Dummy spit

I read a great comment in the business press this week: “In work places all over Australia there will be much demand for moving mountains.”

How on earth are we going to create miracles if business does not have “the right people on the bus”.

I have had to make some tough decisions recently, questioning if the person heading our IT function is the right person for the next five years. He has been with us for some time, working diligently, but the role has become increasingly complex and he had lost confidence in himself in his ability to deliver. I had to act.

No leader likes making these tough decisions. To support the greater whole some individuals just are not going to make the journey and it is time to set them free. While I have set him “free” I then start to determine who will be the person to take this area to another level all together. (We have big plans.)

So we go to market: We have more than 100 applicants for the role in only a few days. The CVs of these candidates are impressive.

We have a rigorous recruitment program. But the one question that I have above all is “Can I work with this person – and will they fit in” (their values).

Rather than dragging people in for an interview at the first instance I sent a “passionate” email to those people whose CVs had risen to the top of the pile. This is a senior role and many of the candidates appear to be looking for a sea change to work in a dynamic business. (A lot were from banking and finance.)

Here’s the email I sent personally.

Hi X,

Thanks so much for sending through your details and CV. [More details on the role]

We have a fantastic team of highly focused people – who are accustomed to using the latest that technology has to offer, from blogs to CRM, IM to telephony. RedBallooner productivity is paramount. Our philosophy has always been how can we do more with less… (people that is) – we would rather invent a system or adapt a technology that takes away the things that people ‘loath about their job’… This is why we win innovation awards.

I want to know if you’re the person for the job?

This role is to continue to deliver on the vision… We have a very clear direction of where we are going. Attached is a painted picture document that I wrote a year ago… You will see that technology is seen as the answer to much of what our vision is – which is to ‘change gifting in Australia forever’.

I’ve had a look at your CV and I think some of your experience at xxx and xxxx might be really great… But we just have to find the right fit for the role. Our values are really important to us. We think our values have been a big contributor to our success.

This role is all about turning vision into reality… And as such could be quite hands on… we are a small team with a very big vision. And the seasonality of our business combined with our brand reputation means that this appointment is critical to the next stage of our development. I ask you ‘are you the guy who can take the vision, work on how it can be delivered and then begin to find technologies that we did not know even existed to get us where we need to be?’ Have you ever worked with the founder, entrepreneur before? Do you really understand the commercial realities of return on time invested? Are you a risk taker?

I simply have so many questions which I would like you to answer before moving to the next stage. Please come back to me with some specific examples of your experience in the following:

– Do you have specific small business experience and understand the challenges of fast growth business? When, how?
– Can you turn strategy into reality – how hands-on are you currently?
– What experience do you have in ‘keeping the shop open 24/7′ with high volume ecommerce and understanding of seasonality and peak load periods?
– Have you designed, managed, monitored, maintained hosting architectures?
– Have you ever worked on a refactoring project – keeping the shop open all the time – working on modular progressions to new technologies including re-skilling teams?
– Development team productivity – we have a great team, who else do we need to add and when? When have you grown a team and how have you managed their deliverables?
– What procedures have you put in place to ensure database integrity, load testing and application testing environments?

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest, then we will have a great place to start the conversation.



Needless to say, a long email required long answers from candidates- and it takes effort. Now many of the applicants are very busy people, doing big roles in big corporations. Do you think it is unreasonable to ask such questions prior to interview?

If you are the final successful candidate you don’t mind what effort you put in to getting the role – but what about the others?

After interviewing one of the candidates who did take the time to complete the above questions, but I was surprised to get this email response after we informed him that he had been unsuccessful.


Dear Naomi

My feedback, for what it’s worth…

The process (particularly asking me to provide detailed written responses before an “initial” interview) and some of the comments during the interview, were inappropriate and unsettling.


Now as you know I pride myself on how people experience our brand. I was really rattled by this email. I picked up the phone to speak to him, but have not had my call returned.

I see recruitment as a journey – not just about the interview, it is about finding out before you “get married” if this person is a likely fit.

In the interview I intentionally set out to discover if this candidate could work in a fast paced, sometimes chaotic, non-conventional work place. Not one word I said in the interview was unintentional… and I achieved my objective because I managed to get through all the “gloss”.

There was more to his email about the speed to which we had responded that he was an unsuccessful candidate.

Tensions are rising; the economy is not. I have a fabulous team and if I have learnt something it is “hire slow”… and make sure if you want to move mountains you have the right team to do it.

Do you think I ask too much of candidates? What is your best practice for finding gold?

PS; we have several fine candidates that I believe are also enjoying the process of getting to know us too. (This is a two way street.)


Naomi is the 2008 National Telstra Women’s Business Award winner for Innovation. Naomi was also a finalist for the Australian HR Awards and a finalist for the BRW Most Admired Business Owner Award in 2008. Also in 2008 RedBalloon achieved a 97% Hewitt employee engagement score.

One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a professional speaker inspiring middle to high-level leaders on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. Naomi writes a blog and has written a book sharing the lessons from her first five years. click here .

To read more Naomi Simson blogs,





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