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August 30, 2013

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Harlequinn

Mary,

I have read this posting a few times, and wanted to submit a few items for you consideration. Please note that this is not a defense of people that I don't know - it is merely a different perspective on the available information.

1) The job application is unconventional to say the least. Sorting images of pencils, taking a best guess at who ranks where in terms of contacts - not exactly what one would anticipate when looking for gainful employment. However, if you take a look at the body of work produced by GSP, (and I admit that while I knew much of it, I had no idea that I knew much of it) the unconventional is pretty much what they do. The thing with being unconventional is that oftentimes, controversial is par for that particular course. Not only that, but its often the part that many people focus on, which is a shame because the firestorm of criticism that generally ensues ends up discouraging unconventional thinking and ostracizing unconventional thinkers. Can you image a world where everyone bowed to convention? What progress would be made? It takes courage, strength and, as was made repeated mention of in the ad, intestinal fortitude to be unconventional when the world at large would generally be happier if you weren't. It is my supposition that above everything else, the application website is geared towards identifying the unconventional candidates, as they would probably be the ones with the best chance of success at GSP.

2) Could the Kim Jong Un image and failure to change it be considered in poor taste? Possibly - but, in all fairness, I am very up on current events and I hadn't heard about the firing squad story until Saturday, which was two days after the wor4rich website went up. It could be argued that changing the image would change the conditions of the test, which would not necessarily have been fair to the people who took the test before any change was made.

3) It has long been held that any time a job seeker connects with a potential employer, the goal is to "sell themselves" into the job. When you interview for a job, you are letting the employer know why you are the best candidate for the job, that the decision to invest their time, energy and resources into retaining you and training you is the best decision they could possibly make. If that is true, I am not sure that there is a fundamental difference between selling yourself in that context and selling yourself to someone in front of an internet of your closest friends via Twitter. You stated cited the invisibility of the assistant, and that tweeting about one's boss or oneself is a breach of confidentiality, but in this case, a) Rich S. is not yet any of the candidates' boss, b)a lot of EA and AA positions are actively seeking candidates where knowledge and use of social media is highly desired because those they would be supporting want engagement on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and want someone trusted to handle that responsibility, c)I am not sure how being asked to tweet an "elevator pitch" is tantamount to asking someone to compromise one's privacy, unless you and I have differing views on what privacy consists of.

4) Like you, I have been reading the twitter feed, and like you, a few of the tweets have certainly given me pause, mostly because I found some of the choices people were making interesting to say the least. However, I can also tell you that I think there is a fair amount of sarcasm and oblique references to other sources (TV shows, movies, books, etc.) in the responses that people, perhaps in some cases yourself included, may not be catching. (There were two statements made in tweets from W4R that if they weren't obscure references to books that I happened to have read, I would be shocked). As to those who you say seem to think that being a good assistant requires being mean or a bitch - I don't disagree that that is far afield of what I and most of those in the profession have always tried to be. At the same time, I suspect that people who think that would probably think that being mean or a bitch is the hallmark of a good anything. I don't know if the responding tweets are reinforcing that idea as much as they are mocking it.

6) At the top of the article, you mention that you were provided with the link to the work4rich site. What wasn't clear to me was if you had a chance to see the accompanying craigslist ad, but you did indicate that you didn't finish the tests. I mention this because the CL ad provides a bit more insight into the sense of humour behind the assistant seeking campaign, and the end of the application, after the "elevator tweet" asks for a link to the applicant's webpage and/or linkedin profile. If you were not aware of this, know that the tests are not the only determining criteria for potential candidates - they look at the resumes, too. I felt I should bring this to your attention as it does provide additional and, I think, relevant, context.

If I did not make it clear, you have some valid points - or at least, I can see how you arrived at some of the points you've made. Maybe it's a little naive of me to opt to think that most times people don't mean for things that come off as awful to be awful. Everyone in advertising could all be horrible people as a rule, for all I know. But, I like to give the benefit of the doubt and take things as I find them. In this case, it seems that work4rich.com is a way of making the recruiting process less tedious for everyone, QED.

Mary Paynter Sherwin

Hi Harlequinn,

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Some answers to your questions, though I have to admit, I’m a little puzzled by a few. Yes, I looked at the craigslist ad; my headline directly refers to its lede. Yes, I know they look at résumés; I have a good working knowledge of HR law and general practice, and to not look at résumés would expose the firm to legal risks. From a legal perspective, the website is very well considered. I am also an ethical editor; no responsible critique could proceed without working knowledge of the entire application, and you don’t need to complete the tests to get to all of the stages of the application.

