I’m always interested in great ways of finding great people. Most interesting problems in life come down to talent acquisition at some level or another. Here’s a random late-night thought on a potentially good way to do it. I haven’t tested this in practice, so if you want to give it a go, please report back the results! The idea is that this would be a written pre-screen… in-person discussion is obviously the most important element, but generally some kind of pre-screening is necessary. Okay:
“Applications suck. They almost always involve a careful series of half-truths (if you’re honest; outright lies if you’re not) designed to put a positive spin on who you are. From my vantage point, I’m actually very uninterested in hearing a positive spin. Although the quality of the spin job you are able to do does tell me certain things about your writing ability and resourcefulness, it really doesn’t have all that much to do with the qualities needed to build a long-term relationship that works out well for both of us. The fact of the matter is, most people have excellent qualities and are also total disasters, and ability to hide how much of a total disaster you actually are is not very correlated with long-term success. So rather than hearing spin, I would much rather have genuine communication, and genuine communication is predicated on honesty and vulnerability.
It would be a very sadistic thing to ask you to write an unbiased, strictly accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as unbiased and accurate; even a third party observer would have a hard time doing that. What would end up happening is a careful process of calculating exactly how honest you can be without ruining your chances of getting the opportunity, which would be like a standard application but even more vile because of the inherent hypocrisy. So rather than asking that, let’s use hyperbole to make this whole thing easier. Please answer the following two questions: a) convince me, using honest expression of your experiences, that you are a complete, total disaster and absolutely worthless; b) convince me, likewise, that you are basically God’s gift to mankind and the greatest thing not only since sliced bread but since the notion of slicing things itself. Scoring is very simple: to get this opportunity, both essays need to be convincing: ie, I want someone with both the highest highs and the lowest lows, not someone in the middle.
In return, you can grill me when we meet in person about all the reasons this is the worst opportunity ever (and all the reasons that it is the best). Thanks — please don’t spend too much time on this, have a life instead!”