Date: November 30th 1965

Location: Cape Canaveral

Setting: Interview


“Hello Mr. Armstrong.  You have a phenomenal resume; I am thrilled to meet you”.

“Yes sir, I understand you are looking for somebody to beat the Russians to the moon.  Look no further, I am a soldier, an experienced test pilot, and I am ready for any adventure.  There is nobody more qualified than I am for this job”.

“Thanks Mr. Armstrong – we will get back to you soon”.

Thought bubble: “I think this fellow is a really good candidate, but he does not have the experience we are looking for – he has never been to the moon!!”

Text of rejection letter: “Dear Mr. Armstrong. Thanks for interviewing for the moon job.  Our team was very impressed with your background.  Unfortunately, you are not a perfect fit for the exacting requirements that need to be met to guarantee success of the mission.  We have narrowed our search down to three candidates, two of whom have lived on the moon for the last eight months.  Thanks again and the best of luck in your future career”.


If you really have to ask, “what is the point?” you are part of the problem. But here is some overall societal context.

In the United States of today, many of us are hard at work to perfect the defensive aspect of our game.  What do I mean by that? Our behavior is more and more dictated by defending what we have, rather striving for what could be. In the long run, that attitude is self-defeating and will surely result not only in not achieving what we could but in fact losing what we already have.

I found this defensive stance particularly widespread in the ranks of the middle and upper echelons of corporate America whose behavior is very much impacted by the fear of losing that prized slot near or at the top of the corporate pyramid (it is not a ladder!), a hard-fought position that has been generating personal wealth, year after year, after year. But because of its obvious value to many contenders just one rung below, that position seems to always be in danger – we are but one misstep (or one reorganization) away from being let go and losing the our precious golden-egg-laying goose.  The possibility of that happening is all too real; we have witnessed it many times.   Our response?  Play defense – don’t go against the grain, do not stick your neck out, and by all means do not take risks unless they are shared (in writing?) by your team, your boss, and your boss’s boss.

Clearly, one of the features of this timid (decidedly un-American) subculture is what I call “defensive hiring”.  This is not necessarily new.  When I first started as a computer programmer in the 80s, managers and Human Resource professionals, rather than focus on talent, drive, and personality, always looked for a perfect fit in particular technologies, oblivious to the fact that a couple of years down the road those technologies might well be out of date.  If you can check all the boxes, you can’t be blamed if the new hire does not work out.  After all, you have proof he was a perfect match!

This focus on technical expertise to the exclusion of all other criteria is rather faulty overall, but outright idiotic when it comes to hiring senior managers and executives.  I have read literally hundreds of job descriptions for those levels.  They are rife with phrases like “must have seven years of XYZ technology” which made me want to punch a hole in the wall with my bare fist.  Seven years, not five or six?  How does that address the key traits required of a successful leader, intellect, humility, integrity, focus, and the ability to motivate staff in pursuit of a common goal?

Our country is where it is today because our past has been shaped by dreamers and risk takers, by folks who had the ability to organize and motivate people.  We need to have more folks like those in positions of leadership rather than the politicians of all kinds that have grabbed much of the power at all levels of society.  And it starts with, to quote Jim Collins, “getting the RIGHT people on the bus”.


1 Comment

  1. Jack, I love this piece. Sometimes for a laugh I will check the Positions Available ads. They’re so heavy with jargon and technical mumbo jumbo that I have no idea what they’re talking about. And the minefield is so thick (“7 years experience”) that they can reject you without ever meeting you, as you note. Several people who have landed good jobs in the last couple of years have told me that they pass-passed the ads and the online applications, and simply walked in and asked to see the personnel manager. They got their jobs on the basis of an old fashioned face-to-face. They’re happy and the company is happy.

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