Only poets need apply: Tom Peters on Excellence

DESPITE repeated successes, Chief Inspector Michael Ohayon, hero of Batya Gur's detective mysteries (such as Literary Murder), is often in hot water with his boss, Ariyeh Levy. Inspector Ohayon is a notoriously slow starter. He wanders about, seemingly aimless - picking up the mood and sensing the context.

Woe betide Ohayon had he gone to business school, then tried to get a job as a consultant with McKinsey & Co or Mercer Management. Reporting on the business school job scramble, Business Week describes a typical job interview with McKinsey as 'an intense grilling'.

At Mercer, the candidate is presented with a hypothetical case that requires 'a quick analysis' - for example: 'Describe how a commercial bank should create and implement a major marketing effort.'

How stupid. The consultants would be fools not to seek out candidates with unusual mental acuity and agility. But an interview process that honours glibness but misses out on the Michael Ohayons is ultimately self-defeating.

Interviews should be the centrepiece of a respectful courting process. Interviewers should forego pop quizzes and sadistic questioning rituals. Instead, they should home in on demonstrated achievements. The past, like it or not, is the only decent predictor of the future. Hence my suggestions on interviewing:

1) Put the candidate's resume under a microscope. Carefully reconstruct each past job (and school) experience. For instance, the kid who went through college without participating in extracurricular activities - without leading those activities - is not likely to be a tiger on the job.

Also scrutinise grades, a barometer of effort more than intellect. Many business schools have stopped releasing grades and class standing. Insane]

Can you imagine National Football League teams drafting quarterbacks without access to their on-the-field statistics and the won-and-lost record of the team when they were calling the signals?

Resume analysis also ought to include an extensive check of references, an examination of work samples, and a review of past work commendations. If Ms X is applying for a line job in a hotel, bringing with her seven years of hotel experience, you should worry if she cannot produce a few employee-of-the- month certificates or their equivalents.

2) Look for a legacy. It's not enough to have performed well in the past.

How did the candidate make each of his or her job stops different and better? Ira Magaziner, now President Clinton's health care guru, won radical changes in the curriculum at Brown University - as an undergraduate. (Even if you regard Magaziner as an evil genius, you have got to admit that he would be one hell of a catch as an employee.)

3) Examine their turn-ons. Discuss the candidate's peak experiences at work or school, in volunteer activities, and so on. What a person brags about is a key to future job performance. For example, do solo assignments or team accomplishments ring his or her chimes?

4) Seek deviance, defiance and adventure. Ask the candidates to detail situations where they have flown directly in the face of convention - for instance, postponed going to college for two years to travel round the world, or to try out for the Olympics - whatever. Curiosity and productive kinkiness in the past will raise the odds of getting more of the same in the future. (And, the absence of same,. . .)

5) Pursue animal energy. Energy and passion make the world go round.

At the end of an interview, are you exhausted by the spirit and zest of the candidate? If so, hire that one on the spot.

6) Trust your gut. Discounting the candidate's nervousness (given the incompetence of most interviewers, and the stupidity of most interview protocols), is he or she the kind of person you would like to hang around with?

Gut feeling is not a softball issue. To the contrary, it is the real hardball game. 'As I get older,' said Felix Rohatyn, the financier, 'I am struck more and more by how . . . it is the intangibles that matter most - personality, culture, ego.' He's right, of course, and about as far away as can be from Mercer's world of superficial case analyses.

Writing in Esquire, Stanley Bing describes an interview he conducted: '(The candidate) comes in and seats himself carefully on the edge of my guest chair . . . 'I'm looking for an entry-level position in public relations. Maybe corporate marketing, if I get lucky,' he says.

' 'Really?' I say. 'Like, out of the entire realm of human possibility, that's what you want to be doing?'

'I'm sorry, but . . . what 24-year-old really and truly wants to be in corporate marketing, for God's sake? 'Didn't you ever want to be a rock musician, or a forest ranger, or anything?' He looks at me like I have a banana peel on the end of my nose . . . Screw it. There is no poetry in this dude . . . I kick him out of my office.'

Are you on the lookout for dudes with poetry?

If not, why not, in these aerobic economic times?

TPG Communications

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