What a hard rock band can teach you about recruiting?

(Originally sent to all our subscribers via Edition 9 of our weekly smartletter.)

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In the 70s, American rock band Van Halen was once on tour. On arrival at the venue's dressing room, they suddenly began trashing the whole place, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. And what was the reason for this bad behaviour? Because they found a brown-coloured M&M in a bowl. They had an explicit line item in the contract that asked for M&Ms but forbade brown ones.

Rock stars, eh?

However, when you go behind the legend, you learn about a different side to the story.

During the 70s, touring bands like Van Halen were increasingly putting up complex performances, which needed the right logistical arrangements: electricity, stage setup, props, sound equipment. The result was a 'contract rider', consisting of pages of requirements for organisers. This was serious business, for artists and technicians had been known to die from electricity shocks and stage collapses.

From their experience, Van Halen also knew that some organisers were not going to be up to scratch and would skimp over the requirements. But how do you quickly find which ones could be trusted and which ones deserved their dressing rooms trashed (figuratively speaking!)?

Enter the M&M test

A clause was inserted in the terms asking for a bowl of M&Ms, but "absolutely no brown ones". When the band members would walk into an arena's dressing room, one look at the bowl served as a quick test as to whether the organisers had read and implemented the entire rider. If you saw brown M&Ms all over the place, it was time to get worried.

So here was a simple test for 'attention to detail' that came to our mind when we were designing recruitment forms. We work with a lot of freelancers who create content (for Choose To Thinq and Thinq2Win, our quizzing arm), host quizzes for Thinq2Win, etc. Since we are a 'remote working-first' organisation, the ability of our colleagues to work from anywhere using written guidelines is very important. We spend a lot of time devising the right kind of guidelines and checklists, but this is of no use if you don't have the mindset that pays attention to detail. 

So we designed self-service forms that applicants could fill out, testing them on various aspects of what the job would require of them. And among them, we've scattered the equivalent of Brown M&Ms: little tests that required attention to detail. 

If the applicant 'forgot' about removing the brown ones, we knew it was a 'tell" to keep in mind while judging the application. Almost always, the test turns out to be a 'sufficient' condition when it comes to their ability to stick to the details.

So while you go about recruiting 'rock stars', ensure they are the Van Halen-type rock stars who can genuinely uplevel your organisation. Make sure you are testing for traits like diligence as well. Else, you might just have Madness and Mayhem on your hands

Got any interesting recruitment hacks that tell you more about the person in front of you? We'd love to know.


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