Building a Talent Network: Thoughts

Building a Talent Network: Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the problem of finding good people, which for me is two-fold:

  • Finding people with the skills and experience
  • Finding people with the right “work chemistry”

I also have a soft spot for people who seek to empower themselves and find opportunities to learn. When I have the luxury of providing that experience, I’m very happy to do so. However, when I am responsible for delivering a product in exchange for money, I can get very grim with people about doing things the right way. This grimness is something I would like to avoid, but whenever you work with someone for the first time, you’re taking a chance on demonstrable skill, experience, and chemistry.

The working world’s benchmark tool for work compatibility between an applicant and a job position is the resume, and it’s a container for other “standard markers” such as:

  • the name(s) of skill(s) mastered
  • years of experience in a skill
  • the domain of application of that skill
  • the corporate / educational credentials amassed
  • specific achievements and associations with name recognition

An ideal talent network, from my perspective, would support both the educational/empowerment aspect (kind of like a school) and set concrete expectations for performance. Job search engines have adopted the standard markers above, which enables more efficient data mining to produce more statistically-likely candidates—not better candidates, mind you, but ones that might be what you’re looking for.

The problem with standard markers is that they don’t really say much about the person in the first place, and so the second stage of the job process—the interview—comes into play. You’ve made the first round of cuts, maybe you had another in, and now you have to say a few things about yourself. Then you may get a chance to talk with other team members, maybe take a few tests, work on a starter project, and if all goes well you’re a “fit” and you’re invited to join the company.

What I’d like to do is bring the interview process into the talent network building. The forums with its required background essay submission was the first step toward this, and though they’ve died down in activity recently (my fault for not being more active in posting and promoting). What I’ve learned from the rest of my life is that people respond much better to things they can see and experience directly; the closer you can get to that (and there are so many ways), the quicker people can make an informed decision.

Rather than standardize on markers like “flash actionscript”, “java”, and “web development”, I’m thinking of using portfolio pieces as the main organizing principle. And because I’m interested in passion and an ability to think and communicate, this is what I think would be in my portfolio:

  • One example of a significant snippet of code — showing how I approach programming, and what I consider excellent. Actual source code, with estimated time to do it.

  • One example of graphic design — showing my design process, and how I approach a design problem by example. This would be an actual Illustrator file, with the estimated time taken to create it.

  • One example of photoshop screen design — demonstrating what I think is important in pixelwork, color, and organization for myself. This would be an actual Photoshop document.

  • One example of animation — demonstrating how I like to think about motion, sound synch, staging, and timing. This would have to be a Flash source document, and possibly some of the source media.

  • One example of writing — something I’ve written that I particularly liked for whatever reason. This can probably be the writing itself.

  • Each piece would have an brief illustrated essay or video download that explains what’s important to me.

I want to work with people who value thoughtful process and can make their own decisions whether my process jibes with theirs. By creating a set of concrete artifacts that can be inspected in some detail by someone competent in the field, I’d hope to bypass the hit-or-miss resume-scanning stage. I think that this approach could scale to a network. There are some other advantages:

  • By requiring network members to provide examples of their approach, it becomes possible to browse the artifacts themselves and find compatible approaches.

  • Skill level is pretty obvious when you can look at the source files and ask questions about them. There is some opportunity to game things here by supplying “ideal” versions of your work, but I think the honor system and self-policing might work.

  • For people who are at an earlier stage of development, the source files with the illustrated essay/video provides an educational opportunity, and it makes our expectations clear on the individual level. Find the person who impresses you the most, and become a student of their process. The network becomes a resource in itself.

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p>In essence, this is a kind of merit-based system, except the standard of merit is based on individual preferences. By providing concrete examples of work, we provide reference points through which those preferences can be expressed as a selection.

So that’s the core idea: show-and-tell talent networking by freelancers, for freelancers. I will likely make a page somewhere on my site with my own samples there to see how ot works out, though I’m not sure I’ll get to it before SXSW. I also don’t think all freelancers will find this approach very compelling or useful, but on the other hand they probably aren’t the people I’d want to work with anyway :-) I guess I’ll see what happens!