Getting the gig: Skills vs. style

I bid for contract work on a regular basis, and recently started two new contracts.

The selection processes for the two gigs got me thinking about the way companies choose new people for their organizations. The process usually involves two filters, but the order in which they apply them is significant.

One filter selects for quantifiable skills and experience. How effective this filter will be is based on how well the organization has analyzed the work it wants to have done. Well-structured organizations with narrow job descriptions for contract work (“an experienced editor to edit the latest revision of this book” “an experienced outside sales person to fill this sales position while our regular employee is on National Guard duty”) have great success with this approach. But often this relatively rigid approach leaves organizations deaf to applicants whose strengths are wholistic rather than job-specific: energy, team building, leadership, loyalty, creativity, etc.

The second filter selects for the best stylistic fit with the organization. At its best, the “fit” filter gets the company a smooth transition, clear communication, and a satisfied employee or contractor  — one who’s likely to be with the organization for the long haul. But this filter often accounts for hires who “look like” the rest of the organization when it comes to gender, age, socio-economic background — and that can lead to self-congratulatory group-think and stagnation.

For one of the contract positions I sought, the company filtered applicants first by skill set and then interviewed a few of us to find out if we would be a stylistic fit. Company #2 filtered applicants for style, and then interviewed the compatible folks to see who had a decent skill set — and was really compatible.

The process told me quite a bit about each of the clients, and their priorities. (And I noticed that client #2 seemed to be having a lot more fun with the interview process.)

But it also reminded me that I need to pay close attention to each contractor’s ad to figure out what they want to know about first — skills or work style.

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