Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The top attribute in a new hire: keep calm and carry on.


How do you define a crisis? How do you respond to a crisis? Do you create them or tend to make them worse?

Those were the first questions that came to mind when my compadres with Soccer in the Streets (Twitter: @soccerstreets) posed the question, “When you hire new employees, what do you look for other than experience?”

After a decade in the public relations industry, and countless disappointments in junior new hires with PR or communications degrees, I’ve about given up on the skills element. Those are learned on the job, not in the classroom. Additionally, experience seems to be worth less because a lousy supervisor will put up with a great deal that a good supervisor will not. This can reinforce and exacerbate poor performance thus significantly devaluing a candidate’s experience line on his or her resume.

So what do I really want to know? How do you respond to a perceived crisis, and are you more likely to make it worse or better? Consider this:

Is your first reaction to a potential crisis (either via breaking news, a phone call, email from a client or partner, etc.), “Oh. My. Gawd!!!” Or is it something less reactionary? “Ummmmm, uh oh. This could be a problem.”

Who wouldn’t prefer a cool, non-reactionary, thoughtful reaction?

The truth is there are very few real crises in a given day, week, month, or year for that matter. My contention is that our reactions to perceived crises are more likely to create a crisis than the original situation. And given the immediacy with which we all demand information, benign situations can often spiral out of control quickly by an excitable, reactionary response.

High volume, reactionary responses raise the level of anxiety among the entire team especially in a form of open office environment, which causes the performance of all to suffer. Of equal import are the parties the “first responder” engages. Does the person carbon copy the entire agency or team (or worse, the client) on a forward or reply email unnecessarily consuming billable hours at high hourly pay rates as the branches of the correspondence multiply exponentially? Or do they calmly engage their immediate supervisor?

Really. With which would you prefer to work?

So, dear reader, my advice to you regarding new hires is find out how your candidates define and respond to crisis, either perceived or real. In most cases the skills required to do the job especially among junior candidates and new hires will be acquired by training the employer provides and on the job experience. But a generally calm demeanor and sound judgment in response to a perceived crisis may be the most valuable attribute a new hire can bring to any organization.

In the sagacious words of my friend and RedSky PR co-founder Jess Flynn, “Keep calm and carry on.”

Photo credit: RedSky PR

Pauly D.

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