July 2011

How To Lose Applicants and Alienate Potential Employees

In May, I decided to leave the glamour and glory of 60% travel and 100 hour work weeks in favor of staying close to home with our new, cuddly baby. The baby is wonderful, but she really doesn’t pay well. So, for the first time in over 5 years, I began the hunt for a “real” job. I’ve been through a series of laborious online application programs, and I am shocked and horrified by the shear crappiness of this software market.

In the past two months, I’ve encountered:

1.  Ridiculously out of date systems. My favorite said, ”Netscape, AOL and other non-standard browsers can sometimes result in problems completing the form.”

2.  Innumerable fields with no formatting requirements noted, which choke the system at submission because the data is not in the expected format. If you want the date in yyyy/mm/dd format, set the field appropriately!

3.  Forms that clear all data when a single field error is encountered. There’s nothing more fun than spending 15 minutes filling out a form to have it wiped because you didn’t know that the salary requirement field shouldn’t include comas (and the programmer was too lazy to write code to strip the comas.)

4.  Systems that require the applicant to retype a resume in a text field, rather than allowing attachments or imports.

These are not occasional occurrences. I run into at least two of these issues every day.

These companies are supposedly “high tech” businesses looking for the creme-de-la-creme of tech employees. Well folks, you’re not going to get anyone decent running subpar job submission software. Think about it — this is the first impression that you give a potential employee, and if it’s sucky, you will most likely get sucky applicants. “So what?” you say, “We really only hire through referral and networking anyway.” Right…  Think about this — to be considered, the networked / referred employee must get into the HR system through your crappy job application software. Before the interview, before you show them the cool cafeteria, before you talk about your free, onsite gym, the applicant sees your pathetic, shoddy system, which says 1999 AOL is your idea of “standard”. Any programmer, DBA, project manager, or designer worth their salt will immediately want to run. Even if you can woo the applicant back with other cool perks or a lot of money (doubtful if the person is any good), the red flag is up. It’s going to cost you a lot more time, effort, and money to convert that kick-ass applicant into an actual employee.

I strongly encourage hiring managers who care about the quality of their future employee to take a couple of minutes and walk through the application process themselves. Is it giving the impression that you want? Will it attract the type of employee that you want?

Take A Note

On occasion, I encounter a project manager in the wild who has forgotten (or perhaps never really knew) what it means to manage a project, let alone what it means to run one. These people labor under the delusion that project managers take notes and regurgitate information.

I was searching through my old emails this morning and found the following gem. This is actual text from an actual email sent by an actual “project manager”.

I wanted to ensure that you are all being diligent about taking notes, completing and sending minutes after discussions with me.  In each of those discussions whether it be on the phone, in a hallway or in a scheduled meeting, you are responsible for putting out the minutes.  This is the only way I can be sure of your understanding of my direction and assignments. 

Even if I am holding a team meeting.  Each of you is responsible for individually completing minutes and sending to me.  I will then compare your minutes to my notes.  This is one of the main purposes of minutes and will ensure we do not miscommunication or misunderstand each other.  I will expect these minutes to go out within 24 hrs. just like project minutes, but I will be the only one copied.  Please direct all questions to me. Lastly, I believe some of you owe me minutes from discussions today!

I think that Seth Godin summed up my feelings about project management in this post: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/07/the-difference-between-running-and-managing-a-project.html.

Project managers should RUN projects. Software can take and distribute notes. It’s the project manager’s job to make tough decisions, to fix problems, to inspire, and to make sure that the final outcome makes the recipients happy and makes the team members proud of what they’ve accomplished. To accomplish all of these things, a project manager must be able to communicate well — well enough that he does not need to double or triple check comprehension from every member of the team in relation to every conversation.

Every time a project manager takes a note, writes a schedule, or creates a document, it should be as a helpful tool to RUN the project. Creating artifacts because you don’t trust your team or because PMBOK says that you should is just wasted, useless overhead.

On Sandwiches and Project Management

Sandwich

A tasty, well-timed sandwich can foster a lifetime of devotion.

Five years into my career as a technical project manager, the team’s DBA, a notoriously grumpy fellow, said to me, “You are my favorite project manager. I love working on your projects.” My head immediately began to swell, and wanting to hear more about how great I was, I asked, “What is it that you like about my projects?” I expected to hear about my glorious project management skills, my ability to grasp technical ideas quickly, my communication prowess,  my nifty color coding on schedules, or my lovely slightly lemon smell, which was a fresh relief after his sweat drenched cube neighbor.

He thought for a moment and then said, “You remember to get my lunch sandwiches without tomatoes.” Then, he walked away.

It was humbling, it was important, and it was extremely educational. It taught me two very, very important rules of being a project manager:

 

1.  Like a great piece of software, a project manager should make things work so well that no one even thinks about it. When you do you job well, the team spends their time discussing sandwiches, gaming, cool new gadget, cricket matches, ice fishing, bands, or whatever else the team culture has embraced. Suck at your job and the team will be constantly discussing scheduling ideas, how much they hate the users, and how under appreciated they feel because they only got sandwiches for lunch and at the other company that their friend’s, cousin’s, wife works at they get gourmet lunches delivered everyday! As a project manager, make sure that everything is taken care of, from schedule communication to issue tracking to lunch. You can delegate, of course, but you’re still responsible for making sure that everything is done and is done right.

2.  If you really want someone to accept your leadership and to help deliver a great project, which is the most important thing as a project manager, take time to know the person. Then, use your knowledge for good. Order sandwiches without tomatoes, if that’s what he wants. Never schedule deliverables on a team member’s birthday. Don’t let the workaholic work more than 45 hours a week, and try to wean her down to 40 hours. Always send the sickies home and, if they need it, have soup delivered to their houses. Make sure the vegans have something better to eat than a tray full of wilted celery sticks.