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August 2005 - Gut Instincts vs Connect the dots?

I have recently been through the recruitment process again - not a process that I can admit to enjoying. The truckload of paper that has to be processed; the sanitising of questions; the difficulty of getting to know the candidate as a person rather than an automaton; and justifying gut instincts. All processes that conspire to frustrate and test one's confidence to make the right decision.

When looking for new staff I first look for ability to do the job. This usually revolves around qualifications and experience and there will be many among the applicants who will fill this need. This is the easy bit.

I then look for an expression of personality in the application or on the phone when someone rings up to enquire about the job. I get nervous of sanitised applications that are clearly providing the answers the individual thinks I am looking for. Communication is such an important part of the job that the application / applicant must display the ability to communicate well. Sadly there will be many good people who miss out on an interview because their application was not up to speed. Sometimes a phone call will generate really positive vibrations but the application is lacking something. It then becomes a tough call whether to interview based on gut feelings or stick rigidly to the guidelines and formal scoring system. I have struck gold in the past by going with my gut feeling but it is not an easy thing to do.

Lastly at interview, there are many factors at play. The interview is tough, never more so than when over the phone. Tough both for interviewer and interviewee. I see the interview as an opportunity to get to know the applicant. The answers to most questions are laid out in the application, so to me the interview is about unleashing a personality and determining how the person would fit into the team, fit into the culture of the laboratory and, yes, be likely to keep me on my toes. This is contrary to the way the official process works in that we are dealing with intangibles that really are very difficult to score. Again it comes back to gut instincts.

Up to this point, the pressure has been on the applicant to perform and it is easy to forget about the onus that lies on us as potential leaders. A very important question that I hold in the forefront of my mind is "What can I do for this person if they become a part of my team?" If I want loyalty and respect from my team, maybe we won't go the respect route, I have to earn it. Pure and simple. In inviting someone to join my team, I have to be able to make a promise that I will provide them with opportunities to develop themselves professionally and, hopefully, personally. They should be able to leave my team feeling they are better off for having been part of the team.

That means I have responsibilities to ensure they are well trained in the field; they have a pride in what they are doing; they apply and develop what they learned as undergraduates; they stretch themselves and reap the rewards that come with achieving their goals. Leaving someone with minimal training, without goals, and without instilling the passion is, in my book, inexcusable and an utter dereliction of duty. There can be little doubt the applicant has, in fact, got the easier part of the deal.

At the end of the day, despite all the procedures and paperwork, the decision, for me, boils down to gut instinct. Yes, the scores and rankings should support the decision but any appointment made in the context of the long term vision for the team has to be the winner. Connecting the dots will preserve the status quo. Going with your instincts will ensure continued evolution of the team.

'til next month,


August, 2005




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