Saturday, November 24, 2012

Interviews are not dating and why you shouldn't break up

I recently went through an interview process ending in not getting the job. I'm still convinced I could do it, and do it well, but it's not up to me. Fair enough. The recruiter at this company was one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to work with. His process was much more efficient and personal than I have ever experienced. This is not a light compliment since I've been in the consulting business for almost a decade and have been to more interviews than most will do in a lifetime. So why this blog post? This interviewer recently posted a question on twitter, paraphrased as: (I paraphrase to keep his identity anonymous)

"You are going to be rejected for the job, do you prefer email or phone to receive the bad news?"

This question got me thinking, as the only part of the interview process with him that I thought was not fantastic was the let-down. His question received a number of replies. Some preferred phone and others email. Some said either, as long as it's a timely response. I have my own preferences, but it seems this is a very personal thing.  What caught my attention was that many of the replies equated the interview let-down to a breakup after dating.

Interviews and dating may have a lot in common, you are both looking for the right fit, first impressions are critical, and it can get awkward when one party is more interested than other. But I think parting ways should be very different for dating vs interviews. While there are some feelings of desire at play durring the interview process, they are nowhere near the same as when dating. I am sure there are a few crazy stories out there, but I would argue that more than 99% of interviews ending in a rejection are handled in a reasonably professional way. The applicant either stops contact with the company or hopefully sends a thank you note/email. I think the number of applicants who show up at the company's doorstep drunk and crying at 2AM three days later is quite small. ;) 

So what does this mean for the recruiter? I think that the current approach of letting the applicant down gently and generically is an unnecessary and harmful protection mechanism. The recruiter is concerned about the 2AM drunk crier, and so uses the equivalent of 'It's not you, it's me, I need some time' etc. Like dating, the relationship ends and both parties move on. But at what cost? What about those few (and rare) couples who manage to break up and stay friends? They retain a lot of value from the relationship. I would argue that this value can be retained in a recruiter-applicant relationship much more frequently. And there is a lot of value to retain here, as the chances are high the applicant will end up working for a partner/client/competitor. So what is needed to 'stay friends'? A well handled let-down is the start. 

A generic email to the applicant saying something like "We really like you but have chosen to go forward with another candidate" is just lame. Be honest. Most of us applicants are big girls and boys and can take the truth. Tell us what part of the job you think we can't do or just don't have enough experience for. Or tell us that you just don't see the fit in the company. We may disagree but that's short term. Yes, you may have to deal with an extra email stating our case, but so what? Maybe you will change your mind. And if not, so be it. It may seem safer and easier to use a white lie, but realize that it's not that hard to see if you really did hire a new candidate. (LinkedIn Insights, Job posting still open on your corp. site) The applicant knowing they were lied to can't have a positive effect.

Show the applicant some respect and you will keep an open channel. You may even want to connect on LinkedIn and keep in touch. There was energy invested by both parties, don't just throw that away. Don't destroy the trust and respect you created during the interview process.

If you are a recruiter I would challenge you to try being more open and honest with your rejections. Try it out with a few applicants where you think it might not create stress or conflict. I would bet that you start making some valuable connections and perhaps even a few new friends.

Update: I actually received the above mentioned response and assumed it was a lie, as the job role was still open on the company's website for some time. So I challenged the recruiter and while he did say it was an easy out, it was actually not a lie as they hired someone but were looking for one more. Goes to show, don't assume anything. I thought I learned that lesson a long time ago.... My apologies to that particular recruiter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Country doesn't always imply language

This is for anyone who runs a web site (or provides web based content) that serves a multilingual audience. Having said that, it is especially for big US firms that run into the language problem well after being established and profitable.

Multi-language support in software can be a real pain. I've experienced this myself, it's no fun building it in and can cause lots of bugs. But it's not what I want to talk about today. The technical part of it can be solved, however annoying and costly.

I want to discuss the bad assumptions made by many companies that offer multilingual websites. There is a known 'truth' that everyone in the US speaks and wants to be spoken to in English. That is because the official language in the US is English. Based on this truth, many companies extrapolate the following algorithm:
  1. Determine user's location
  2. Find official language(s) of said location
  3. Present web site (or app content) in said language (or a choice if multiple official languages exist)
This is not a bad algorithm if the 'truth' presented above was actually true. The reality is not so clear cut however. The real 'truth' is that while a majority of users in the US do indeed prefer English, there are plenty of users who want to see US content in a language different from English. Extrapolating form this means that there are many people in the majority of the world's countries who prefer to communicate in a language other than the country's official language. So the algorithm should be more akin to:
  1. Try really hard to recognize user from past, and determine their language of choice. Only if you can't then:
  2. Determine user's location
  3. Find top preferred language(s) of said location
  4. Present web site (or app content) in said language(s)
  5. Offer a means to switch language to any language you already support
This way you are not tying the location the user finds themselves in with the language that you speak to them.

