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Unrealistic Expectations in the Hiring Game


Entry 02/04/2013 07:29:07 AM – Mentat 680

Trust one who has gone through it.” – Virgil

In the thirty-three or so years that I’ve been working, I have gone through a lot of job interviews. Mainly because as a consultant, temp, contractor, and even occasionally the hired gun one of the major reasons is so that the temporary/contracting work that I’m going to be performing is done with someone that the management of the company (in question) has met, gotten a feel for and isn’t accepting cold and unknown just off the street. Or in (and especially) the case of being a temp and contractor — I’m not someone that the company has thrown at them just to get the commission and money for the worker and instead is providing someone of skill for the position they’re temporarily creating/filling to get the job done. However that doesn’t really mean anything in this day and age, given that after about fifty interviews, anyone (and yes even me) can put on an incredible interviewing face and completely suck when it comes to actually doing the work. Humans after all are social animals and the “job interview” is just a sort of socializing in a formal setting.

After a while though, I had given up putting on that incredible interviewing face as I had discovered too often, going into the interview hungry for the job and will do anything that is required to work there has ended up with me being accepted to positions that weren’t even remotely described either in the posting, relayed by the agency or even described in the interview. To further exacerbate the problem, I have ended up doing so much work as for it to be completely outside the scope of the job that was required for me to do in the first place. From strenuous physical labor, to being practically shoved into a closet and would make OSHA have an aneurysm a stroke trying to record all the violations, I have at times thought to myself, “what did I do to deserve ending up here? Is this karma for something I didn’t known I had to pay off?”

Consequently, having been part of an interviewing process that a major company in the South had learned to hone (and then distribute to other companies that use it as a part of their standardized interviewing process), I had been able to learn on both sides of the table (interviewer and interviewed) to read vocal inflections, body language and nuance. This knowledge and experience has only furthered my abilities of reading people that I’ve been doing for as long as I remember doing so.

So around my 30s I began honing a no-nonsense attitude for interviews that while it did convey honesty and integrity it also conveyed the right amount of confidence that I might be the person for the position. If it sounds too good to be true, or the requirements don’t match the money that the company to the responsibilities, while I might convey composure, I won’t for the sake of it hide my disdain or disapproval to what I’m hearing. Sure, this attitude might never get me to be remembered if I’m chosen to start the battery of interviews, or even want to have another chance with the company again (as is the case with United Health Care or CVS, but that’s another set of stories for another time) if my interview time is anywhere after the mid-point I can end up having a second interview (sometimes even a third) or getting the job I feel I want to have.

Now comes Thursday, I’m off to parts South (South County to be specific) for an interview for the position as Helpdesk Manager for their internal Helpdesk. While I won’t mention the name of the company at the moment), I will say that most of what the position described on their Monster listing was pretty much of what I expected from previous experience on Helpdesks here in the North and the South. In fact, with the exclusion of perhaps having to troubleshoot pharmacy programs, this particular helpdesk position seemed much like my experience working at Brooks/Eckerd Pharmacies (out of Warwick, Rhode Island before they had been acquired by Rite-Aid). As I usually do before any interview, on the way down I review the various experience that I have with whatever technology, programs and what not that I have come in contact with for the particular job. I might not have actual managerial experience, I do have enough experience leading people in situations and assisting them in getting their job done either by showing through example, or giving advice and/or suggestions on how to do their job better. Not to mention that in recent years, I’ve mellowed enough not to come off as a complete dictator (aka Little Napoleon) to anyone going against the rules I’ve dictated. And so naturally, I’m covering all the experience I have with Point of Sales equipment, various PC hardware, and communications along with the plethora of experience working in a telephone helpdesk environment.

It’s basically a two person interview. One with the HR personnel basically taking the notes of what’s going on, and the manger I would supposedly be reporting to. In such an interviewing situations, I have been taught that unless the Human Resources Manager says anything, you can basically ignore their presence as they’re only there to gauge the interviewee’s reactions to questions and how they answer.

