David Brooks’s recent plea to our nation’s employers struck me deeply, resonating with both my personal history and my professional experience.
Not that I want you to skip the column, but in case you’re pressed, Brooks asks our nation’s employers to seek new hires who are more passionate than perfect, who are singular and irregular not conventionally well-rounded — not only for the health of their own companies, as counter-intuitive as that may seem, but for the health of our nation.
I despair at his reception. The disincentives are too powerful. No one who vets resumes is encouraged to seek the quirky; and if the quirky fail, few will question how the institution might have helped them succeed — blame is faster and easier. And, let’s admit, many jobs have nothing in them that appeals to restless creative intellects, save payment and the promise of something “down the road” — and are usually managed by people who themselves found that promise to be a mirage.
But still, it might happen. I share a professional anecdote, adding my small breath of wind to Brooks’s great sails.
In 1999, AOL’s Hong Kong office could not manage to find a graphic designer, and it was affecting our production schedule. When we finally confronted the HR people, face to face (a lesson in itself, about the limits of email), they explained there was a policy that everyone hired as the head of a department had to have several years’ experience.
In 1999, of course, the only people with several years’ experience in commercial graphic design worked in print, making high-resolution layouts for large glossy publications, not 32×32 16-color icons. So the director and I went through the discard files, glancing past the listed experience but looking for personal websites, still a new thing for an individual designer to have. In an hour of searching and surfing we found several likely candidates, all young and hungry, soon hired a fantastic artist, and worked him to the bone for the next six months.
And, I took “personal responsibility” for hiring someone in violation of company policy. Which was funny in itself — with the weak and quirky resume I had when AOL hired me six years earlier, I could never have been hired there either.