Specifically Vague

Google the words ‘hiring for cultural fit’ and you’ll be overwhelmed with results, about 1.18 million of them last time I checked. Recruiters and HR people talk about this stuff, a lot. I appreciate the desire to hire people who will ‘fit in around here’, and at the same time, the world of work needs its dissenting voices too, unless it is to become a whirlpool like hellhole of groupthink.

For cultural fit to have relevance, there needs to be clarity about the culture people are being hired to fit into. I stumbled upon this job vacancy yesterday, please take a minute to have a read through it…

“This is a great opportunity to partner with a demanding corporate audience of around 200 within an international head office environment. It’s a busy generalist role by nature, a key theme of it being the building of close relationships across a range of Directors and providing them with guidance and coaching through the full range of cyclical HR processes and in managing the subtleties of a range of performance and ER issues and any change agendas.

Candidates should possess really solid generalist HR experience developed within a sophisticated corporate environment where HR is used to partnering the business in an evolved HR model, ideally with exposure to matrix business structures. Above all you should possess the gravitas, maturity and resilience to work effectively with demanding senior business stakeholders, combined with a proactive and pragmatic approach that ensures effective, commercial on time delivery.”

Impressive huh? Demanding, international, close relationships, guidance, cyclical HR, change agendas, solid, sophisticated, matrix business structures, gravitas, maturity, resilience, demanding (again), proactive, pragmatic.

This job advert says everything and nothing. It is meaningfully meaningless, specifically vague, and people will be applying for this role. I posted the advert text onto Facebook yesterday, here are some of the excellent comments I received:

It means that once you accept the job they can make you do anything they want. It’s fuzzy logic.

It would read like the role is to dig the directors out of the hole they keep on digging…

1915. Please join us in the trenches. It is a complete clusterfuck over here. We require someone to run messages to and from the incompetents. You will need experience acting as a human shield and serving as cannon fodder.

And companies wonder why they have people issues when this is the best they can do.

I’m not a huge fan of wasting people’s time – yet I am tempted to craft an application for the role which reflects back all the specifically vague buzzword junk contained in the job advert. If I do – I will let you know the outcome. In the meantime, if you are fortunate to be involved in the hiring process, please, do better than this. Unless the cultural fit you are looking for is total befuddlement, in which case, pour yourself a fresh cup of gravitas and get proactively pragmatic.

Curiouser and Curiouser

I was fortunate to spend time with Year 6 pupils at St Thomas’ School in West London recently. The school were having an ‘Inspire Me’ week and through my membership of the excellent Inspiring The Future network I’d agreed to go a long and give a career talk. I enjoy volunteering through Inspiring The Future – as well as career talks, there are opportunities to spend time with school children helping them with CV and interview skills. Anyone in the world of work can register to join the scheme and I encourage you to take a look – I find it fulfilling, useful, enjoyable volunteer work.

Prior to my visit – I had invited the pupils to send me questions so that I could build a talk around their interests rather than make assumptions about what they might want to hear. On arrival at the school I was given a fantastic guided tour by some of the kids and then we spent time talking about careers. There were some great questions in the mix and I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

Who inspired you to achieve the career you have now?

Mum Joe Strummer


I talked about my Mum and how first and foremost she always encouraged me to be myself. I told the kids that I try hard to live up to that encouragement and I often don’t come up to scratch – and that’s OK, keep trying. I spoke about Joe Strummer ( #nerdalert – the school was located very close by to where The Clash came into existence) and his strong views on anti-racism and anti-ignorance. The kids didn’t know who he was – but they knew London Calling, the London 2012 legacy lives on.

Tell us 3 cool things about your job?

I picked art, travel and making a difference. We talked together about places we’d visited and would like to visit, artists we liked and didn’t like, and what making a difference feels like.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

I really enjoyed wrestling with this question. We talked about some differences between freelancing and being employed and I pulled together a short list of things which challenge me as a freelancer:

  • Finding interesting work
  • Getting fairly and promptly paid
  • Getting stuff to stick
  • Coping with loneliness

I wonder if you recognise and experience any of these yourself?

Would you encourage young people to do what you do?

Yes – if you are curious and if you can foster a genuine interest in other people.

There were loads more questions – and some lovely unexpected twists and turns too. At one point I passed round some of my art, including a piece titled ‘Sten Guns in Knightsbridge’.

