Almost Effortless

Like a warm knife through butter.

That’s what it feels like when you’re doing what you do best. The process comes so naturally that you hardly think about it. It’s like breathing, only more fun.

Being dropped into a new project is scary for some. As a business analyst with significant scar tissue, I love it.

The initial overwhelm is normal. Exhilarating even. I’ve learned to embrace it and trust the process of discovery and assimilation that has become second nature. I slake my curiosity with new information. There are new relationships to mine — both human and digital.

Armed with patience and a quiver of questions, chaos becomes order. Wishlists get prioritized. Vague narrative tightens. Chaff is removed, revealing an MVP of wheat. Within days, makers can begin building. What was an jumble of mental wood is now neat stacks of like-sized lumber. With clarity comes the power to plan. Dreams becomes artist sketches of what will be. Activity becomes production.

A product is born.


Image credit: Carey Tilden (Butter) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Is Recruiting Ruining Your Brand?

Companies that spend millions on marketing and branding may be unaware that their reputation can be tarnished by the recruiting department. I certainly feel differently about certain brands after interacting with their talent acquisition staff during my recent job search.

Does it matter that a mere candidate and not a potential customer thinks poorly of your brand? In an age where everyone is connected and a single Tweet or Blog post can go viral in a matter of hours, yes, I think it does. Candidates also become employees of other companies and share their experience with people who might be prospects of the brand in question.

A little context…

I have 33 years of experience in my custom software craft. For 15 of those, I ran my own consultancy and have never been out of work. Recently, a merger-related division closure put me in the hunt for a new team to serve.

My job search lasted five months. Here’s a summary of my activity:

  • 182 applications (not including unsolicited emails)
  • 15 LinkedIn connection requests
  • 6 Phone interviews (not recruiter chats)
  • 4 Face-to-face interviews

On the whole, I am appalled at how widely recruiting behavior varies. Often these people (or external firms) are representing household names — national or international brands.

Here are some of my expectations and how they were (or were not) met…


They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So here are a few things to get right up front:

 Job Title. Make it match the actual job description. A number of cut-and-paste errors had the title mismatched with the body of the requisition.

Skills. List what you actually need, not every bullet from the most formal definition of that job ever written. The laundry list of skills and experience in most job descriptions is hilarious. They include everything but the cape, tights, and mask. And don’t be insulting. If you’re looking for a Scrum Master, don’t list “Lead daily stand-up meeting” as a required activities. You’ll sound like a copy-and-paste drone.

Formatting. Use some white space, people! Bold headings, bullets and proper line breaks actually make these things readable. No one wants to stare down a giant blob of text. Remember that candidates judge your company based on what we see.


OK, so I survived reading your job description. What happens when I hit the Apply button?

Those of you using the Taleo product for data capture — just stop it. This is horrible software. It’s ironic that this gets applied in the ‘talent acquisition’ world. The only excuse I can find for using it is to discourage people from applying. I have refused to apply for some jobs simply because they use this tool. Seriously. The easy-apply processes of Dice and Indeed are far superior.

Those of you who dodged the Taleo bullet may still have a problem with redundancy. If you’re going to let me upload a Resume document, don’t turn around in the next step and make me fill out a blank-by-blank list of my job experience. What’s the point? You know you’re just going to read the resume. That extra work (which is often annoying because of the tool you use) just adds aggravation and says that you don’t care about me from the very start of our relationship.


Communicate. Send a response when the position has been filled or I have been eliminated from the process. Only about 1 in 10 of you do this. It’s not just professional, it’s humane. A closed door is not always a disappointment. Sometimes it’s a relief. It narrows my choices and focuses me better on the next conversation.


Fix your interview process. Here are a couple of examples of just how bad it gets…


A major corporation with a huge legacy and a worldwide footprint scheduled me for a phone screen.

The call went well and I was brought in for a face-to-face interview. That also went well. My follow-up was immediate and positive. Then… nothing. Weeks went by and I followed up again. The response: “I didn’t know that no one had contacted you.”

I found out two months later that the person in charge of filling a whole group of positions like mine had been promoted — and no one picked up the work they were doing. The company simply let those plates hit the floor. One of them was me.


I was scheduled to interview with a global consulting firm. The prep email included serious over-coaching. I was reminded not to smoke, eat, or chew gum on the phone! The first interview was postponed 2 minutes before it was to start. Apparently the interviewers didn’t bother to tell the scheduler that they need an hour instead of 30 minutes.

After waiting the extra day, I was told at the beginning of the phone screen that it would likely be ‘cut short’ because they were tired and it was a sunny day in California. I laughed off my disappointment, and we began. Sure enough, 25 minutes into the interview, I heard an actual alarm go off. I felt like I was on the Gong Show.

