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The three questions of a job search
In the complex process of hiring or getting hired, there are three essential inquiries in play – all of them fraught.
Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.
“I hope I get it” from A Chorus Line, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante
Trying to get a job or fill a job is a complex collective human endeavor. But at its core are three essential questions on both sides of the search:
The Performance Question: Can they/I do the job?
The Motivation Question: Do they/I want the job?
The Fit Question: Will they/I align with the team, the culture, and the context?
These three streams are the undercurrents beneath the flood of documents, emails, interviews, reference calls, and background checks of the process. Knowing that can help focus your efforts as an employer and inform your strategy as a candidate. Noticing the bias traps in all three questions can help you calibrate your expectations.
Performance questions focus on whether and how well someone can do the job, as defined. The resume is an early and primary source for this question. The cover letter offers some highlighting and connect-the-dots. And the interviews and reference calls (if done well) can fill in some gaps. For the candidate, a primary question is whether the job description has any relation to the job reality.
Motivation questions assume that a deep understanding and connection to the mission, purpose, process, or product of an organization correlates to better (and more durable) performance. Here, the cover letter shows early evidence of the candidate’s connection to the particular job and the particular employer. And the interviews can tease this out in conversation, again, if done well. For candidates, the answer to this question evolves in conversation, networking, and research about the organization and its work: do I really want to do this work?
Fit questions explore whether and how a candidate will mesh with the workplace. These questions are almost exclusively explored in interviews. Of the three questions, this one is the most entangled with unspoken assumptions and “we like people like us” thinking. For the candidate, “fit” can mean a wide array of things from whether they feel welcome and safe to whether the essential aspects of their identity and approach can flourish.
Of course, all three questions assume that the individual or team doing the hiring knows what performance, motivation, and fit look like in a successful candidate, and are disciplined enough to navigate the gauntlet of bias in those assessments.
Decision-maven psychologist Daniel Kahneman and co-authors summarize the scholarly literature on job interviews rather bleakly:
…if your goal is to determine which candidates will succeed in a job and which will fail, standard interviews (also called unstructured interviews…) are not very informative. To put it more starkly, they are often useless.
Unstructured assessments of candidates are often useless because they get entangled with intuition, impulse, and first impressions. Kahneman et al recommend a highly structured process, focusing mostly on defining key performance requirements and specific and consistent assessments of each candidate.
Sadly, if the employer doesn’t bring intention, focus, and structure to the job search, it’s left to the candidate to compensate. Which is another reason it’s handy to classify every part of the search by the three root questions. An employer may not realize they’re asking you essentially three things. If you realize it, you may have a better chance of proving the invisible point.
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From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: People Operations
People Operations involves designing and driving systems and practices that attract, engage, retain, and develop people within the enterprise (also called human resources).
Framework of the Week: Motivation Opportunity Ability (MOA)
When a colleague isn’t performing to a standard you thought you both agreed upon, there are three words that can help you find a path to clarity, insight, and positive action. Is the primary issue a matter of motivation (the internal goal state of the person, or the connection between the work at hand and the outcomes they care about), opportunity (the environmental aids or barriers to expected behavior), or ability (the skills or capacities the person brings to the work)? Your path to productive action will depend upon what you learn.
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