Sten Guns in Knightsbridge

A discussion ensued about the colours in the flag, and other changes I’d made to the design, and the questions asked took us off in all kinds of unexpected directions. There was a real buzz of curiosity in the room – that was a lovely thing to experience.

A few days before this career talk, Carole and I had visited Keira’s school for parent’s evening, and the thing that stood out to us both among all the feedback we received, was how much the teachers appreciated and encouraged curiosity in Keira. I often experience a lack of curiosity in the world of work, which seems to be driven by assumptions that ‘someone else knows best’ and ‘it’s not safe to speak up around here’. A few weeks into one of the first jobs I had as an office junior, I was called into the MDs office and told that I was asking too many questions about things that weren’t my job, and that I was to stop and simply do as I was instructed. I left that job shortly after, and while I don’t recall experiencing such direct instructions to stop being curious since then, encouraging genuine curiosity is definitely something we continue to struggle with at work.

Curiouser and curiouser…


A Review of The Power of Compassion

Matthieu Ricard
The Power of Compassion – Change Yourself and The World

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, author, translator, and photographer. I recently enjoyed listening to him speak about compassion at The RSA. He has a lovely disarming nature about him and his ability to weave humour into serious subjects is rare. Here are a few thoughts and notes I scribbled at the time, outlining some of the conditions in which compassion can flourish, and some of what gets in the way. Subsequent additions to my notes are in italics. A link to a video (runtime just over an hour including introduction and Q&A) of the whole talk is also included at the end of this post. I’ve intentionally left this post quite loose, on reflection it felt more helpful to put my scribbles forward as an offer to ponder and discuss a few ideas, rather than a more tightly formed review of Matthieu Ricard’s talk. I hope you find a few useful threads to grab hold of.

The banality of goodness is overlooked. Banal – adjective. Mid 18th century (originally relating to feudal service in the sense ‘compulsory’, hence ‘common to all’): from French, from ban ‘a proclamation or call to arms’.

Compassion Challenges

We have enough for everyone’s needs, not for everyone’s greed.

We are currently enslaved to economy, why be rich and unhappy? We need to deal with poverty in the midst of plenty.

Emotionally we are simply not equipped to deal with long term concerns, Ricard suggests we find it hard to see, and think about events beyond our life time. Add into the mix the short term way politics currently operates, and you begin to see why it is hard to change.

Equality. Social justice. Education. We need all these, and we need consideration for others first.

Stable climate needed. Livestock methane emissions are a significant part of the problem.

A cow farts out approximately 100kg of methane each year *shocked face*. This is equivalent to around 2,300kg of CO2, about the same emitted by a car travelling 7,800 miles. All ruminants on the planet together emit the equivalent of around 2bn of CO2 equivalents each year, and the clearing of forests etc to create more grazing and farm land is currently responsible for an additional 2.8bn metric tons of CO2 per year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide (this is more than the whole transportation sector). Source.

Choose not to eat meat. I’m currently experimenting with a meat free diet, only a few days into this but so far no cow related cravings. Compassion not just for other humans, but for other species we co exist with too.

People don’t always want to lead…

A well known environmental conference offered a vegetarian meal option and the organisers were surprised when only 20% of guests chose it. The following year, the vegetarian choice was made the default option and 80% of guests stayed with it.

Environmental stuff in general – 20% of people see the environment as an issue and are actively engaged to limit climate change. 20% of people disagree that it’s an issue they can help solve, and 60% say they will act if/when others do. I don’t know where Matthieu Ricard sourced these figures from.

Cooperation is a source of joy. I just love this phrase.

Mindfulness needs care, a psychopath can be mindful, not caring.

Individuals recognising the need for change and taking action is good. Don’t worry that when an altruist meets a selfish person, selfish wins. When a group of altruists meet a group of selfish people, the group of altruists always win as the selfish ones inevitably turn on one other. Find your fellow altruists.

There is immense joy in practicing and noticing each moment. As someone who is 150 odd consecutive days into a meditation experiment, I’m starting to relate to this and yet I do so like to let my mind wander too. Ooh look, a squirrel!


Sorry about that – where was I…?

Compassion > any religion

Economics – it’s presented as analytical stuff yet it is practiced/done/responded to emotionally.

Trust is open minded caring.