You Forgot Stupid

June 23, 2010

Pathetic.  Weak.  Idiotic.  Illegitimate.

Those are only some of the words “experts” and other commenters used to describe our recently completed intern search.

With our newest hire packing his bags for the move to Minneapolis, we thought we’d offer our perspective on some of the issues raised during our Summer Intern Search, as well as some thoughts on what all of this meant to Fast Horse.

First the issues.  The StarTribune subhead accompanying the story about our search read as follows:  “Marketing firm Fast Horse cut the field for an internship to three finalists – then lets Facebook vote on the winner.  A clever way to test their marketing skills? Or just arbitrary and unfair?”

While the feedback we received  through-out this process was overwhelmingly positive, the enterprising StarTribune reporter was able to find a few folks who took issue with our approach.  For example, the story quoted Nora Paul of the University of Minnesota Institute for New Media Studies, who suggested that the process was unfair because one candidate might have a larger family or “have more connections” than the others. She also had concerns that the voting could somehow be gamed.  For those reasons, she suggested our Facebook vote was not a legitimate way to hire someone.

We respectfully disagree, Professor. 

This is a relationship business. Our business depends on our ability to attract and retain clients. The vast majority of our clients find us because there is a previous connection with one of our people.  And the main reason they stay with us, or any other professional services firm for that matter, is because they have forged a strong relationship with our team. Our Facebook vote gave all three candidates a platform outside the traditional interview process to show how well they connect with people.  The intern candidate who had the most skill in forging connections absolutely had a leg up on landing a gig here. That’s not unfair.  It’s just prudent for an agency that relies on strong connections.   

Nora Paul’s concern about voter hanky panky also left her wondering about the legitimacy of the whole thing.  But consider this: “According to ADP Screening and Selection Services, 40 percent of applicants lie about their work histories and educational backgrounds and about 20 percent present false credentials and licenses. Nationwide, an estimated 30 percent of job applicants make material misrepresentations on their résumés. Another survey found that 95 percent of college students said they would lie to get a job and 41 percent said that they had already done so. One survey of top executives found that 15 percent admitted falsifying résumé information.” So much for the legitmacy of ANY hiring process. Seems gaming a Facebook vote would only be one of the newest ways to cheat your way into a job.  Something tells us this one would be easier to sniff out.

Another issue raised was that our process was somehow shallow.  “Is your goal to find the best person or to create buzz on how to find the best person?”  asked one communications firm President quoted in the StarTribune story. 

Can we allow that those two things are not mutually exclusive?  Additionally, there’s no guarantee that the traditional hiring process always yields the best person, or even that there’s only one great candidate in the field. Besides, we weren’t hiring Dentists via Facebook, we were hiring marketers. Why not add a step that further tests candidates skills in areas that are critical to success at Fast Horse – persuasion, creativity, understanding of non-traditional marketing, initiative, etc.?  These sorts of tests happen all the time in other businesses.  Even college football  players are given tests that measure speed, strength and intelligence before they are drafted.   

And about that goal of creating buzz on how to find the best person? Guilty.  Buzz happens to be the business we’re in. We were delighted that the Strib and St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Daily wrote nice features and a few national ad and PR trade pubs also picked up the story.  Even our candidates were able to secure their own media coverage, as theysuccessfully pitched TV and radio stations in their hometowns trying to drum up votes.  Additionally, we went from about 300 facebook fans to around 2100 during the three weeks of the search, and spiked our website traffic by more than 25 percent during that period. 

Pathetic?  Weak?  Idiotic? Guess that depends on how you feel about marketing.  Illegitimate?

The 725 people who rallied behind Andrew Miller don’t think so. And neither do we.