At first it goes pretty well, the manager that I would be reporting to asks the usual questions: what kind of experience do I have when it comes to managing people, what kind of work that I’ve done in the field. What was it like at a couple of the places I’ve worked at for challenges and how did I overcome them. What was the biggest accomplishment that I was proud of… Did pretty well throughout the first part of the interview, though I was a little weak on my accomplishment mostly because there was proprietary and exclusive work performed for GMAC because of the way the information interfaced with their system, but did my best to explain how that worked without going against that confidentiality agreement. Though it earned me Employee of the Month for my last month there and runner up to Employee of the Year.

Then the interview goes into the second part, where the manager begins telling me some of the responsibilities and requirements that he wants for the position. And when he mentioned that the company (and more specifically this position) is making this position out of nothing (in so many words), that’s when I knew there was going to be trouble. And quite a bit of it too as the first red flag goes up quicker than you can say, “Are you kidding me?”

First off, the position of Assistant Helpdesk Manager is not a made from nothing position. This is a position that has been around for as long as there has been a helpdesk for a product. While computers, IT, and software support have been around for about 20 – 30 years, this has been more than enough time to establish the requirements for managing people working in a call center. Sure, this company only has just over a hundred locations that it’s going to be supporting (with growth for more according to the interview), but given what this call center will be supporting, it should well be on the way for knowing precisely what sort of position this will be.

We will be expecting this manager to take a walk around of the new locations and ensure that equipment is working properly, signage is properly displayed… and I stopped registering what he was saying after that. Red flag number 2 goes up.

This is Turn-Up/Lights-On Management. A particularly fun job if you’re into traveling a lot. You get to see various cities and towns as they put a new location in. Get to meet the people that will be working there and doing a bit of training to the equipment, procedures for the company, etc. I did this sort of thing almost 20 years ago for a number of companies that were upgrading from old book and paper systems to computers and networking. It’s particularly grueling in larger companies as you can be on the road far more than being at home, and one job while being really fun, 10 days out, 4 days home did wear on even me after 18 months of doing it. But I got my completion bonus and left the company burned out from seeing as much of the United States as I did.

And this isn’t the sort of responsibilities that a Helpdesk Manager would be doing at all. There might be a little travel once the location is established, but if it’s dealing with Point-of-Sales Equipment and some computers, this would be more something a Quality Assurance/Quality Control/Security job would require. Still though, what he described is under 25% total annual travel, and that’s 20% more than I was wanting to do for the position.

We’re thinking about getting our helpdesk technicians A+ Certified

Another Red Flag goes up and this time I find myself rather hard pressed not to react with an “are you crazy” expression. This is a retail company selling product to customers that come into their stores. The biggest thing they will have for a computer if they’re using an IBM 4800 series (or newer) cash register is a Pentium Personal Computer in the Store Manager’s Office. Such technicians working this position usually make between $27,000 – $31,200 (USD) annually. My experience with this working at Brooks/Eckerd was that the Technician will be getting at most 10% of the calls dealing with the server not being responsive, and 90% of those calls being that the network cable had been in some way unplugged or someone accidentally pulled the power out of the PC itself. Out of the six or so months I had been working at Brooks/Eckerd, I actually got 1… Yes you got it 1… call that actually confirmed that the hardware had failed and even then did not require the knowledge required for an A+ Certification. (Subsequently, the remaining 80% of the calls received at such a helpdesk would be that the POS Gun and the cash register printer stopped working. With the remaining 10% being either misdirected calls, signage issues, and various escalations for reports that the manager didn’t know how to run).

Getting this A+ Certification is unnecessary overkill, and perhaps would be required for a heavily IT-related company. When he mentioned this, I could literally see that if this Helpdesk didn’t have a high turn around, they would be with this requirement as giving their current technicians the ability to find better paying jobs over $36,000 easily. Hell, most places that require the certification usually pay $40,000 annually to start.

At first I thought that perhaps they were also supporting their main office, but when I asked about it, the manager said they have an internal MIS Department that doesn’t answer to him. Good thing too, as I was sure to be seeing more red flags by the time the interview ended.

