One of the oldest sayings in the business world is “Why is it so hard to find good help these days?” To me that’s pretty funny for two reasons.
First, because “these days” doesn’t need to be included. And second, it’s the person looking who is usually creating the problem, even though the quote implies it’s the poor quality of help that is at issue.
© Flickr User Andreas Klinke Johannsen
You probably have heard “it’s hard to find good help these days” countless times in your life. I didn’t have to spend much time to locate the phrase in a 1989 issue of the newsletter of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, which means it goes back at least 30 years. Surely it couldn’t have been hard to find good help this entire time. So why are people saying it?
With regard to the implication, that statement is talking about the quality of talent in the world. If it was asking “why is it so hard to find good books/flowers/locksmiths/bagels these days” it would be easier to refute. Most of us can step up and say we know a great resource for one of those categories.
So why do be people believe “it’s so hard to find good help” and why do they add “these days?” Because people responsible for hiring have vague and unreasonable expectations based on a misguided view of themselves.
That’s a big accusation, so let’s break it down.
We Want To Hire People Who Are Awesome, Like We Are
If you’re hiring, you’d like to find someone at least as great as you are. Certainly as educated and as hardworking, as smart and as emotionally well-balanced. But it turns out that we aren’t really as great as we think we are because of a psychological effect called illusory superiority. When surveyed, most people think they are above average, which is obviously impossible.
When We Hire, We Are Vague
This is “bring me a rock” management and it does not work well.
When We Hire, We Are Unreasonable
Although companies hire employees, they don’t start out by thinking of people. They start out by thinking about a bunch of problems they have. They may put these on a written list, but mostly they panic about what they can’t get to. Because almost no one tries to hire someone well before they need them. They get way behind and then think about looking for someone new to join the team.
That’s why job descriptions are ridiculous, either with an insane variety of duties or ridiculously vague. It’s why “other duties as assigned” is sometimes the biggest part of the job.
It’s Not Hard To Find Good Help. It’s Hard to Define “Good.”
The basic aspects of professionalism are not in short supply. Most people are able to show up to work on time. Most people are able to get things done. Most people have a reasonably positive attitude.
The reason it’s hard to find good help is because we do a terrible job of specifying what we want. Most jobs require more than just professionalism. They require special skills.
If you’re looking to hire, get specific. And if you’re looking to be hired, try to get the details of what problems people are really trying to solve.