite not having relevant experience. Then I came across one that checked some of the right boxes at first glance. It also caught my eye because the gentleman’s last name was…well, a very common synonym for “dull.” I’m not writing it here because it would be bad if he somehow Googled himself and found this. So I’ll call him Steve Dull, and I’m imploring you to keep ignoring the feelings pouring out of you to figure out the real last name. And quit your whoring.

Near the end of our application, it has a prompt that I’ve seen some other companies use too: “In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique. Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!” We care a lot about having a diverse and interesting pool of employees, so even though this is awkward at times, it’s led to some good conversations in interviews as we follow up on their answers to this section. Steve Dull’s answer wasn’t what I expected:

“Being born with the last name Dull set the bar pretty high to overcome. Luckily, I grew up to have mediocre looks and a small penis…”

I couldn’t believe it. I had so many thoughts. On one hand, I wanted to applaud this guy for saying, “Hey, this company looks cool and laid back, and that’s the type of place I want to work, so this is my sense of humor. Take it or leave it.” I respect that on one level. But all of the other levels say, “This is the first part of a job interview and you just brought up your penis.”

I obviously sent that part of the application to a few friends of mine, and the best response was from Dusty: “But really huge fucking balls!” I went to the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to try to get a better sense of him. The “About” section said: “Jesus follower. Husband. Dad. Surfer. Golfer. Photographer. Wine lover. Techie.” I was further intrigued. I asked some co-workers what they thought I should do. Because this was the first decent candidate with the right type of experience and I wanted to fill this position. On the other (and larger) hand, that application showed some…questionable decision-making skills and I needed this person to run something worth millions of dollars fairly autonomously. One co-worker said, “What if he had just said ‘small hands’ or alluded to it somehow?” “No,” I said, “there shouldn’t even be a veiled comment about his penis in the application. I like the ‘mediocre looks’ part because it’s a funny misdirect, but it really should’ve ended after that.”

In the end, I settled for a bit of a hybrid when I should’ve just said no from the start. I created a new “phone interview” round to get a feel for him and his expertise, and I told myself that if he knocked it out of the park, I’d have to decide if I could really bring him in to meet other people or not. I already knew the answer would be no though because I couldn’t see myself giving that application to my co-workers and explaining why they were meeting a guy who talked about his junk while applying for the job.

The phone interview thankfully confirmed what I thought – really nice guy, good sense of humor, but his background was not quite enough of what I needed for that role to have him continue in the process. I should’ve just said no from the beginning, but I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to learn more about this guy. We told him to say something unique that would catch our eye, and lordy, he did that. My hat’s off to you, Steve Dull, and I hope you landed somewhere awesome and quickly became a roaring success.