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GE: What a disappointment

“I’d rather pick out the stuff between my toes and lick it off a Q-tip than go and work in that place.” That was the enraged response from Jane when she went for a job interview. Jane (not her real name) used to work for me as a researcher when I was writing my first book, THE NAKED TRUTH so I know her work. She’s smart, diligent, reliable and observant and I trust her response.

“I’d rather pick out the stuff between my toes and lick it off a Q-tip than go and work in that place.” That was the enraged response from Jane when she went for a job interview. Jane (not her real name) used to work for me as a researcher when I was writing my first book, THE NAKED TRUTH so I know her work. She’s smart, diligent, reliable and observant and I trust her response.

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The company she was talking about? GE. Yes, the much-awarded, self-congratulatory GE. Being a researcher, she’d done her homework and approached with high hopes. It sounded like such a good fit: a commitment to training, to leadership, even (since Jack Welch) to diversity. But the reality was different.

At no point did anyone interviewing Jane address her by her name. Nor did they give much impression of having read her resume – which was a shame because there’s a lot of standout stuff in it that should have provoked an interesting conversation. Working in China for a year might at least have sparked one question. Instead, her interviewers described the job to her without at any point outlining what kind of career path it entailed. The lack of energy and interest was such, said Jane, that after only an hour she felt more depressed than she’d ever felt about work.

What I think is so interesting about Jane’s experience is that it is pretty common. Leadership knows there’s a big war for talent on — but the word hasn’t trickled down. Nobody seriously believes that entry-level positions lead anywhere and so they don’t train interviewers or ask the best people to conduct interviews. Recruiters don’t really understand that they are in sales. The company hype that sounds so good at conferences rarely reaches deep down into the organizations.

I happen to think that GE missed a great candidate when they depressed Jane. But I also think that she learned a great lesson. Yes there are companies that are putting huge effort into making themselves look progressive and forward-looking. But the acid test is not how avidly they recruit VPs but how much energy they put into finding raw talent. It’s the grassroots stuff that counts. Had Jane been wrong, she asked me, to react so strongly? Absolutely not. If just being in a company fills you with despair, get out before its too late. Those instincts tell you everything. And the hype? It tells you nothing at all.

Margaret Heffernan
margaret@mheffernan.com

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