Re-Post: Are You a Heyoka?

“You can’t pile together enough good people to make a great one.”
–– Bob Taylor, Founder and Associate Manager of Xerox PARC

Below is a post that I wrote a few years back (on my old blog) when I was still in the corporate realm doing recruiting consulting. I stumbled upon it earlier this week, and figured I’d re-post it here for those of you guys either hunting for talent or hunting for jobs. Hope this ignites some thoughts…

If you’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure) of reading some of my blog postings, you’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of revolution in the HR world. In a previous rant, I railed against organizations that insist on finding “perfect” candidates that fit their detailed job descriptions. The problem, I said, was that sometimes the perfect candidate doesn’t always “fit” what you laid out in the job description. In this entry, I’m expanding on that thought.

There’s always one thing that’s constantly running through my head as I interview or evaluate people for job opportunities: do they have talent that is capable of creating something remarkable for this organization?

Because of this, there are times when I look for things outside the ordinary in people’s resumes, web sites, interviews, or whatever else I come across. In other words, I try to see if there is anything UN-usual about them.

It can be anything. I once read about a guy who wrote on his resume, “I created the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie and got listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.” While most people scanning this phrase might chuckle internally, they would never seriously take note of an accomplishment like this as indication that perhaps this person might be on to something even better than the world’s largest cookie.

But I do.

Why? I firmly believe that it’s the highly UN-usual people that create spectacular things for organizations. So while recruiters and HR people can roll their eyes at candidates who on the surface seem weird, I think that they’re missing out on some potentially outstanding talent.

Take Dennis Rodman, a former NBA player (I won’t go into the specifics, because most of you should know who he is. And if you don’t, just click on his name and read up). By most definitions, he was UN-usual. So much so, in fact, that people often ridiculed the way he presented himself on and off the court. While most people can’t argue with his effectiveness on the court (he once averaged a sickening 18.7 rebounds for a season), his UN-usual nature often made people question his talent compared to other greats.

But Rodman’s former coach, Phil Jackson, made an interesting point once about his ex-player. Jackson remarked, “[Rodman] has reached a heart space with members of the team I’d never anticipated. Dennis has been a real blessing for us, because he’s like a heyoka.” Jackson went on to explain that among the Lakota people a heyoka “was a cross-dresser, a unique person –– respected because he brought a reality change whenever you saw him.”

Sure, this example is about someone in the NBA. But how does this come to life in the business world? Let’s take a look at some examples:

Stephen Gillett, Senior Director of Engineering Operations, Yahoo! –– Aside from his skill qualifications, Gillett credits his hire to a realm that most corporate recruiters would shy away from: online role-playing games. As one of the top guild masters for the World of Warcraft game, Gillett credits his leadership prowess to his position as virtual guild master.

Jonathan Keats, Artist, Hotel des Arts ––  Some people would have laughed at giving Keats a chance. But Hotel des Arts’ John Doffing saw something in Keats’ proposal to set up a camera that takes one long continuous shot (over 100 years) in order to capture time on film. Yes, you read that right. While a US scientific outpost in Antarctica summarily rejected Keats’ idea as “silly,” Doffing embraced the idea and allowed Keats to set up his camera inside one of the rooms at the Hotel.

If you were a recruiter, would you have gone after these people knowing these things? Would you have associated Stephen Gillett’s status as guild master to the ability to lead people on virtual networks? Would you have gone after Keats’ camera because you thought it would be an attraction for your hotel? Sadly, my guess is that not many people would have looked beyond their resumes and “credentials.”

But the fact is, the people I just mentioned are heyokas. Their ideas brought a reality change to their respective organizations. And that’s what you need if you want to survive in this ever-changing business climate.

So the next time you see someone unusual, ask yourself if they might be a heyoka. Then, flip it around and ask yourself: am I one? Are you creating reality changes in your organization? It’s not always bad being the unusual one…you might just be on your way to creating something remarkable.


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The Art of the Job Interview – Part 3

This is the last post on my series about job interviewing. You can check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here. This last post is about what to do AFTER you’ve interviewed with a company.

