Whacking the Nerve Again

… companies are enacting policies that unnecessarily limit the number of high-quality candidates. 

Recently I went deep sea fishing on a charter (out of Plum Island, Massachusetts; Captain’s Fishing Parties).  Having been unable to participate for the prior two years, to the point where I started to fear the “Hunt Curse” where something always seemed to prevent me from going, I was excited as the stars aligned to permit me to go this time.  And I came home happy; I have more fish chowder in the freezer than I know what to do with, and frozen fillets waiting for when I’m in the mood for a beer-batter fish fry.  Plus, of course, memories of a gorgeous, sunny day on the ocean with people I like. (Side note: I am not a “sport fishing” person; if I catch it and can keep it, I eat it – nothing made me sadder that day than traumatizing small fish that I had to let go.)

We cruised out to the first fishing site.  Nothing.  Everyone was catching small fish, nothing of “keeper” status.  There was a shortage of keepers.  What did we do?  We moved to somewhere else.  We went where the fish were.

In my column Where the Money Is, I discussed corporate despair over the so-called shortage of skilled-and-qualified candidates, and suggested companies consider groups of job seekers as a rich mother lode of people.  In that spirit, to quote a comic book villain, Arcade, from memory: “Since I’ve struck a nerve, let me whack it again!”

When faced with a shortage of fish that could be kept, we changed where we fished.  But like that definition of insanity that is often cited – being defined as doing the same thing again and again expecting different results – it appears that companies keep looking for candidates in the same locations as before, hoping for different candidates.

Networking groups across the country, and specifically Massachusetts ones like Acton Networkers         and WIND, to name just a few, plus virtual groups like New England Networking, are brimming with people looking for work.  I’ve met many, many members.  They’re skilled, educated, knowledgeable, motivated, experienced, and thoughtful… a rich source of people just waiting for someone to break the cycle of insanity of only looking for employed persons to hire.  At worst they might need a class or two for some specific piece of knowledge, but so what?  Isn’t getting someone with ability in, and getting things done as they ramp up, better than wasting the better part of a year pursuing that “perfect fit” while tasks remain totally undone?  (Side note: One position, for which I interviewed in January at an organization that made a huge deal of “running lean”, is still listed.  What tasks have fallen behind, what stresses are present employees experiencing*, and what customers are dissatisfied?)

Another thought chain from my fishing trip experiences occurred to me as I wrote this.  My father’s side of the family has been here since before the American Revolution.  Last year I joined the Sons of the American Revolution, documenting my lineage to Benjamin Pearson who fought in that war (I have a sworn affidavit from another ancestor in the Hunt line about his Revolutionary War experience, but I haven’t documented my ties to him officially-and-provably yet).  My late father once dropped a tantalizing hint years ago that I could, if desired, join the Mayflower Society as well.  Being a native Yankee, born and bred in New England with roots here way, way back, the fish “cod” has a special significance for me as it was a staple local food and a principle export since colonial times.  So I always want to catch cod, but I’m not fussy.  I caught a cod on this trip, yes, but also two pollock; my first year I caught a cusk.  All perfectly good and all tasty.  They fulfilled the functional goal of the trip: fresh fish in my kitchen.  Were I to limit myself to just cod, I’d be foolish.

I recently sent my resume to a company for a senior-level engineering position.  Despite the connotations of “senior level” – i.e., there being significant experience after the completion of a degree – the company in question specified only graduates of Ivy League schools, plus a few other top-flight schools like Carnegie Mellon University (where I got my first Masters), need apply.  Seriously?

I understand that for a recent graduate, the reputation of the school may reasonably be factored in, as should GPA.  But a decade or more after graduation, it’s what you’ve done after receiving the sheepskin that’s critical.  Yet this is not the only company I’ve spoken with that artificially limits itself by school and by GPA, even for experienced professionals.

And that’s the rub of this second point.  Whether pollock, haddock, cusk, or cod, all fulfill my goal: chowder, fried fish, etc.  Just as competent, capable people with quantifiable accomplishments over years and years are capable of doing the job, regardless of what school they attended or whether they cracked a 3.0.

I can only conclude that companies are enacting policies that unnecessarily limit the number of high-quality candidates, and then complaining about a “shortage” (it’s like the classic definition of chutzpah: the boy who kills his own parents and then pleas for mercy because he’s an orphan).  How many fish would I have if I had insisted I only keep cod that I had caught in the one, first-choice fishing spot?  None.

A local radio station’s morning show has a saying that comes up in the lead-in to the morning examination of the prior day’s Patriots football game: “You can learn a lot from a skillfully played game of football.”  I agree.  And you can extract usable lessons about a complex task, e.g., finding and hiring people, from the simple activity of fishing.


© 2013, David Hunt, PE

* The web is starting to see multiple articles warning companies of employees looking for new jobs, ready to jump.  I suspect this overloaded-for-so-long situation has a lot to do with it. 

6 thoughts on “Whacking the Nerve Again

  1. Great article David. On some days I think corporations are looking for Cod that just swim to the right.
    Shawn O’Neil

  2. Thanks for “Hunt Curse” – I had this with doing fine maneuvering on a boat I used to own-never did get over it; now I think I should as I still go out on her :).

    More importantly, I see it where I get distracted from what I need to focus on. Thanks.

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