Thursday, January 31, 2008

Changing just one mind

If you could change the mindset of only one person at your publication, who would it be? If you could get only one person to become part of the Web culture, who would it be?
Perhaps you'd say the managing editor. Or maybe the head of ad sales. Maybe you'd vote for the CEO or the editor-in-chief or the publisher.
But here's my suggestion: Change the mindset of your recruiter.

A few months ago I sat on a panel with two recruiters from mid-sized newspaper chains. They were both lovely people. But I think it's safe to say that they didn't share my beliefs about how to recruit or what to look for in a new hire.
One of them was asked "what would make you throw out a resume?" And she replied that she wouldn't hire anyone with a resume that said "multimedia reporter." She went on to say that she was looking for "newspaper people." But then, a few minutes later, she mentioned that the reporters at her chain were now being trained to carry video cameras.
The other woman, when asked about how she looks through applications, said she doesn't look at electronic resumes and won't follow links to Web stories, multimedia packages or other online examples of work. The reason? She said she didn't have the time, and preferred to look at things on paper.

In the world of B2B, I suspect that the folks that screen resumes for us have many of these same mindset problems. And it's not their fault. It's our fault.
At big companies, much of recruiting is done by people in human resources. And those folks are often experts in the world of HR. But how many of them are aware of the changes underway in media? How many of them understand the challenges of moving to online?
At smaller companies, editorial recruiting is often done by the existing staff. But how can we expect legacy editors to understand what to look for in the next generation of journalists. In some cases, the initial screening of resumes is done by administrative personnel. But if we haven't yet been able to get many of our senior editors to understand the Web, why would we expect our admins to grasp the nature of online journalism?

Pat Thornton recently posted a piece in which he complained about "ads looking for people who know PHP, MySQL, Ruby, Python, Django, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ajax, Flash, multimedia reporting, photo editing, video editing, Incredible Hulk strength, etc." Pat suggests, correctly, that the "the people hiring new media talent at many newspapers don’t have a clue about what they are looking for." So, according to Pat, recruiters are filling ads with a slew of Web terms and acronyms hoping that someone, somewhere will come in to fix everything.
But the problem that I see most often is worse -- people who don't have a clue about new media looking to hire new talent. They don't even know what Web terms and acronyms to look for in a resume.

But either way, the solution is the same. If you want to hire the right people with the right skills and the right mindset, then you must ensure that the person who does your recruiting knows online journalism.
Here are five steps to take:
1. Find out how applications are processed at your publication. Who writes the ads, screens the resumes, etc.
2. Meet with that person on an informal basis. Try to gauge what they do and don't understand about new media.
3. Invite them to meet with anyone on staff who has the skills you're trying to duplicate.
4. Invite them to attend the places where you talk about the future -- senior leadership meetings, editorial meetings, newsroom training sessions, etc.
5. Offer to help. If you know what your publication needs, ask if you can help screen resumes and interview applicants.

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  1. Great point about the importance of changing the recruiter's mind.

    As for advice, yours was definitely the most insightful and helpful at the conference.

  2. Thanks Greg.
    I'm glad you found my comments at that conference helpful In general I was very pleased with the students I met there. A good number of them -- including you -- seemed genuinely perplexed by some of the messages they were hearing from my print-centered collegues. And I view that as a good sign about the future of journalism.

  3. Well said, Paul. In this day and age, I'm amazed that a recruiter has such a narrow mind about multimedia and electronic resumes. Just from an environmental perspective, it would save some trees if people stopped requiring paper resumes and took scanned clips and PDF resumes.

    Contrast that attitude with the way many colleges do applications these days, where most everything is submitted electronically except the transcripts.

  4. Absolutely true ...

    I switched jobs about 1 1/2 years ago from one B2B publisher to another. The switch actually came because my current boss called me up to recruit me. The funny thing is I had electronically submitted my resume for the job six months earlier. This information had never been passed on to him or I would probably have joined the team months earlier.

    Why? Apparently, our HR department doesn't consider electronic resumes to be "serious" candidates. It makes me wonder how many other qualified editors aren't getting noticed because they're not "serious."

  5. I only submit resumes electronically these days. The whole point of my Web site,, is to be a digital resume.

    My Web site is far superior to any printed resume. It clearly demonstrates my skills and abilities as an online journalist. How can a piece of paper do that?

    If a company is unwilling to look at digital resumes, they'll never have a chance of hiring me. But that's there loss. I have no interest in working for such a backwards company.

    Newspapers need to make sure their HR departments are up to snuff. They can't have a bunch of technologically-challenged idiots making important hiring decisions. This whole conversation irritates the hell out of me.

  6. You make some great points. Our experience has been that recruiters are expensive, and they often times miss the boat of what you are looking for.