A few examples that inspire this article:

Apple - My iTunes shop is exclusively in Dutch although you darn well know I speak English. You simply hard code language to location. Also, switching the date format should not switch the name of days. I want to use the Dutch date format (so I don't always have to transpose day and month) but I still want to see Tuesday on my phone, not Dinsdag. The rest of my phone is in English, so why?

Google - I can be signed into my Google profile and yet still be presented with stuff in Dutch. Yes I live in the Netherlands, but I've told you many times I speak English. Happens all the time, but usually fixable after some poking around or refreshing stuff. Was really challenging when I was in Asia and had no idea what the heck any of the settings were. A great example is the preview of this blog post. Why does it say 'Voorbeeld'? I'm signed in and you know I prefer English.

My very favourite language challenge albeit not the same problem as I describe so far is Google maps. Guys, I know it's cool and globally fair to label the maps in their native language, but if I decide to visit Tokyo, you can bet your butt I will be using Bing maps because Google maps makes me illiterate for all practical purposes. Who is the consumer of this product? Is there a single human being that reads all the world's languages?

Language is very personal and intimate. It is an essential part of our personalities, our families and our culture. It reaches much deeper than features, colours, design or any other part of your communication with us. Use this to your advantage. We are mobile and many of us live in countries where our first language is considered a foreign language. By remembering how we want to communicate helps you create a much more intimate relationship. By forcing us to speak a language we don't understand because of faulty assumptions quickly alienates us and breaks this intimacy.

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela

Monday, November 12, 2012

Small suggestion to improve Search Results

Over the last few years the ability to effectively search web shops such as Amazon for a specific item has improved tremendously. We’ve seen the addition of metadata, filtering on preferred brand, price range and whatever other bit of information can be thought of. We’ve had search pages make suggestions to us like a real person; “You like that?! Well hang on to your hat cause you’ll love this!” 

All of which is awesome to make informed decisions, but people are very visually oriented. It’s much easier to choose between different products if you see them in front of you, than it is to choose between different technical specification sheets.

There is a reason why physical stores have items on display, and not just a bunch of post-it notes with descriptions of the products they sell. 

Lets say I want to buy a computer mouse. I’ll have some cool things I can filter on; price range, does it need to be wireless, how many buttons should it have. After doing that I will still have hundreds if not thousands of options to choose from:

Eleven something thousand in this particular case. That’s a lot of scrolling and clicking next until I find the right one. All of the results qualify according to the metadata filters I placed, so how do I determine the right mouse for me? I look at the pictures. If I like the look of one, I’ll look at the details. It’s like window-shopping only more tedious because there are hundreds of pages to search through.

Why not give users the option to display only the images? preferably as many as will fit on my screen and still give me the option to filter on metadata

Simple idea, simple to make, great improvement on the find-ability of products. 

Mobile browser limitation and fix suggestion

A limitation that I ran into when working on was adding pictures to an event posting using a mobile browser. I have an iPhone and found it very disappointing that I cannot upload a photo into a mobile website. For this I would need an app. Here is my proposal how to solve this problem; all I need is to get the mobile browser manufacturers to hear me out.

Part 1: “Share bookmarks”

A site can include a special link that allows mobile devices to know how to share various assets such as picutres with that site. So in the example we want to create a special link to create a new event, with picture. The link would look something like:

<a href="/CreateEvent" data-sharesender="image" data-shareid="eventpic">
Add a 'Share to fivetonow' bookmark to your mobile phone

The key part of this link is the data-sharesender attribute. This attribute would signal the mobile device that the user wants to register this site as a valid destination for their photo sharing. The same way I can share an image with the facebook or twitter app on my phone today, this link would cause my phone to register the /CreateEvent path of the given site as a valid place to send photos.

Part 2 “Receiver locations”

Once my phone understands that there is a special url I want to share photos with, that url needs to handle these photos. This means we need a standard way of processing an image being uploaded to such a special url. This is actually quite easy as long as we can agree on a standard. :)
The page can contain an input element like so

<input type="file" name="whatever" 
data-shareid="eventpic ">

Now the mobile browser would know that it needs to add the file path to the input field when it opens that page. It uses the data-shareid attribute to find the correct input field and writes the file path into it. This way the access to the filesystem on the mobile device is still limited but the user is able to submit pictures to websites. A regular browser works as intended since it just ignores the data- attributes.

This can be extended with different types of share bookmarks like sound and video. It would be easy to use, flexible and still safe as the phone decides what files can and cannot be shared.

Now if only I can get Apple to listen to me…..