Comments on Fall Applications

Entrepreneurs told me that the toughest part of running a business, especially a start-up, is the search for and the management of human resources.  It took me awhile to figure out just how tough it is to find coachable and competent employees.  I was often delusional about my leadership abilities and willfully ignorant about how people, including myself, think and live life. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to change and motivate someone.  Frustrated, I’d hire the best person available — my mind conveniently blocking out obvious flaws and highlighting the few (imagined) strengths and potential rewards — even if person is clearly, in nearly every way, incompetent, self-absorbed, and devoid of basic, basic skills. I was like the insecure and fearful looking for love and marriage — easily infatuated and more in love with love than the love interest.

I gradually learned that hiring the wrong person creates a lot more work and stress.  Better to work multiple jobs on one’s own, just as most business owners and CEOs do throughout their careers.  I’d be 40-50k richer if I’d understood from the beginning what I was told about human resources (takes experience for wisdom to make sense).

So I’ve shifted my approach to hiring and I should probably do the same with my approach to firing (be quicker to fire instead of expecting a miracle that’ll never happen).  We search for those who we think are coachable and have basic kitchen, observation, and social skills. In many ways, it’s gotten easier to attract candidates because we’re now considered an established business and we have pretty good Yelp reviews.  But it’s gotten much more difficult to find someone who is a good fit because standards keep getting set higher and higher.  A lot of people who we won’t hire now would’ve been hired when we were six months old.

What we’re looking for.  

At any rate, we use our application not only to gain deep insight into candidate personality and character, but also to reduce number of applications.  We can’t handle 400 applications.  We aim to attract 50 aps with each craigslist post (posted three times this past round) and will spend one to two hours reviewing the ones we’re interested in.  Out of 50, we’ll look closely review three.  We’ll even take a close look at someone who we think is a sociopath (hired).  There’s no formula.  We trust our intuition.

Interest and knowledge is irrelevant.  We prefer to instill our brand of knowledge anyway.  The main trait we look for is coachability.  To be coachable, one has to be mentally tough (based on our definition) and be unhappy or bored enough with life to be receptive to change.  (The complacent are not coachable.  Why should they change?  They’re satisfied, especially with themselves).  There have been a few candidates who don’t need much coaching, as their mindset and values are already in line with those of the owner. These candidates just need to refine certain skills.

Main skills we look for are observation skills (peripheral vision, court vision), basic kitchen skills (knife, prep, clean-up), and social skills.  We strongly prefer those who are aggressive and competitive.  We train baristas to be controlling and many regular customers now expect to be controlled (we decide what they eat and drink and will deny them something they order).  Our baristas also won’t give up a sale.  An acquaintance told me that while she waited in the store for me, the barista tried to sell her a juice FIVE times.  “She would not let up.”

Creativity, imagination, reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and learning style — all secondary concerns.  We work on those skills by discouraging linear thinking and encouraging learning with one’s senses.

Who the applicants are.
Don’t know for sure but based on analysis of address, resume (high school, , and questionnaire responses, we think most are from working class background.  Education ranged from high school drop-out (hired) to a 2006 graduate from a highly ranked University (12th, according to US News).  Mostly community college, a good number from regional colleges such as Seattle U, SPU, Western Washington, Evergreen.  University of Washington Seattle too.

Everyone is and wants to do something special.
Every applicant stated that they want to do something special, something great.  But very few applicants have the attitude and mindset and skills to do so.  Nor are most familiar with what it takes to achieve greatness.  Very few applicants realize that there’s a mismatch between their desire and their mindset/skills/attitude, so there’s little effort to develop mindset/skills/attitude.  Some implied that they just need to be discovered.  If you think there are a lot of mental health problems today, wait 20 years, “normal” society is going to be a nuthouse full of people bitter about unrealized dreams.

I’m trying to figure out who is putting so much pressure on young adults to achieve something “great,” without preparing them to do so.  The worst thing to tell a child is that he or she can “be whatever he or she wants to be.”  Trite encouragements as these MUST be paired with activities that instill discipline and mental toughness and the competitive spirit necessary for them to achieve their goals.  Without such activities, they’re basically being told that they’re losers and lazy if they don’t achieve something great.  At some point, the inflated self-esteem that comes from everyone telling them that they’re so talented so special so wonderful that they can do anything will implode the fragile ego, leaving a person destroyed, devoid of self-esteem and self-confidence.  I see so many of these kids with so much self-esteem, yet they have little self-confidence because deep down, they know that they haven’t achieved enough or have the skills and mental toughness to justify their sense of self.  I’m convinced that those with inflated self-esteem will never have the self-confidence to face failure and difficulties.

According to some sociologist, in a post-industrial society such as ours, there’s been a shift among the working class from seeking confirmation from church and community to seeking esteem.  Working class kids used to work to not become a burden, to take care of their family.  Now, working class kids dream big and will pay a lot of money to acquire, for instance, a formal education or whatever else they think it takes to realize their dream.  They don’t, however, realize that it’s not degrees or the right clothes and car that will get them to where they want to be.  It’s all about skills, mindset, and attitude.  By the time they figure that out, they’re pushing 30 years old, are aimless and unfocused, and have nothing to show for their college degree (in social science or humanities from middling school).  It’s sad to read a resume from a 28 year old who makes a big deal out of junior year abroad in Spain.  That year abroad will likely be the peak of her life.

There were a few who understand what it takes to achieve greatness.  In all cases, they either came from Upper Middle Class neighborhoods with highly competitive high schools, or in one case, grew up in a small town but attended a highly competitive college.  Doesn’t mean they’re not lazy and unfocused.  The one who attended an Ivy League type college had a spotty resume and admitted to being lazy and unfocused (we liked him a lot).  It just means that he won’t die from envy because he knows what it takes to get something.  He knows what the competition looks like, he just can’t motivate himself to compete with them.

We don’t produce employees who eventually go crazy from envy.  We generally try to get employees to put away pipe dreams and to focus on not becoming a burden to society by matching skills and interest with a realistic career path.

Quick summary of findings:
Suspect a quarter of applicants are borderline sociopaths (hired one, doing well).

Mentally tough applicants tended to have upper/upper-middle class and lower class backgrounds.  Applicants from working class backgrounds tended to score lowest on mental toughness.  Suspect this is because the poor grow tough from being poor, while the wealthy make sure their kids develop mental toughness by sending them to highly competitive and stressful schools like Lakeside.  Middle class parents, desirous of the best for their children, mistakenly believe that the wealthy coddle their kids and thus do so with their own.

Applicants with highest standards tended to come from upper/upper-middle class applicants.

Applicants with highest sense of entitlement came from working class backgrounds.

Upper class background applicants and those who’ve been exposed to highly competitive environment (attend a top 20 college) were most likely to describe themselves as “lazy.”  They also had best leadership potential.

The most arrogant applicants were the also the most inept and lazy, failing to even google “Kofi Annan.”

Most applicants have trouble researching for facts.  Many, for instance, were unable to distinguish between political propaganda and fact when searching for number of hours Walmart CEO works.  Some were simply too lazy to google “Kofi Annan.”

Half of applicants came off as hippies.  We’ll hire hippies, but we make it clear that we’re more blue-collar intellectual than a hippie establishment.

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