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The art and science of the interview

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Wired

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Wired

This isn’t about interviews.  It is about somebody who does interviews.  But it’s not about the interviews they do.  It’s about something else.

A good friend of mine is a high ranking public affairs officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.  She’s been there for more than 10 years.  She’s held numerous positions.  She’s excellent at her job.  Everybody knows and respects her work.

She’s a badass.

She told me recently that she applied for a job that she didn’t get.

“I think the job was “wired”.
“Wired?”
“Yeah, you know, when there’s a direct connection that you can’t see because it’s hidden behind a wall”.

Apparently, federal hiring managers often announce a vacancy but already have someone in mind.  So they skirt rules of the Office of Personnel Management by making the public notice of the vacancy very short (there are no federal regulations for how long a vacancy must be listed on USAJobs), tailoring the job requirements very tightly and then, interview applicants which, by design, are few.  Then, when the interviews close, they hire who they always intended.  They were never going to hire anyone else but they had to follow the process to make it look fair.

She says she gets it.  It’s a good ole’ boys network, and most of the hires are white men.  Even here in Portland, city government just today instituted a new policy that requires commissioners to interview at least one qualified minority candidate, female candidate and candidate with a disability for bureau director and other top positions. It seems the last seven hires were middle aged white men.

Bad optics.

So it’s not just a Federal tendency.  She says after the position closed, people pulled her aside to say it wasn’t about her.  They just wanted somebody they felt comfortable with, whatever that meant.

Of course, she didn’t know what really went on about her or her qualifications.  Apparently there was a split vote and a spirited discussion.  And for a moment, she thought she, a black woman, might break through.  But when a well informed friend used the word “wired” as part of the autopsy, she knew.  And she felt a little betrayed.

The EPA, like a lot of Federal agencies, is now required to see the world through what it calls a “diversity lens”.  New terminology for an old ideal.  When I worked for the feds, walls of my agency were blanketed with mission statements and policy letters that screamed its best self.  Now she’s come to believe that deep down, every organization secretly likes the taste of chaw.  She started humming the “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”.  We laughed about it.

Apparently, companies of all sorts are inconsiderate like this all the time.

Wired.  I’d never heard of such a thing.

If you have, tell me about it.

The Personal Lessons of HealthCare.gov

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US Map

I listen with sadness to the problems plaguing the Federal Government’s health exchange website rollout. I’ve been working on a website that is kind of a big deal to me since May, and I’ve been doing it alone. I can’t afford IT people. Besides, when I hired an IT person to build a different site, they gave me lousy artwork, pages that didn’t link and grammar that sounded like it came from the same people who made “I want cheezburger” famous.

The fewer people working on a project, the better, although alone isn’t ideal either. The progress is really slow. But the accountability is 100% and that can make it worth it. This problem with healthcare.gov reminds me of the British problems with the rollout of its health service website 5 years ago, the Medicare Part D portion of Bush’s prescription drug plan seven years ago, and most recently, the massive foul up associated with the reworking of the USAjobs website. Whew!

And, I’m seeing that being in a rush to make other people look bad only gives them ammunition that eventually makes you look bad. So, I don’t have a deadline for my website, but I am working diligently and consistently to finish it. With no deadline per se, I can go through the steps with everything I’ve learned and everything I already know.

And there are a lot of them. There are the design questions like, what do I want the site to look like, since for webpages, function follows form. And there are other, big sky questions – What do I want the site to do? Can I do it? Will it deliver the value I expect it to? Then, there are the technical questions. I’ve shared plenty of those – how to create a scroll follow box, how to deal with host site content limitations, how to create an image map, how to link drop down menu selections, how to overcome out of memory messages, etc.

And there are marketing questions – who should be contacted; newspapers? Think tanks? Political bloggers? Marketing basics say never use a shotgun to spread your message because you’ll tell a lot of people who don’t care. But the people who care, really care. So devoting the time to them is extremely important.  And that comes down to the grunt work of creating lists.

The saddest thing about the healthcare.gov debacle is somewhere along the way, somebody said they were bringing in the “A Team” to fix it, to which I wonder, so who did you start with?  No IT person wants to come in to clean up the mess of a lesser IT person.

My site will be the most complicated thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done it essentially by myself. And I will have some advantages over heathcare.gov; I’ll be able to test pieces of it independently and collectively because I don’t have to coordinate with other IT people or their schedules half a world away; I’ll get opinions on the content from people most interested in it – people whose opinions I trust; I can remove stuff, tweak stuff or add stuff. But the greatest luxury I have is time.

That being said, I think my site will be ready by Veteran’s Day.

Written by Interviewer

October 24, 2013 at 06:45