I’ve been working a lot recently with a local small business owner who is looking to expand and grow her business over the next 1-2 years. She’s a transplant to Halifax who had a thriving business in another Canadian city and has built a strong, albeit smaller, following here on the east coast. Recently, she lost an employee due to medical reasons but we spoke at length about her inability to find and keep the right person for this role. The role is incredibly rewarding, pays well and has great benefits (both internally and externally). It is an incredibly forward thinking and unique organization with goals that include not only fiscal success but also social responsibility. So the question has to be asked. Why, in a city that seems to be begging for employment opportunities, is it so hard to fill a good job? My answer? Because people are lazy and lacking a work ethic.

I know that seems super harsh, and I’m not suggesting that EVERYONE in Halifax is lazy or that EVERYONE in Halifax is lacking a work ethic, but I’ll put it to you. Go to work tomorrow (if you work at a location where there are more than 3 people) and look to your left and then look to your right. Do you see someone who fits the bill I’m talking about. They’re everywhere. Trust me. I know. I’ve worked with them, hired them and yes, BEEN them. You see, I think that work ethic CAN be intrinsic but I also believe it can easily be affected by any number of variables. When you’re working your butt off and no one seems to notice, it’s pretty easy to lose focus. When your company cuts pensions, health plans and any number of benefits that exist within the company, it’s pretty easy to say, “you know what, this is bullshit.”

Halifax has been, for the last 20 years, a hotbed of jobs that make people hate jobs. Call centers have closed or drastically downsized. School teachers have more students in their classroom than ever and the government keeps throwing money at companies that leave as soon as they stop throwing money at them. Federal government jobs, once the be all end all for Halifax residents, are long gone. The kind of jobs that you will settle into for a career are just flat out gone. But there is hope. And that hope comes in the form of small businesses and startups. People will believe again once we give them opportunities to succeed and to thrive. But in the meantime, in a culture full of people who could care less, how do you find the right people.

The resume is dead. Long live the resume. I know. You want someone with X years experience in Y. Do you know who has two thumbs and doesn’t care in the least how many years experience you have in your field? This guy. Experience is entirely, and I mean ENTIRELY overrated. Do not look at years in a role when you’re looking for an employee. Wait. What should I look at on a resume if not work experience. Here’s the secret: don’t look at resumes.

I mean, sure, LOOK at resumes. But when I look at a resume these days, I’m looking for something different. I’m looking for organizations, strange skills or interests, unique experiences. I’m not looking for how many years they sat in a cubicle and rotted while eating tunafish sandwiches and eating birthday cake every time one of their co workers that they didn’t like had a birthday. I’m looking at whether or not they were active in the community. I’m looking at whether or not they like movies, comic books, jazz music, stand up comedy. And then, after I’ve glanced at their resume, I’m looking AT them.

If you really want to know whether or not someone has the ability to do a job that you want them to do then let them prove it to you. Don’t be afraid to give a task to someone as part of the interview process. Throw a unique challenge out into the ether and see if something awesome comes back. I have a friend who is an animator, something I have played with off and on over the last 5 years. He offered to give me some pointers remotely (he’s in Toronto) and at one point we were talking about whether I could ever get a job in animation without having an actual degree in animation. I was shocked to hear him, someone who hires for animation jobs, say yes. He told me that when he is hiring for a position, he asks them to do a project. Something small. Something simple. He told me that in one particular instance he asked that those interested in a certain position create a short animation piece of fish in a fish bowl. He said that 99/100 people do the exact same thing. The exact same fish they first worked up in school. It was the exact fishbowl you would picture in your head and they were the same fish you would picture in your head. But that 100th person would blow your mind. They would imagine a fish in a way you never could have dreamed and put that fish in a stunning environment that you could have never imagined. And half the time, that person is either entirely or partially self taught.

So the lesson is this. Just don’t limit the possibility that the person you’re looking for may have absolutely no experience in the kind of job you’re hiring for. Understand that people will surprise you if you give them the opportunity. Judge based on merit, not on the ability to “stick it out”. At my last “job” the employee with the longest tenure, a tenure that outlasted our company due to previous acquisition history, was the most useless person you could ever imagine in any role. Yeah, they lasted a really long time. But it’s not a war of attrition. Don’t hire a dam. Hire a firefly.

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