Friday, March 16, 2007

Corporate HR Marketing, or not

I'm still evolving. I hope you are too. It means you're alive. Possibly troubled, but alive.

I got contacted this week by what appeared to be a good employer. On the surface it appeared to be a good job and a good company. Maybe better than that, even. Maybe great.

The opening words to my reply were: "I thought I'd deleted my resume from every place it was posted, after getting spam for .Net jobs in New York City for about two months, so was surprised to hear from you. But that's OK."

The part of the recruitment announcement that caught my attention was "our development philosophy is to write software correctly the first time, without shortcuts; to build reusable components whenever possible for use across all of our development projects; and to ensure that our existing code base is our biggest asset, rather than a liability."


Then they went on to say how one of their people was working on an Ajax tool to generate scaffolds in Ruby on Rails.

Yow! They work with Rails!

Of their 10 requirements, I met nine, but not the first, Ruby on Rails experience in production applications. I've been trying but haven't made it there yet. Possibly due to sloth. To get there, since I have no experience, I'll have to manufacture experience, by going out and finding freelance work, which then may still not qualify, in the eyes of an employer.

But what's a fella gonna do, I ask yers, what then?

I decided not to strain myself by leaping at it. The job is in an isolated city of 30,000, and the person who contacted me, the company's technology manager, has the same name as someone who went to school in that town, and has been active in posting comments about religious subjects hither and thither.

I've been lucky enough to have had lots of fun experiences in life. Among them being trapped in a small town, and working at small companies owned by families who gossip about their employees over lunch, and being approached by my boss and given religious pamphlets to read. And most fun of all, not all at the same place, so it wasn't just one scary black hole in a world full of light and the smell of roses.


Then, thinking more, several other things about this company began to worry at me with little teeth. They started in 2001 with two employees and had 60 as of a year ago. Why? Why do they need so many, and how does this mesh with precision software development? Wouldn't you expect to find people throwing things around, just to get their work backlogs down? And wouldn't you expect there to be a lot of chaos?

I think you would, no?

Thinking more, a process which may or may not be good for me, but which I can't quit (though I did give up smoking many long years ago), I began wondering what made this company special.

They have a good idea. It's sort of like a social networking site to pre-qualify contractors and bring them together with customers for home improvement work, plus some glass and automotive stuff mixed in as well. Brilliant idea, in fact. Nearly recession-proof.

But they advertise dead plain and simple, just like everyone else. When you read the ideas they lay out and think back, what you imagine is just another business. You don't think fun, quirky, imaginative and welcoming workplace where you can finally fit in and make a difference.

What you think about is all those classified ads you've read over the years that all say exactly the same thing in the same way, some better than others:

Research & Development

To become a recognized leader in the food industry it takes a successful pattern of constant growth with many new and innovative projects on the horizon. A true phenomenon occurs when brilliant research minds meet the challenge of a technological society. At Star-Kist, makers of 9-Lives cat food, and Jerky Treats dog snacks, we are committed to this through the caliber of our employees. If you would like the opportunity to show what you can do, we have something for you...

Successful candidate must have experience in pet foods or low-acid canned foods...

Right. You can hardly avoid stepping in it.

So back to "my" company:

We reward ambition with a pay-for-performance plan that includes a competitive compensation package, including bonuses for meeting/exceeding performance goals.

Which, as I noted in my reply, could mean that they have a really great place, or it could be all knife fights all the time, winner take all, or it could be so-so yawn time. Can't tell. Can't see anything through the haze of HR bafflegab.

By this time, of course, I'd decided that I didn't want to drive 300 miles for an interview just to be told that they really wanted someone with paid experience, just as they'd said, so I had nothing to lose and was honest.

But I was trying to be helpful. Really. I pointed out some things like this, like how their words were really great but how they nevertheless sounded like just another PR machine. I've been burned before. You can tell, can't you?

More snooping around their web site paid off. They offer six days of vacation the first year, nine the second, and then it shoots up to 12 days and stays there forever. Six days a year? This is a cutting-edge company? I'd rather get more time off instead of a raise, or better yet, get time to do interesting things on the job with a flat two weeks a year. Never mind that Australians and Europeans expect a month, no questions asked.

What happens when a staffer exceeds expectations, say? What if I worked there, and invented a way to shave eight hours a week off the time for my tasks? What would they let me do with that extra day? Would they even think that way? Would they ever assume that the time was then mine?

Hard to say, but I bet not. I bet they grind. Grind through the work. Grind out profits. All of which is OK, but where is the payoff? What do you get for working besides enough pay to keep going? What do you get to feed your soul?

They don't say.

As I said clearly in my resume, I'm a generalist. I do lots of things, most of them well and a few exceedingly well, and am looking for a place where I can make a difference doing interesting things in a supportive environment. (Three things, count 'em.)

I think of Humanized, which I stumbled on recently ( I get the idea that I'd like to send these people money just because they deserve it. It's clear that they're all so smart that they'd never even let me shine their shoes, but if somehow I ran into one of them at a party, I'd probably have a lot of fun, and learn so much that my head would hurt for weeks.

They present themselves as a few people on a mission. It sounds as though they really care about what they do and why they do it, and as though they have at least three or four major interests, each, outside of their work. This message is clear and engaging. They are different.

They aren't recruiting, but if they were, people from everywhere would be climbing all over each other to get there. It's absolutely clear that they are not the same old whatever.

And that's why I'm still unemployed, or, um, er, still in the process of getting my company started.

Yes. That sounds much better.

Damn. Did I just outsmart myself again with all this thinking?