I can’t even imagine making such a thoughtless remark to someone whose income depends on a conversation we are about to have. Recruiters will say things to candidates that they would not dream of saying to customers.

Light in the Darkness

Where do these recruiters come from? Have they ever read a book about customer service or building relationships? Is anyone paying attention to the work of Tony Hsieh (Delivering Happiness)? Ken Blanchard (Raving Fans)?  At a minimum, they should have to attend a Dale Carnegie course so they stop treating people like cattle.

Though many of the recruiters I ran into seem raised by wolves, there are notable exceptions. The truth is, I wrote this article for them…

One bright and shining star is Wendy Kemp of Brickhouse Resources. She is an absolute delight to talk to. In fact, she is so friendly and thoughtful, I’d come change her flat tire if she asked me to.

Also high on my wonderfulness scale are Lauren and Heather of The Intersect Group. They are very professional, communicate often, and are thoughtful in their approach.

My final nod goes to the good people at 3Ci. Everyone I met there was stellar, including my handler Iulia. They have a friendly and very thorough intake process that helps ensure a good fit for both client and candidate.

To the rest of you — especially the laggards who can only muster one-liner emails like ‘Expected Rate?’ — good luck. You’ll need it because you’re going to get run off the road by the excellent firms I mentioned above. They will get the best talent, they’ll do it faster and with long-lasting brand reputation results.


A Tale of Two Stories


Both of the following are legitimate Agile User Stories. They are very different because they would be consumed by very different types of teams. The overriding principle is know your audience and write for them.

Story 1 is appropriate for a US-based start-up team. They have a good relationship with a co-located Product Owner who can spend time with them as needed to answer questions, give guidance on design, and provide feedback on mock-ups or prototypes. This is generally considered an ideal environment for an Agile development team. Because the team has a UX designer on board and a strong lead developer, they do not want the User Stories to be prescriptive in nature. In this environment the Agile BA must give stories a light touch, but provide enough clarity to allow for estimation and prioritization.

Story 2 is for an offshore team that does all the coding but works through a BA or design lead based in the US. The team understands English pretty well and the company does not want the overhead of formal functional specifications. The developers are used to working in a short turnaround loop with a remote liaison. The cross-cultural challenge as well as the remote location and time-shifted work require more detail in the story to prevent confusion, provide consistent naming and UI, and to lower the delay caused by many back-and-forth questions.


Internal sales staff receive new leads through a form submitted on the company website. The leads arrive by email and the staff must relay the leads to the appropriate salesperson based on the geography of the prospect. An internal sales portal is being built/configured to allow in-house staff to enter the raw information from sales leads. The system will then route the lead to the right sales rep based on geographic mapping. The user must also be able to work from a list of printed lead information.


“Enter New Sales Lead”


As a sales user, I want to send a new sales lead to the appropriate regional sales rep so that the rep can quickly contact the prospect.

Acceptance Tests

  1. When I enter all required contact information, then the system saves and routes the lead.
  2. When I omit any required field, then the system informs me about the missing information without losing any of the data I have already entered.
  3. When I successfully enter and save a new lead, the system displays a success message containing the name and email of the last lead entered.


As a sales user, I want to enter personal information about a new sales prospect and save* it to the sales lead database so that the appropriate regional sales rep can quickly contact the prospect.

Required Fields:

  • First Name (20 characters)
  • Last Name (20 characters)
  • Email Address (validate format as user@domainName.tld)
  • Phone Number [formatted as (NNN) NNN-NNNN after entry]
  • City (30 characters; minimum of 3 characters)
  • State (drop-down list of US States, showing abbreviation and name, sorted alphabetically by Abbreviation, display format: AA – XXXXXXXX; Data source:
  • Zip Code (10 characters; minimum of 5 characters)

Acceptance Tests:

  1. When I enter all required contact information, then the system saves* the record.
  2. When I omit any required field, then the system informs me about the missing information without losing any of the data I have already entered into the fields on the screen.
  3. When I successfully enter and save a new lead, the system displays a success message containing the name and email of the last lead entered.
  4. When a new lead is saved, the entry screen is cleared and reset, ready for a new lead to be entered.


* You’ll note that the language of the second story and related tests has been made more limited. My experience with offshore teams suggests that requirements should be narrowed to prevent unwanted work. Whereas the co-located team would likely spin off a new “Route Sales Lead” story, a remote team that earns money by the hour might choose, without asking, to make the ‘routing’ part of the original story. You can argue that the original story be treated as an Epic and automatically split into smaller bites, but that is beyond the scope of this small article.