Yes, the way in which they are able to deduce certain skills is unique. I’ve got no problem with the unconventional nature of the application, if you actually believe it’s an application for a job and nothing more. The number of skills that they can deduce from the tests, like I said, is ingenious, and most people don’t have a working knowledge of what these things actually measure. Even if 99% of the visitors aren’t qualified candidates, the amount of data GSP can get from the application itself is staggering. That’s another article entirely.

I’m going to politely put aside your first point as I believe you’re greatly oversimplifying the complicated relationship between robust critique and unconventional thought, how all of it relates to advertising, and how that relates to the administrative work required of someone who supports an advertising community.

No, I don’t think people are awful just to be awful. I do believe that people often don’t think about what their actions say about them. However, I can assure you that the hundreds of people employed at GSP are smarter than most of us combined. They get paid to think four or five levels deeper than the rest of us about everything. They make lots and lots of money, for themselves and for their clients, by doing so. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by proceeding in my article as if GSP knows exactly what they’re doing (and then I’m ignoring one huge chunk of what they’re doing, but more on that in a bit). They are an unbelievably intelligent firm.

My VIP assessment stands, but please note that I didn’t say it was in poor taste, just that another option might have been better. Possibly someone less prone to polarizing an audience. You’re right about the change. It absolutely can't be done. From an HR perspective, changing the application after it’s launched skirts legal issues. From an advertising perspective, too many changes to the original launch make it ineligible for awards consideration. For whatever reason, they picked Kim Jong Un, and they’ve got to live with the repercussions. It's sad that they probably picked him because it was edgy.

Your note about making the recruiting process less tedious: I’m not seeing how a public outreach campaign with accompanying website and coverage in most of the major advertising outlets makes the process less tedious. HR still has to review and cull the résumés which is a time-consuming process by nature, and because of exposure, I doubt that the application is netting fewer résumés overall. But if by tedious, you strictly mean boring, then sure, it’s not boring. GSP is busy, and to think they’d lavish this kind of attention on the assistant of one of the partners is not only interesting, it’s also kinda sweet.

Except that it’s not.

There’s a very obvious branding component tied in with this. It’s clearly an integrated self-promotion marketing campaign. Which is the answer to another question, yes, I have also studied advertising and have a great love for it. The breadth of the tweets and their references (I’d be disappointed if they did otherwise because nothing in advertising works in a vacuum) is beside the point. The GSP employee running the feed showing his or her witty repartee doesn’t have a direct correlation to attracting good candidates. Also, you can be clever and not be mean, just like you can be controversial and not be cruel. Using a feed as a hatchet to slice through people who don’t “get it” is what saddens me. The sarcasm, the attitude, the tone, all of these things are cultivated. Because it’s an advertising campaign. But back to pretending that it’s about finding a candidate…

It doesn’t matter that Rich isn’t the candidate’s boss yet. What matters is the candidate’s attitude towards privacy and social media. If you have no problem publicly tweeting your pitch on their feed, then you have a certain attitude around visibility and exposure. You must have that attitude, or be willing to conform to it to get a job, in order to complete the test. It has nothing to do with gauging ability to use social media. But you are, by the very definition of the words, compromising your privacy when you Tweet publicly. You reach an agreement with GSP about who sees your words. If you Tweet on their feed, everyone sees it. If you’re ok with that, then you’re a better candidate than someone who isn’t ok with it and doesn’t Tweet to the feed. I tip my hat to the intelligence of the GSP staff for this bit, too: you technically aren’t a candidate until you give them your LinkedIn profile or résumé, which comes after the request to tweet, so any legal issues around the advertising nature of the application are avoided.

As for the marketing chestnut of “selling yourself”…I have no problem using digital media to find a job. But tweeting from your handle that you’re looking for a job is very different from direct-response tweeting to a company’s feed, and the risks for not understanding the implications (good and bad) of speaking on social media are very high. Because…

To think that this website is for actually finding candidates is, to use your word, naïve. That was the thing that I had to put aside in order to write the article. It’s why I said that the letter was about the tests and not about the application/website/press response as a whole. If you take it to task as an applicant test, as I did, then there are a lot of things that it indicates about how people deduce information about candidates and about how people broadcast their attitudes and opinions in subtle ways.

But, if people are paying attention, then the one thing GSP is broadcasting most clearly is that the entire thing is advertising, which is the only reason that I would consider for someone calling the darned thing genius. Advertisers frequently get called liars, but that’s a myopic and misinformed view of the industry. It’s just that the truths they tell aren’t always pretty. The application, the Craigslist ad, the Twitter feed, and every single tweet in it (including mine) are all advertising for GSP. It’ll probably win an award or two. If you’re on board with having your application for a job be completely subservient to a marketing campaign, that’s fine. Personally, I find it a little gross.

Best,
Mary

Sylvie

I'm with you, Mary

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