[The Job Interview] Sonia & the Senators

Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

The purpose of any job interview should be to answer one and perhaps two questions;

1) Does this person have the talent (background, experience, skills, abilities) to be successful at our firm / company / organization / department for role for which they’re interviewing, and,

2) Does the person likely have the qualifications for positions for which they might be considered later?

Companies and other organizations that are highly inclusive take the first tact and ask just the narrow limits of the first question (think “our job in assessing and selection is how many people can we find who are or might be qualified”) and firms that are exclusive (think “our role in interviewing and assessing is to eliminate the many people who are not unqualified to find the very few who might be qualified”) look at the two questions and take those questions to their broad limit.

In practice, something like the US Armed Forces and many a non-profit fall in the former camp: their quest is to qualify any many people as possible who can serve or help them. It’s a big tent approach founded on a big tent challenge of finding as much – not as little – talent as they can find. In these types of situations the assessment and selection processes are less burdensome, not more becasue more burden tends to eliminate rather than include people. That’s not, by the way, to say the processes lack rigor – many organizations that are talent hungry and inclusive have few but very solid steps – it’s just that it’s not smart to add impediments to selecting folks in if it’s not necessary.

Selection to the Supreme Court is a great example of the latter (exclude the many who might be unqualified) since there is not just the standard of judicial competence but the added layer of politics, values, and “rightness” to inject into the process. Since the nominee of any President is suspect by the party not sitting in the White House as “slanted” to the values and political orientation of the President and “against” the party out of the White House, the interviewing and assessment process becomes one not just of vetting the candidate, but can become for the opposition party a process of figuring out how to disqualify the candidate.

As you listen or watch the Sonia Sotomayor hearing it is fascinating to watch the underlying assessment dynamic:

  1. Not unlike exclusive organizations – Barclays Global Investors, where I’ve worked, comes to mind – the interviewing and assessment by the Senate Republicns takes the form of finding the areas of credential weakness or suspicion. Rather than identifying areas of competence, a job that falls to the sponsoring Democrats, Republican senator after senator has drilled out the areas where Judge Sotomayor’s qualifications for future positions – in this case judicial positions  and decisions – are suspect, out of step with America, or otherwise makes her unqualified.
  2. Like any interviewing process, even in exclusive organizations, there is some danger is excluding in a manner which does damage to the organization. Not that many years ago, when the San Francisco  Olympic Club excluded people of color and women for membership, it managed to get enough folks angry about its exclusionary practices that certain rights – such as doing business with the City of San Francisco provided services – got yanked. The danger in the way that Sotomayor get’s questioned is that it will backfire: the sight of many white males with southern accents questioning a female of Latina heritage with impeccable judicial qualifications (no comment here about values or temperment – just the plain fact as Lindsey Graham has noted that she has great technical background.)
  3. The line in the sand to toe for exclusionary organizations is to avoid alienating people as you work through your selection process. It’s not only a challenge for Republican Senators in the Sotomayor hearings, but also a challenge for any number of organizations such as non-profit boards, and social organizations. A rule of thumb for just about any selection process  – particularly if you’re going to exclude someone – is be thoughtful and be kind. Badgering behavior of the kind that seems to be going on in the Sotomayor hearings will be read as bullying, and do the selectors no favors.

To be continued.

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