Wanted – someone to teach autistic camels. Must be a Shaolin monk banned (somewhere) for hacking encrypted servers

Weird job description, I know. That’s because hiring is tricky. Consider a typical job posting – employers can spend days wordsmithing every inch. They really care, either because they want to attract the right candidates or because they already know who they want to hire (and need the description to narrowly fit their secret choice). Meanwhile most job candidates don’t even read postings. Candidates skim for anything that’s “close enough” to wangle their way into later, should they get a callback. In economies like this, for candidates it’s all about applying fast and furious.

The unintended consequence is an even greater explosion in resumes for each posting. Trying to manage this, employers write postings ever more narrowly. This doesn’t seem to help (because candidates aren’t reading anyway) so employers resort to alternative screening criteria. Using a two page resume rather than one? You’re out. Typos? Out. Times New Roman font?  That’s so 90’s… definitely out!

Allow me to suggest another way – take a page from Parkinson’s Law; and Other Studies in Administration[1] by Cyril Northcote Parknison (a timeless trove of wisdom of old-school English naval origin). If your job posting gets too many responses – it’s your fault. You wrote it the wrong way. The ideal posting should attract just one candidate who’s exactly what you’re looking for. Sound too good to be true? Here’s how…

For starters, in the hopes of attracting top talent most employers want to “sell” the job they’re offering. That’s the first mistake. If you announce an opening with a large salary, great benefits, prestige, privileges and interesting work, of course you’ll get a deluge of applicants… and odds are most of them will be idiots. Plus, they’ll want the job so badly they’ll lie magnificently to get it. Instead, consider a posting that would attract only one reply from the right person.  For example, if your startup needs someone to market a new, unproven product, try this:

“Wanted – Acrobat capable of crossing a slack wire 200 feet above raging furnace. Twice nightly, three times on Saturday. Salary offered $70 per week. No benefits and no compensation in the event of injury. Apply in person at Wildcat Circus between the hours of 9am and 10am.”[2]

Here the goal is to find someone with unnatural risk tolerance and confidence under pressure. It’s needless to ask for details of education and experience. They’ll probably be physically fit, sober and hardworking too. Looking for a corporate Vice President? For that you may need someone with the following essential qualities: (1) energy, (2) courage, (3) loyalty, (4) experience, (5) popularity and (6) eloquence. If that’s the case, try this:

“Wanted – Prime Minister of Ruritania. Hours of work: 4am – 11:59pm. Candidates must be prepared to fight three rounds with the current heavyweight champion (regulation gloves to be worn). Candidates will die for their country, by painless means, on reaching the age of retirement (65). They will have to pass an examination in parliamentary procedure and will be liquidated should they fail to obtain 95% marks. They will also be liquidated if they fail to gain 75% votes in a popularity poll held under the Gallup Rules. They will finally be invited to try their eloquence on a funeral party, the object being to induce those present to do the Macarena. Those who fail will be liquidated. All candidates should present themselves at the Sporting Club (side entrance) at 11:15am on the morning of September 19. Gloves will be provided, but they should bring their own rubber-soled shoes, singlet, and shorts.”[3]

This posting eliminates the need for application forms, references or interviews. If you’ve done it right, only one person will show up and you can hire them on the spot. If nobody shows up tweak it to, for example, require 85% on the exam instead of 95%. Continue to relax the conditions until somebody shows. If three people arrive, ask the nearest teenager “which do you prefer?” This introduces a new tie-breaker quality of sex appeal. Problem solved.

[1] C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law: and Other Studies in Administration, Houghton Mifflin (1957).

[2] Adapted from C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law: and Other Studies in Administration, Houghton Mifflin (1957).

[3] Adapted from C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law: and Other Studies in Administration, Houghton Mifflin (1957).

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Rob Parker

    …seriously… I’m laughing my @#$ off!
    made my day!

  2. Any Moose

    For one brief moment I thought you were serious, then I realized you were to a point.
    Would you really want to work with someone that would answer an ad like that?
    Sure they would be bold, but would they be able to accomplish the tasks set before them?
    It might have worked aboard a ship, but I am not sure you would want the 40 that would show just to see who else applied. If every employer did this, then it wouldn’t matter.

  3. Toby

    Nice piece Thomas. It always surprises me how narrow-minded job descriptions can be. Of course, if you need a computer engineer you probably need specific skills, but the majority of jobs could be done by an intelligent candidate. Hence acquaintances generally hire each other, and governments’ attempt to legislate against this is a misplaced and perverse idealism.

  4. Mahmud

    Tricky is the right word. What you identify as being tricky is followed world-wide, even in smaller countries. Do you think there is a solution to this malpractice?

  5. Thomas

    Great comments, thanks folks! If I’m to stop being tongue-and-cheek for a minute (which I hope everyone realized I was going for), I confess I haven’t tried Parkinson’s approach myself yet, so your comments are extremely well taken. Maybe I should take a step back and just say – I love the idea and while it seems goofy there may be a kernel of truth in there. What an interesting way to think about the characteristics a company really needs without getting misled or bogged down by distractions like experience, education, pedigree or “gut feel.” Perhaps I’ll actually try it the next time we hire on the open market to see what happens… at the very least it could be instructive and fun to share the results with you (for better or worse).

  6. Lena

    first – thanks thomas for this funny break in my day. I’m in HR so this hit home

    second – thanks again for commenting above. there’s indeed a “kernel of truth in there” … I wonder how to start playing with this in HR? hmmm….

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