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking if they’ve nailed the interview part of the entire process, they’re good to go. They couldn’t be more wrong. Obviously how you fare during the actual interview counts, but I can’t begin to tell you how many people botch the process after the interview.

As soon as you’ve completed your interview, you need to:

  1. Say “Thank You”: If you paid attention to my last post about getting people’s contact information, this is where it pays dividends. Almost immediately after you come home from your interview, begin working on writing thank you cards for each person you met throughout the interview process. Two reasons for this. First, it’s easier to remember what the heck you talked about with each person right after an interview vs. a week later. Why is this important? It allows you to customize your thank you’s to each person by placing one or two details you took away from your conversations with them. Second, shooting off your thank you’s to people immediately afterwards always leaves a good impression. It sends the message you want this position.
  2. Stand Out, Send Snail Mail: Another reason to get working on those thank you’s is because I always recommend people to send physical cards. Why? It helps you stand out. Anyone can send an email that says “thanks.” In fact, that’s what pretty much everyone does nowadays. If you really want to stand out, pick cards that directly relate to what that person spoke about with you. For instance, I once sent a card that looked like a baseball because the hiring manager talked about it for  5 minutes of the interview. Yes, it may sound like brown-nosing a little. But guess what? I got the job, and the first thing my new manager said to me on my first day was how much he laughed when he saw that card. It left an impression. That’s what you want. Oh, and don’t forget to thank the recruiter or HR contact!
  3. Follow Up: If you haven’t heard from the company by the specified time they told you, you need to make sure to follow up. If they never mentioned when they’d get back to you, I typically recommend giving at least 3-5 business days after the interview before you reach back out to them. Sometimes people get shy about this, but I always have to tell people to be proactive when it comes to this. Sometimes, companies honestly get so bogged down that they forget to follow-up with candidates (yes, even if they really liked them and want to hire them).
  4. Be Gracious: Regardless of what happens, always keep this in mind (especially if you don’t get the job). Sometimes, people forget this general rule of thumb whenever they get passed over for a position. It’s unfortunate, because I’ve seen many times where that person who didn’t get picked was identified as a sure-hire when the company had another opening…only to ruin their chances by not being gracious when they learned they didn’t get the job the first time. Remember, always use these opportunities to form relationships regardless of the outcome. You never know when an opportunity may arise for you to re-enter the picture for a company.
  5. Always Try to Learn: Whether you get the job or not, always make it a habit of asking the recruiter or HR contact why they decided the way they did. The point here is to understand what qualities about you they liked…and which ones may need a bit of growth. I find that sometimes people are hesitant to offer constructive feedback (mainly because of HR compliance law fears), but if you let them know your desire to constantly improve/learn…you might find a person willing to give you some insight that’s specific enough to be valuable to you.

By doing these simple things, it helps cement the case in the company’s head that you’re the right person. It can also help with other things such as salary negotiations if you manage to get the job offer; if you’ve been extremely professional and gracious every step of the way, the company’s desire to hire you should be at an all-time high –– allowing you to capitalize on it by negotiating for a higher salary, better benefits, etc.

Hopefully these posts were helpful for those of you in the interviewing process. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any specific questions!

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Your career isn’t guaranteed.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s this: there are no guarantees when it comes to your career. I still remember being in business school and the “hot” career track was investment banking. It seemed like everyone was focused on a finance concentration…and the vast majority of those folks were gunning for a job at one of the big New York firms.

And then the financial crisis hit, and those same classmates I saw killing themselves for jobs on Wall Street were left disenchanted, jaded, and in many cases…jobless. What’s more, some of them went into the banking industry because they thought it was a sure thing –– not necessarily because they truly enjoyed it.

Whenever I meet a student who goes through one of our Bootcamps and they mention that the reason they are thinking about so and so career is because they “know” it’s going to be around for a long time…I find myself thinking back to my business school days. Perhaps if it were 10 years ago, I’d find myself in agreement. But now more than ever, I find myself in disagreement with that statement.

