Beating the Unknown Applicant

I have served on many search committees and have made a lot of hiring decisions over the years.   I have hired some great people and some that didn’t work out.  I have even been involved in searches where we didn’t hire anyone.  This last outcome may seem odd, but it happens more often than you think.  It is especially common in academia, but I also regularly hear from business people that they just can’t find the right people to fill their job openings.

One of the ironies about being an applicant is that sometimes your greatest competitor for a job isn’t the other people in the pool with you. It is the unknown applicant.  That person hasn’t applied, but the decision-makers believe his or her application is just around the corner.  What makes the unknown applicant so formidable is that he or she has all of the qualities the decision-makers want, even when the decision-makers themselves don’t really agree on those qualities. In short, they are perfect for the job. 

You on the other hand, have issues.  This is because as my father once told me (his greatest insight really) everybody’s got issues: You are too experienced or too ambitious, or too quiet, or too risky, or too dynamic, or too straight-forward, or too much like the last guy (who they grew tired of) and made some decisions some people somewhere didn’t like –yep, it is a potentially long list.

So, how do you beat the unknown applicant?

Realize that competition with the unknown applicant isn’t about you: it is about the people hiring you.  The unknown applicant enters the compettion when the hiring committee can’t agree on the most important tasks (three, not forty) that need to be done and the qualities necessary to perform them.  So if during an interview people are telling you very different things about what the job entails or offer only vague responses to your questions about the most salient challenges and expectations, take this as an opportunity to tell them what you think needs to be done based on your prior experiences and why you are the right person to accomplish those tasks.  This may seem presumptious, but if you can lay out your vision for the job in clear and confident manner you can ground the hiring committee in reality and beat the unknown applicant. That candidate, by the way, doesn’t get to address the selection committee in this manner.—it is a huge advantage to you.

If you take this strategy and don’t get the job don’t fret, chances are they didn’t hire the other candidate either.  And you should be happy because until they can agree on what they need, that unknown applicant isn’t going to win the position either -it can’t be won.

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Rebel Business Network

I am told that there is a tradition among Yale graduates that obligates them to make a professional introduction to a third party at the request of another alum.  This obligation serves both as an entree and an endorsement–sponsored access to another alum’s valuable professional network that underscores the faith and confidence Yale alums have in each others’ talents, education and character.  The introduction says:  Like me, this women graduated from Yale and she will deliver for you just like I have done.  Welcome her to your network of trusted associates.

Last week I attended two major functions at UNLV.  Saturday was graduation.  Thursday was the launch of the Rebel Business Network.  Only a few people, mostly university administrators attended both events, but they are closely related.  The idea behind the Rebel Business Network is similar to the Yale tradition.  The network is a group of UNLV business leaders pledging to provide business opportunities to each other, hire other UNLV graduates, offer internships to UNLV students, and be ambassadors for the institution in the community.

The value of your degree depends largely on your actions and on how others perceive UNLV graduates.  If you want to increase the value of your diploma, promote the success of your institution and your fellow UNLV graduates.  With 70% percent of UNLV’s 100,000 graduates living in or around Vegas, the network can and should be a major asset to UNLV alums, especially those 450 LBS students who embarked on their professional careers last Saturday.

If attendance at the lunch is any indication, it appears people get it.  The organizers hoped 40 people would attend the lunch.  They got 200.  If each member can get one other UNLV business leader to join the network each time there is an event, total membership in the network would exceed 10,000 by the seventh event.  Think how powerful that network would be.

Engage in an act of shameless self-interest: join the network.

A Revised Working Professionals MBA Program

After more than a year of discussion and debate, students entering our Evening MBA program this fall will embark on a revised curriculum.  It is not a huge change, but one designed to provide a better defined, more intimate, and more challenging program that students can complete in a timely manner.

Our 48 credit hour program was a bit of a “tweener”:  too short to provide students with deep expertise in a particular functional area, but longer than necessary for those interested in developing a well-rounded generalist view of the enterprise and markets. Over the last several years, such programs have become increasingly out of step with changes in the demand for graduate business education.  Specialty masters programs (e.g., MS in Accounting, MS in MIS) that provide students with expertise in a functional area of business have become popular among students.  Unlike MBA programs, admissions into these programs typically does not require the applicant to have significant prior business experience and many can be completed in just one year’s time.  Strong relationships between program faculty and a well-defined body of potential employers can also facilitate the transition from graduate school to a career.

Several MBA programs have responded to this shift in demand by focusing on training generalists: developing people with good quantitative and quality skills that understand how the various functional areas of business interact to produce value for customers and shareholders. Some have tried to do this in just one year’s time, especially for students who have undergraduate business degrees. Other programs have tried to provide this generalist training over a greater number of credit hours, believing that a comprehensive understanding of business requires exposure to a wider variety of topics.

Our MBA program revision is consistent with this later view.  The new program is six credit hours shorter than the current program.  The specialty tracks have been eliminated and students have a small set of electives that will provide them with some choice in rounding out their degree.  Courses have been updated to account for recent changes in how businesses operate and to provide students with strong quantitative as well as social skills.

These curriculum changes will be supported by new admissions and scheduling policies.  The revised MBA program will only admit students in the Fall and limits admission to no more than 60 students.  These sixty students will be provided with block scheduling of courses so that they can get to know their peers better and faculty can better coordinate student experiences across courses.  In short we are making the move from a MBA that offered students a list of courses, some of which they had to complete to get a degree, to a MBA program that provides students with a common set of experiences and skills in a more structured setting that allows them to finish their program in two and half to three years while working full time.

Hey What Do You Say, Let’s Go Graduate Today!

Graduation is this Saturday. Nobody does it better than Professor Jack Schibrowsky.  He has been a marshal at every graduation since I have been at UNLV. I am sure he has been doing it for many years.  If you click on the slideshow about the sights and sounds of graduation on the UNLV website, you will here him in the background.

Jack is a bit of an outlier, frankly in more ways than one.  Most faculty members see graduation as an obligation not a celebration.  If you have been to twenty graduations, it can be a little hard to keep your enthusiasm up.  It is a bit like going to a friend’s house for the tenth time to watch three hours of home movies from their most recent vacation.  The company is great, but the script, the main characters, and the ending are pretty much always the same.

But at this winter’s graduation, President Smatresk changed the script.  Rather than having the faculty march out of the Thomas and Mack, he had us line the corridor of the exit on both sides.  He then had the students walk out to the applause of the faculty. Not every faculty member stayed, but the vast majority did.  Watching the faces of the students as they went through the corridor with faculty applauding on both sides of them will be my single most enduring memory of my time at UNLV.  It was both warm and cool: a great new tradition born.

If you are a faculty member who hasn’t been to graduation in a while, go this year and become part of the line. It will give you a sense of renewal and remind you why we are here.  If you are a student smile big—it’s the best thing you can do to thank your favorite professor.