Work-Life Alignment

When I was teaching at Georgetown, one of my students submitted a very good master’s thesis on work-life alignment. My original thought was that this was another form of work-life balance, but with a Millennial twist. Oh no. What she wrote about was putting more effort into matching the person with the job, which might seem like common sense, but if it’s so common, why aren’t more people doing it?

The main argument is that a person’s work experience and education are not necessarily the only — or even the best — way to determine their fitness for a job. But that’s what we look at in a job applicant, right? What is the first thing you look at? The jobs on their CV. And when it comes time to sit down for an interview, very often it is an extension of that. “Tell me about your job at ——” is a pretty common way to get that discussion going. But it should not end there.

Past jobs might not be the best indicator of whether or not someone will work out for you, particularly in an organization where creativity and innovation are the keys to success. As my student pointed out, the fact that someone has a lot of jobs in your industry might simply be a sign that they did not fit well into any of them. You need to look at more than just job titles, or accomplishments at a firm, and also consider things like how much they enjoyed going to work, how they got along with coworkers, whether the style of work there (teams vs individuals, remote vs in-office) is similar to what you expect in your business. Consider how they spend their time outside of work; do they try new things or do they build upon past experiences? Do they add personal travel to business trips or do they cut themselves off completely from work when they go on vacation? You should also try to understand what their personal and professional goals are, and see if they are in line with your organization, and with the position for which you are recruiting. Technical skills can be learned; interest can’t.

This seems particularly true for creative work. If you are hiring someone for a repetitive task — something administrative or bureaucratic, for instance — then experience in that task can be very useful. But when you are looking for creativity and innovation, then previous repetition might not be as important. More worthwhile would be passion for the work, an interest in doing something not because it’s a job, but because they want to. Do they do volunteer work using their talents, or do any other projects outside of the office? Do they carry a notebook with them in case they get a good idea out of the blue? When they discuss their goals, do they focus on their career plans, or on developing their talent?

Yes, a CV is still a starting point for your job applicants, but the point here is to look beyond their past responsibilities and job titles…consider carefully, for instance, any goals or objectives they express in an Executive Summary or in an interview, which may tell you more about what they are really interested in doing and where they think their true strengths lie. Try to make good use of employee referrals…if your current employees come to you and say “this is someone who would fit well here,” pay attention to that, because they are the ones who will have to work with them. Ask questions during an interview that explore this person’s working style and life goals, and see if these match what you think you need. Try to align the person with the job, rather than the CV with the job; there is more to it than that.

Of course, I’m trying to condense the main points from a really good 80-page thesis into one blog post…but you get the idea.

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