Nothing about your career can be guaranteed. Industries that thrived in one decade may find themselves close to extinction the next. That mere thought –– an entire industry becoming crippled –– would have been laughable as recently as 5 years ago. But I think the events in the last 2 years have shown how quickly things can change. What’s more, I think the frequency in which industries and careers do change will only increase as the years go on.

So before you think about jumping into that career because it’s “stable,” think long and hard about your decision. If the only thing driving your career choice is security, ask yourself how happy you’d be if you found yourself out of a job AND realizing that you just spent the past decade of your life doing something you learned to hate instead. I’ve seen and spoken with too many people who have found themselves in this position…which is probably why I find myself trying to get students to think through their career decisions on a more critical level as much as possible.

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Time = Passion

What do you spend most of your time on?

If the activity that you find yourself spending most of your time on ISN’T something you say you’re passionate about, you might have a disconnect.

When I was in college, we did an exercise in one of my classes…it involved writing the three activities we most enjoyed, and then the dates when we last did them. What was startling to find out (at least for me at the time) was that the vast majority of students had “favorite” activities that they hadn’t spent time doing for several months (or in some cases years) on end.

Unfortunately, that trend doesn’t seem to stop in college. It extends into the professional world.

People on average work 2,000+ hours a year out of a possible 8,760 hours. Even if you don’t work in an area that you’re passionate about, what are you doing with the other 3,000+ hours (assuming you sleep 8 hours a day) left over? I’d argue that if a good chunk of those hours aren’t being spent doing something you say you’re passionate about, something’s off.

Yes, life gets busy. Unexpected things happen all the time. But if you really are passionate about something, you can’t help but think about it constantly. It almost consumes you to a certain degree. You read about it. You find excuses to devote time to it. In fact, you forget about time while you’re doing that activity.

So…what do you spend most of your time on?

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The Art of the Job Interview – Part 2

In a previous post I began a three part series around interviewing successfully. In this post I’ll be covering what to do during an interview to ensure you leave a great impression.

Before I begin, I do want to state that this isn’t meant to be some exhaustive checklist of do’s and don’ts for someone stepping into an interview. There are tons of those available all over the internet. Instead, I’ll focus on some key things that can’t be ignored (based on my past experience in HR/Recruiting).

In the lobby

  1. Show up early: How early? Generally five to ten minutes will do. DON’T be the person who shows up super early to an interview. Nothing makes it more awkward for the hiring manager when a candidate shows up thirty minutes before their appointed time (yes, someone has done this to me before). And of course, don’t be the person who shows up late because “you got lost” or “stuck in traffic.” Those are poor excuses…you might as well tell the company “I don’t value your time that much.”
  2. Chat with the gate-keepers: Another reason to show up early is to spend a few minutes speaking/getting to know the front desk person (who also happen to act as gate-keepers of the office). Why, you ask? Because I’ve seen first hand how HR personnel or recruiters rely on these gate-keepers to learn more about candidates before they even speak with interviewers. Everyone knows you’ll be on the your best behavior when you’re chatting up the VP of Sales. But how do you treat and interact with other people? Southwest Airlines is famous for tactics like this.

When you’re in the interview room

  1. Observe your surroundings: Remember, even though you’re getting interviewed for the position, you’re also interviewing the company at the same time. Observe everything you can while you’re there. How do they dress? Do the employees you see in the hallways seem genuinely happy? Do they mind the details (for instance, is the interview room in neat order or is it in disarray from a previous meeting)? Picking up on these types of things are small clues to the overall culture of the firm.
  2. Turn on the charm, but be yourself: Trust me…everyone’s tempted to put on their charm full blast when interviewing for a good position. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re still being authentic. Just don’t fool yourself or the company interviewing you into believing that you’re a good match. You’re only hurting yourself in the long run.
  3. Don’t get fancy: Another thing I’ve seen from candidates is their use of industry jargon or business “buzz” words when they have no clue what they really mean. In other words, it’s clear that the person only has a very superficial understanding of the industry but no deep knowledge. This is a deal killer for many specialized fields (such as IT development). I’ve actually seen this mostly from people who have just graduated college and are trying to land their first job. Resist the temptation and stick with what you do know. You never know when you’ll get that one hiring manager who’ll call your bluff and ask you about the intelligent-sounding buzz word you just used but have no true understanding of. In other words, don’t act like you know it all. Instead, exercise humbition throughout the interview.
  4. Close strong: Nothing helps a face-to-face interview more than closing strong. What does this mean? Have strong questions for each interviewer. Make sure each person understands you want this position (but at the same time, you’re not smacking of desperation). Thank everyone you meet after your time with them, and make sure to get their business card so you can follow up with them later. Your job is to make sure each interviewer walks away feeling like you were engaged throughout the conversation, asked intelligent and insightful questions, and genuinely interested in the position.

