Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Hiring the Unlikely to Do the Unusual

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Hiring the Unlikely to Do the Unusual

Article excerpt


Uncompromising quality of personnel is a more critical value today than it ever has been. Our first obligation as hiring supervisors should always be to find absolutely the best person we can for every job. But the job market is changing very fast and specific jobs are changing just as fast. Not everyone is prepared through the normal pathways of education and experience to perform the tasks that are needed in today's world. So hiring supervisors must find ways to identify and hire people who can learn the skills, perform the duties of the job, and fit into the new environment. This article presents a new way to think about the hiring process. It calls upon supervisors to think "out of the box" by hiring the unlikely to do the unusual.


One day, a programmer/analyst in the UC-Berkeley campus facilities office was asked a series of questions by a computer resource specialist in that same office. Since the computer resource analyst should have known the answers to the questions he had asked, the programmer/analyst expressed surprise. At this, the computer resource specialist explained, "Well, hey, six years ago I was a street vendor selling men's ties!"

This anecdote demonstrates that we are living in times of rapid change. Today's workplace is continually changing and challenging us to learn new skills and work in new and different ways. As the pace of change accelerates, careers are being profoundly affected. Downsizing, rightsizing, mergers, outsourcing, and streamlining marked the 80s and early 90s corporate and academic worlds. This resulted in a large number of workers losing their jobs. Many of these workers were unprepared to compete in the labor market. However, others with transferable skills were able to quickly and effectively achieve success.

The Institute of Human Development at UC-Berkeley has several positions that are filled with people who possess unlikely characteristics, but who are, nonetheless, doing their work in outstanding fashion. We have a half-time programmer/analyst who offers broad and unique support to the Institute. He developed a system that allows researchers studying sign language speakers to rapidly enter their transcriptions into a database as they watch video tape. The program includes software controls for the VCR, which makes it possible to watch and transcribe without leaving the computer. His previous experience in campus ministry and restaurant management could not have predicted his tremendous success in programming.

His assistant is a recent college graduate, but not in computer science. His last job was as a construction engineer. The person who recruits subjects for our infant research program is a piano teacher who telecommutes. Our grants administrator was an architect and has a background in public relations and marketing. My administrative assistant is also our receptionist; he was a bank teller whose only real computer skill was data entry with a commercial banking program.

Another employee acts as the office manager at our nursery school. She actually serves three masters; in addition to her work for the Institute, she performs administrative work for the campus' Child Care Services and for two research projects located at the nursery school facility. Outside the office, she serves as a Girl Scout leader, among her numerous other parental tasks. Our personnel manager has a disability, but she is able to perform all the essential duties of her position; any special work needs are accommodated as necessary. You can imagine how the divergent talents, skills and experiences of these employees have contributed to their success in their often unusual jobs.

I have concluded that effective hiring choices result from knowing what you really want in a candidate, keeping an open mind when reviewing resumes and applications, conducting competency interviews and relying on instinct when making final choices. …

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