There was a fairly controversial post the other day written by Inge Geerdens posted on the LinkedIn "thought leader" blogs that spoke about how she is reluctant to hire forty-something professionals. She gave a bunch of specious reasons and then caved underneath the avalanche of negative responses by authoring a new post, which was just as quickly met with disdain from the public that labelled her and her posts in not so glowing terms.

I'm Moving to Belgium!

Inge runs a 10-person company in Belgium and when I try to envision the world she lives in I am left confused. As an IT director within a medium sized enterprise, I long for the day that talented leadership candidates are so plentiful that I can start applying age as a filter for recruiting and hiring. I would never apply such a filter. It is just kind of fun to fantasize about what kind of world that might be like. It's kind of like those lottery fantasies I might have where I win several million dollars and imagine buying a new Porsche Panamara. I'm not the kind of guy to ever spend that much on a car, no matter how much I might have. It is just fun to fantasize about it.

On the other side of the coin, given that I am a forty-something leader, I don't really relish the thought of looking for a job in that type of market where age is a filter of relevance in recruiting and hiring either individual contributor or leadership talent. So given that I am forty-something and I don't know anyone who lives in Belgium, except a thought leader who thinks my age is a factor worth filtering on, I guess I'm staying put.

The World I Live In

I live in a world where, at a panel discussion at JiveWorld, leaders from Price Waterhouse Coopers tell a room full of people that employee turnover was a large problem specifically because the employees were not satisfied with the lack of social tools. I'll say that again for effect -- A significant number of people left a good job with a prestigious consulting firm in the middle of a jobs crisis, because they did not have an internal social network that they were happy with. Why is that? Simple. It is because your talented employees don't need you!

I live in a world where my management team and I are always on the hunt for talented User Interface Engineers. Decent candidates are so rare, we compare them to mythical creatures like the sasquatch, yeti and unicorns. If a candidate is good at JavaScript they lack the basics of CSS. If they are markup and CSS masters, they don't understand a function pointer from an english pointer. UIEs are part-frustrated artists and part engineers that don't fit into the typical corporate pigeon holes and they resist most forms of formal corporate etiquette (including accepted norms of business casual dress codes). When companies try to mold the person and not the role, the people leave. Why is it that in the middle of the great recession, that UIEs can be so prickly? Simple. It is because your talented employees don't need you!

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I live in a world where my best senior engineering talent runs away screaming, like a 5 year old from a haunted house, the moment someone suggests they take on a role with HR responsibilities. It used to be that leadership opportunities were gold because they were viewed as the only way to escape the capped career of most IT job ladders. Now, people only want to do what they are interested in doing, and hardly anyone is interested in coaching and career management of staff. Why is it that good creative and technical talent are so devoted to the products they create yet are so devoid of the will to take on higher-level roles in the enterprise? Simple. It is because your talented employees don't need you!

Filter Priority

Given that the world I live in essentially has negative unemployment for high-quality IT candidates, here is a list of filters I apply when recruiting and selecting candidates:

  • Do they have the skills and experience to do the job well
  • Can they acknowledge what they don't know
  • Can they listen and communicate well

High performing, high quality talent is the rare gem. If high performing, high quality talent was the plentiful commodity, then by definition it would not be high performing, it would be average. Screening first on superfluous factors like age before rare factors like talent is a sure fire way to miss the valuable gems.

Inge is not alone in the world in having what is a logical inverse of how filters should be applied in seeking compatible candidates for your workforce. Filters should, in general, be applied in order of decreasing rarity. For example -- when looking for a talented UIE, first filter on javascript talent, then filter on CSS, then filter on communication skills and culture fit, and lastly check to see if he/she is wearing pants because even though I can turn a blind eye to casual attire, even I can't turn a blind eye to no attire. 

After a pants-wearing candidate passes the interview process, corporate applies the standard screening procedures and I hope I'm lucky enough to get the candidate to accept a competitive salary with good benefits, rather than the dreams of grandeur associated with a likely to fail app-startup or the dreams of freedom associated with long term contracting. When a candidate we want for our team accepts our offer, my team and I are the lucky ones, because the new teammate doesn't need us. It is the other way around.

Image courtesy of giorgiomtb (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: A good Fishman article from April 2012: Posers: The One Thing I Hate More Than SharePoint.