On your way out

  1. Wrap it up: Whoever set up the interview with you will probably walk you out. Again, make sure you close strong with this person (whether they’re HR, a recruiter, or a middle manager). Get any contact information you need if some of the interviewers you met with didn’t have business cards on them.
  2. Follow up: Make sure you ask them when they might follow up if no one has mentioned anything to this effect. This will also tell you how much time you have to follow up with each person in the coming days after the interview.

So there you have it. Again, this isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive check list –– these are just a few of the major things that I’ve seen work best in my own experience in my HR/Recruiting past life (as well as experience as a hiring manager).

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The Importance of Passion

As part of our work with students, we try to help them narrow in on their passions. Why? Because without understanding what you’re passionate about, you’ll never find yourself engaged and energized about what you do. And if you lack these things, it’s really hard to do great work. In my humble opinion, doing great work is really the only way to ever truly love what you do.

One of my favorite quotes about passion comes from Andy Stanley (pastor of North Point Community Church) who said, “a Passion allows us to experience ahead of time the emotions associated with our anticipated future.” In other words, a passion allows all of us to push through the inevitable crap that life will throw at us. Even after you find your “perfect” career, you will no doubt experience disappointments, failures, and setbacks. You’ll also find yourself doing certain tasks that don’t absolutely thrill you.

But at the end of the day, dealing with all this will still be worth it if you possess passion around what you do.

The common analogy we use for students is any professional sports team. The goal for a team is to win…not just a single game, but to win a championship. To get to that championship however, it requires a lot of stuff that is less than exciting. Drills, lifting weights, running miles and miles on end, skills development…the list goes on and on. A lot of athletes don’t jump with joy when they have to do these things leading up to game time. They just want to play. But they understand that these things are necessary to experience any sort of success at the most elite levels.

And so they push themselves through these activities –– not because they want to, but because they’re running purely on the “emotions associated with our anticipated future.” The teams that end up winning more often than not are the ones who can almost feel or taste the end goal. Their hunger for that championship fuels them the entire way. It helps them deal with the dull moments or trying situations of what is otherwise a dream career for them.

In the same way, passion does this for any other professional. Passion is the difference between doing great work and work that just has you going through the motions. It’s also the difference between sticking with something through thick and thin and hopping from one career to the next.

Passion isn’t the only ingredient that helps to define what your dream career is. But it IS the ingredient that ensures long-term sustainability in anything.

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People often me ask why they have such a hard time finding an internship or job in my line of work. And what strikes me is how many times it’s the same thing that’s holding them back.

They lack focus.

Focus is often the differentiating factor between mediocrity and success in anything. Tell me what you think will be more successful: shotgunning your resume to a thousand different companies (in different industries) online, or speaking and interacting with a handful of people at the same company about a particular position?

In my professional experience, the latter wins over 70% of the time. People snag jobs through job boards less than 7% of the time.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go after multiple options or that they shouldn’t use job boards. But when you’re clearly desperate for a job…ANY job, people pick up on it. And in this economy, when so many are out of work and employers have their pick of the crop…why should anyone hire you if they feel like you’d take just about anything from anyone? How are you special?

Find what you are passionate about doing –– the one or two very specific activities that you love doing and can arguably do well –– and then go after the jobs that possess those activities as their main responsibilities. Ignore all the other jobs out there. Going after stuff that doesn’t fall inside your focus just wastes your time and the employer’s time.

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