Rock Your Superheroes - a recap of Big Digital Adelaide

by Reeva Cutting, @ReevaCutting 

“How many of you list your superpowers on your resume?”

This was the first question posed by Sisarina founder Melanie Spring during her opening keynote presentation at Big Digital Adelaide.

The keynote was focused on finding employees who best suit your business culture.

Melanie began by showing a video about a personal assistant you could ‘buy’ in the style of a home shopping channel advert. The audience became even more engaged when Melanie revealed the clever piece was an actual job application she had received when recruiting for her own personal assistant. 

Traditional hiring techniques are usually set by HR – Melanie advocates throwing these standard tactics away and doing something different.

As an employer it’s your job to find superheroes, with the right superpowers to help you keep growing. And don’t hire people who have the same superpowers as people already in your team – you never see a team of superheroes with the same superpower – everyone needs to be awesome at something different!”

Melanie claims she gets more done in a weekend than most people do in a week, and judging by the energy she exudes on stage, I’m convinced this is actually true.

Her first recommendation is to start the hiring process by writing a list of all the things you want in your ideal candidate, even the things you shouldn’t write (remember, you don’t need to show EVERYTHING to HR!). Hiring is a bit like dating, think of your ideal candidate and what you want and need from them, then go out there and find it.

Hiring is a two-way street

Don’t forget you also need to make a list of all the awesome things about working for your company so you can sell your job to potential applicants.

Perhaps the thing that most challenged those in the Big Digital Adelaide audience was the revelation that Melanie doesn’t ask for resumes when she recruits – in fact she asks candidates NOT to send resumes. Instead, she asks them to answer 4 key questions:

  1. How do you fit the job?
  2. How do you fit the company?
  3. What do you bring to the office?
  4. What’s your superpower?

Candidates need to answer these 4 questions in their initial application – that is it. Out of 60 applications, guess how many people sent resumes? 48. Yes, that’s 48 people who didn’t even read the application, and 48 resumes that never got read. If people can’t follow simple instructions, why would you want to hire them?

After that little eye-opener came the Superhero examples, as Melanie shared some of the more inventive applications she received. This included the video from the very start of her presentation, as well as an application designed to look like a Yelp business page (but for a person) and a video application made using PowToon (despite the applicant never having made one before).

When it came down to making a final decision, Melanie wanted to see if the remaining candidates had the ability to process map. But rather than ask the question, she asked each of them to show her how they would teach someone to chew a piece of gum. All the way through to disposing of the gum.

Seeing the results of this process mapping exercise, Melanie then took the final two applicants for a walk to the Capitol Building (she lives in Washington DC) and along the way asked them questions. The kind of questions they just wouldn’t have a chance to prepare an answer for – so on-the-spot answers were required.

“Today you quit your job – how long have you been with me, what have you learned and where are you going?” These candidates hadn’t even got the job yet and were having to explain why they would be leaving it. Melanie then insisted they take a selfie with her and the strangest thing happened – they started telling her things they wouldn’t normally say in an interview. They were open and honest, and so excited about the role she ended up hiring both applicants, although for different positions.

Melanie believes our hiring system is broken. I tend to agree, although things are changing, albeit slowly. In response to this “brokenness” Melanie issued a challenge to us as employers. We need to make people excited about coming to work.

As the audience began to digest this challenge, Melanie raised 5 key points.

Work Is Love Made Visible

Culture is more than casual Friday – employees need to be who they are when they come to work and be able to show it. Branding is a feeling and everyone in the team needs to feel it. It even needs to be present in your emails, phone calls, everything. Your brand is built on what everyone is saying about you and only 20% of what is said about you is online – that means 80% of what people are saying is offline. One of the best things you can do is talk to your staff – ask them how they feel and where they think they/the company are going.

Homework: Conduct a staff survey – find out how they feel and decide if you want this as the main feeling they have.

There Is No Box

Melanie asked the audience – if your brand was human who would it sound like? Some of the suggestions from the audience were Don Draper (because he knows what he wants), William Shatner (because it was right for their target market) and Russell Coight (for an Australian camping store).

When you come up with a list, you need to list all the awesome reasons to work for you, not just write a generic job description. You need to flip everything upside down and sell the job to applicants. Millennials are not looking for a job, they want to be sold the job. Annoying but true.

Homework: Rewrite your job postings.

Dream Bigger

Almost everyone has been asked this question in an interview – what’s your greatest weakness? This does not give you any helpful answers. Employers need real, helpful answers. Ask candidates questions they don’t have answers for because they have to make them up on the spot. Ask questions before they even walk in the door – Melanie has been using her 4 questions for over 7 years and they work.

Homework: Update your hiring process. Decide what your branded way of doing things is so when new employees start they know what is expected of them and that they are a good fit.

Wear Your Awesome

Melanie posed the question “What’s your superpower?” We had some amusing answers like “I laugh at my own jokes” but also some great ones – persistence, resilience and left-field thinking.

You need to hire people to fit the superpowers you don’t have. People who say “That’s not my job” are the people to avoid when hiring. Who wants someone like that on their team? I’ll tell you now – not me. Melanie hired her two assistants without even knowing whether they had a college education – because sometimes those details just aren’t important. Millennials are not going to sit in a job for a watch and a pen after 10 or 20 years. They want to find a company they love and you need to make them stay with you forever.

Homework: Find your awesome and wear it.

Inspire Happy

One of Melanie’s clients was the Marriott chain of hotels. She discovered their offices were called ‘the beige maze’ – because you get lost in it and it’s so boring – a complete contrast to the stylish hotels. She got employees to play the inside out game – they all sat at tables and each person had to say who they are, what they do, where they go and what they look like. Each of them had to be quiet and once the person was done, they would have to respond with “You make me feel…” and “When I met you I…”. It’s a completely scary prospect but people embraced it and discovered new things about their colleagues (some learning what colleagues’ names were after having seen them on a daily basis for 8 years!).

Employers need to find people who are TGIM (Thank God It’s Monday) and not just TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday). You want people in your business who walk in on Monday with the same excitement they felt on Friday. You also need to be excited to come to work on Monday because if you aren’t excited to come to work, your team won’t be either.

Make sure people can rock the week. Make sure your process is branded. Make sure you are inspiring people because every feeling you have, you pass on to everyone around you.

Homework: Play the inside out game (you can download it for free).

Melanie finished her Keynote with a question: “What will you do on Monday?” The Aussie sense of fun being always present, the question was met by a chorus of “it’s a public holiday!” Never daunted, Melanie quickly amended the challenge. “What will you do on Tuesday?”. Answers from the audience included ‘find my awesome and then put it on and make sure it fits’, ‘test my superpowers’, ‘get excited…because I’m going to create something new’.

Melanie Spring recently launched a podcast called Adventures In Branding and she invited attendees to email her or connect with her and let her know what their superpower is.

This opening keynote was utterly inspiring for anyone who has, or will ever have to go through the hiring process. You can find all the slides here.


Originally posted on Big Digital Adelaide by Reeva Cutting