One of the great presentations at Montreal Barcamp was from Jonathan Karpfen who recounted a great story about auditioning for his job at Airborne Entertainement with Andy Nulman. Jonathan spoke about how he sent fake Fedex packages with funny video’s as well as having his friends sent letters to Andy promoting Jonathan as a great candidate for the job.
My friend Andy Nulman, knows something about auditioning talent. He spent 15 years as the CEO of the Just for Laughs Festival, is the author of two books (including a collection of great behind the scenes stories from the comedy industry “I Almost Killed George Burns“) and the co-founder of Montreal based Airborne Entertainement. Airborne is one of Canada’s fastest growing technology companies. I had the pleasure of working with a lot of the Airborne team during my time as an Internet executive at Total.Net and I know what kind of a great team he and Garner have created there.
Andy also maintains a great blog on the value of surprise.
I decided to sit down with Andy to discuss hiring great talent and finding team members who have personality & passion.
I’ve heard some unique stories about your interviewing process – can you tell me a bit about your approach?
My approach is simple—coming to me for a job is indeed like auditioning for a role in a play; it’s just that this play can be the world’s longest, lasting for years…sort of like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in England. Just like the theatrical setting, you will be playing a specific role at Airborne, interacting with others, sometimes starring, sometimes supporting. I can usually tell within 30 seconds if the person is right for the company; the rest of the interview is being polite. If they’re right for the company, they will find their place, even if they’re not right for the specific job they may be interviewing for.
You write on your blog about creativity, surprise and humor – how do you go about identifying these traits in the people you work with?
It’s somewhat intuitive; I watch how they react to Airborne’s setting and spirit, how they react to my office, how they react to me. I also dispose of the usual interviewing technique and watch how they react to an unconventional setting. I also check up on them a lot before they even get here. Google has been a Godsend, but these days, two quick phone calls and you can track down a fairly intimate friend of just about anyone.
Do some candidates react badly to being asked to show off their creativity prior to working for you?
Sure, but how else am I going to gauge it? From a resume? From a CV? From something they may have done five years ago that took them six months to do? To be able to react rapidly to an obtuse challenge is a skill all digital talent need these days. All I’m asking is that they show me that instead of some standard, boring document. Or if they have a standard document, at least make sure it’s not boring. I once had a woman who was appalled—totally aghast—that I would even dare ask her to do something as simple as “Go home and send me something that shows you truly want to work here.” She said “Like what?” I replied “I don’t know. It’s up to you.” She said with a sneer “You mean, you want me to work for nothing?” It took a ton of discipline for me not to say “Well, that would be at least twice as much as what you’re worth.”
How do people find the idea of auditioning for a job? – Given your background in the entertainment industry do you think there are similarities between auditioning talent for a gala event and hiring someone to join your company?
There are similarities, some of which I outlined above. But the thing about Just For Laughs is that after a night, after a week, these people were out of your lives. At Airborne, it’s more like a marriage—till death do us part…namely until you want to kill me or I want to kill you. It’s much tougher to project your employees into the future. I always say, though, “Give me the heart and the head will follow.” I hire on future, not on past. In showbiz, in many cases, your past carries much more weight. Talent is talent, whether on the stage or in the boardroom. In fact, I learned that from Tom Peters; employees are not “workers,” they’re corporate talent.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to find a job where they can show their passion?
First off, show your passion. If it turns off the place you’re applying to, well, it ain’t going to get any better if you do get the job. Again, it’s like a marriage—go in wildly and with lust. Don’t go looking for love in a graveyard.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs trying to only hire passionate & creative people?
Open yourself up to them. You don’t have to be HoHo The Clown and wacky; you just have to let these special people know that their particular quirks will be tolerated and they will be allowed to bloom. This is where the world’s worst bait-and-switch crimes are committed; “Oh yeah, we’re open and creative” and two weeks later you find yourself in Abu Graib. No offense to the ordinary folks out there, but creative people are different, and must be treated that way. But the reward…ahh, the reward. Well worth it. For both parties.
Airborne is currently hiring - so if you have passion and are looking to join a great team - check them out.
On a personal note, this summer when hiring for my new startup I was surprised at how difficult it was to cut through the noise of job boards, resumes and job databases to find passionate and capable team members.
When we asked Sebastien to join our team it was after a number of afternoons in the office where he auditioned with the team and we did a few practice rounds to see how he would fit in. We couldn’t be happier with the results.
So if your next employer asks you to audition for your job - will you be ready?
Update: Check out Andy’s follow up posting with a hilarious story of another candidates audition.