Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What Private Estates Can Learn From The Election

Stop demanding a ridiculous "7 to 10 years experience" with filling wine glasses, and instead ask for a story of how they treated guests and fellow staff when the wine didn't arrive in time to be put into those glasses in the first place. 

The Organizational Development geek that I am, waking up at 4AM on election day and checking the election results, my first thought was, this looks very familiar... I'm not sure why, but it just does. And then I went back to sleep.
Despite no experience, he knew how to connect
with his employer.  So they hired him.

I hope that no one is reading The Domestic Staff Citizen for political news and commentary, yet what struck me as most remarkable that morning was that the powers that be - the voting public, the employer of the President - chose to hire the candidate of least experience.

Regardless of which candidate any reader of this posting may have supported, there's a lesson here which is applicable and worthy of note, as relates to to both the Human Resources function of hiring staff, and the Organizational Development function of good Estate Managers.

Years ago, I was fortunate to experience working as a domestic staffing agent while operating my own agency.  Being on the "other side" of the desk was an enlightening experience, both from seeing the wide range of candidates and their own values which led them to seek domestic employment careers, and also from the perspective of the household owners who had just enlisted my services.  

More often than not, a candidate would create a foundation for their value - usually upon me asking that same tried-and-true first question which everyone seems to be asked, So, tell me a little about yourself, by focusing on how many years experience they'd been doing their particular domestic job, i.e., "I've been a Housekeeper for 14 years... a Chef for 6.... an Estate Manager for 8...."  

And I'd always cringe, just a little bit, when a candidate highlighted and then repeatedly focused on their number of years service, because I knew that it held much less weight in the selection process than some other factors. Yet, this was, and still is, rarely known by candidates, and the online job advertisements for domestic service positions which usually have as their #1 requirement:  "Must have 7-10 (or some other arbitrarily assigned number) years experience" isn't helping matters. So who can blame the candidate? I used to do the same myself; until I worked in staffing and understood that employers want to see what a candidate can actually do - for them - and how the candidate will solve their issues... not just someone elses', which is most likely someone else they do not know or can really relate to very much, other than having hired domestic staff in their home at some point in the past.

I'm no political pundit, but here's what I kept seeing before the election, as both candidates competing for the same job kept repeating to their potential employer:  One candidate kept pointing out the things he thought needed improvement, and he had some ideas about how they can be fixed. This candidate for the position openly admitted he had no experience in political roles, whatsoever. 

The other candidate didn't seem to connect as well with this potential employer - an employer who had been hinting for years that some things might be broken with the service that was being expected - yet this candidate did mention a few times that if anything was actually wrong with the service, she's had about 30 years experience with it. And 30 years experience is a whole lot more than zero years experience, so, where's the comparison, really?

The hired candidate certainly didn't have any experience, yet he connected with the employer's pain. The hired candidate didn't even seem to have much of a plan to solve most of the problems, yet, that candidate also knew that wasn't what the employer was even looking for. The hired candidate knew the employer was looking for someone who  would focus on their pain in their own environment - which is the reason any job exists, really - and not just on a candidate's resume of experience.

One of my favorite articles on the topic is:  4 Reasons Work Experience Is Overrated by Geoffrey James.  I've taken the liberty of reprinting his 4 reasons below, along with a brief summary of how this could apply to any domestic candidate search:


  1. Yesterday's "best practices" may be irrelevant.  Geoffrey points out that specific skills themselves are overrated. This is perhaps because specific skills can - let's be honest here - be leaned fairly quickly. Instead, Geoffrey advises, look for the person who can persevere in the face of extreme pressure. Get examples from the candidates, ones that the environment can actually relate to. Stop demanding a ridiculous "7 to 10 years experience" with filling wine glasses, and instead ask for a story of how they treated the guests and fellow staff members when the wine didn't arrive in time to be put into those glasses in the first place. That's a best practice that should be noticed, and one which no one can ever learn during an afternoon seminar, because it comes only from character, deep within. Not from "experience."
  2. Experience may be specific to company size.  You're the Household Manager and you prize your newly purchased Italian custom sized and colored linen sheets - and your star finalist Housekeeper candidate has just wowed you with having been making luxury beds for 14 years.  But was she a lone wolf the entire time? And, does she prefer being one? What will happen when she now has to work alongside four other Housekeepers, each with differing personalities and quirks? Will she still be the gracious, perfect bed making high performer her "experience" promises, or will she flip out every day and become the Household Manager's worst nightmare? And did she really make that bed prettier after 14 years, more so than after her first week on the job? Could someone who's only had three months of job experience.. yet has been given rave reviews by her supervisor, all of her co-workers, and every customer who has walked through her Starbuck's midtown Manhattan doorway, for being the most amazing team-player ever...and now would love the opportunity to support her kids better by earning $60K making beds instead of $24K making coffee...  be more valuable in such a setting than the above "experienced" Housekeeper candidate? 
  3. Experience may be specific to market position.  "Market position," we can analogize here, as best probably would be intended by the author, would be the culture of the household itself. Your Chef candidate may have just finished a 5 year tenure and is now dropping the name of Hollywood's hottest young rock star who lives in a 24/7 full on entertainment household, but will this party-intensive experience translate well into a country kitchen setting in Vermont, where the most famously notable person who drops by in the afternoon is the mailman? Can this candidate handle the peace and solitude which the principals, who could have lived anywhere in the world they chose, chose to live among the quiet rustle of the autumn trees?  In many cases, indeed yes, this candidate could be perfect, yet unfortunately, after seeing the resume, they may be discarded as being "over qualified with too  much experience."  Sadly, the experience thing often cuts candidates bad in more than just one direction. And also hurts employers, who often miss out on hiring some really good staff. So it may be a good option to stop gawking at the things that don't really matter, all the while assuming the candidate must be the best for you, if they were hired by Celebrity-X.  Articulate your own private household service pain, and then see if the candidate can relate to it in the first place... and even more important - if they take an interest in solving it. Or do they just keep talking about their experience?
  4. Experience can be bad experience.  Whether or not today's un-chosen Presidential candidate's 30 years of "experience" was "bad" or not could be argued for a very long time, but one thing is for certain:  the chosen Presidential candidate was adept at making that a huge issue - and the employer ultimately believed him. And then they awarded him the job. Personally, I myself have 1 year experience working as a Private Chef, and that sounds more impressive than someone with only 1 month of Private Chef experience. But the truth is, I truly sucked at it. During that 1 year, I discovered that I'm an okay cook, but I am far from being a real Chef. In an interview, however, I suppose I could play the "experience" card and show some pics of the few things that I know how to make, namedrop the person I was working for, and it would be all very impressive. But the truth is, it was bad experience, for a variety of reasons, and I hope I never have to count on my Chef "experience" to ever get a job... for both my own sake, and the sake of the employer.

Whether or not you agree with the recent POTUS hiring is up to you, and is certainly beyond the scope of this publication. But as in any Human Resource Management process, there are lessons to be learned, ones that we can all learn from - even in our own little humble domestic service industry.

And learning, well...  that is truly always some very good experience to have.


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