We currently have no Call Metrics

While not actually being a red flag, this is still rather surprising to hear given this home office is supporting over a hundred locations spread through a handful of states. Even as a Self-Employed Contractor/Consultant I high level Service-Level Agreement (SLA) supporting less than a handful of companies at any given time. The smallest place I’ve worked at (ten people) supporting about thirty customers over the course of a decade already had a well established SLA. It seems odd for a company over thirty years old not to have one well on the way either. In spite of the fact that they have one of the lighter call volumes I’ve heard of in an interview, something should have been put in place.

Still, I like challenges and this one seemed to fit within the requirements of this position.

We would like the person in the position to Data Mine for trends…

Err, I was split on this one though I didn’t react too quickly, though I did have it marked as a red flag. The reason for this being is that Helpdesk Managers are more interested in the trends with their Technicians, and less with the various equipment issues out in the field. The only time that perhaps this call center would be concerned is if communications between the home office and the locations were to suddenly go down, but even then outages are fairly easy to trend of this nature. Further, out of all the ticketing systems that I’ve had the experience with working on, only one seemed to provide the sort of reporting this hiring manager was looking for, and they weren’t using it. They were using a proprietary piece of software I never heard of and likely never even seen before..

Data Mining is good, but if a company is trying to get the Helpdesk Manager to creating an SLA, these two sorts of jobs can pull him in two completely different directions. And that will cause untold stress regardless of the amount of money they’re being paid week to week.

We’re looking for someone raw…

You mean you’re wanting someone with little experience that you can mold into the position. Red Flag number three here. In the years that I’ve been in places that have taken this approach to hiring, this has a tendency of blowing up in a company’s face sometimes with dire repercussions. An inexperienced person can become overwhelmed by the responsibilities, particularly if the responsibilities seem to be all over the board place. They might work there for a year as the new employee quickly realizes they are either not a fit for the position or can get into a position that (significantly) pays more based on any one of the facets/responsibilities of the position they had been working with (like QA/QC that pays 15% more than they were offering).

On the other side of this, if the company went for someone too green, they could end up with their potential Manager running out of the place screaming into the night never to be seen again. Wash, rinse, repeating this could happen if the company isn’t up front for what they’re looking to do and end up with the position being phased out because of poor management decisions in its creation in the first place.

We want a long term commitment from the potential manager…

This one by far sent up not only the biggest red flag, but also an alarm in the back of my head (not unlike a siren) started and even caused me the comfort of being able to cover my surprise with confusion to what they were attempting to convey here. A start-up position that is basically being created out of nothing usually takes anywhere from 2 – 5 years to establish. After that, anyone in an managerial position such as this might stick around if he feels it worthwhile, but more often times than naught will look into promotion to something else in that time (either within the company or somewhere else depending on the stress levels of creating, stabilizing and maintaining the position). When I got this clarified, the manager was looking for someone to be in the position 10 or more years.

“10 or more years,” I was thinking, “this has to be the most unrealistic requirement for the position I have heard to date. While I nodded and said that this is feasible, it dawned on me that this company is clearly beginning to suffer from something I’ve seen for years in the south. What I like to call a combination of bad group-think and unrealistic expectations.

Looking at all the red flags that went up during this interview while shaking hands, being cordial and thanking them for the time (while saying I look forward to hearing from them for the next round of interviews which they’ll be calling day after tomorrow), I got the clear and distinct impression that he didn’t know what he was doing for the position. Experience tells me that the hiring manager had gotten these ideas from somewhere else (like a conference/seminar), talking with peers in the field and thinking this sort of mish-mash of putting these ideas together is going to create a good person (and good fit) for the work that he doesn’t want to do anymore. Couple this with delusional expectations from people (10 years in the position? In this day and age) and you end up with a failure just looking for a place to happen.

Getting home and talking about the incompetence of the position with my mother’s husband, he looked at me and said something to the extent of, “you’re not going to turn it away just because of this are you?”

Heh, no… Are you kidding me, I started, This is the sort of train wreck that I’ll end up being hired for. I’m open to seeing where this is going to go, I’m not going to run away screaming into the night for the money that they’re offering… Hell, I’ll even sit there drinking beer and munching on popcorn just to watch the train wreck in process and get paid for it. I might be prissy, but I’m a drama queen after all and enjoy the entertainment from start to parading-on-my-last-gay-nerve end.

Well that’s about it for the time being. Until the next time.

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