We all have things we wish we did better. My love for tangents makes me a not-so-great storyteller. I also work way too hard, grinding away the hours, and my teeth, almost every day. I could really use an assistant, but hiring can be a pain. ‘5 years ago Brad’ would have killed for some of the opportunities that I sometimes find so overwhelming and time consuming today. People tend to suffer when they constantly strive to push the envelope. I know I’m not the only one. I have to take a step back, reassess, and remember: It’s not a ‘to-do’ list. It’s a ‘GET-to-do’ list. It helps me stay excited, open to opportunities, and keep things in perspective. I don’t HAVE to write an article about one of the best living authors, a man I respect. I GET to. With that very powerful reframe in mind, lets get right into it…
…Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. It’s the end of a four day hike to see what many people have traveled to see, but no two experience in the same way. Our bodies ached, tired and hungry, but we had made it. We had navigated this very difficult terrain, carrying our packs along the fascinating and challenging Inca Trail, culminating in the 50 Rocky-esque steps up to Intipunktu (The “Sun Gate” in Quechua, the language of the Inca Natives) to see one of the most breathtaking sights that exists on our pale blue dot, Maccu Picchu.
My hiking partner on this trip, Neil Strauss, the author of seven New York Times bestsellers, lives a lifestyle that demands the hard work of more than himself to keep him going, and sane. With so many projects and deadlines vying for his attention, he needs a special type of assistant. The ideal person can handle the workload with enthusiasm, but also think critically, making Neil’s life easier by allowing him to focus on the most important thing to him: the writing. Everything else is a distraction. In order to make sure Neil is getting the right person for the job, he has come up with a rigorous and extremely specific method to vet and weed out prospective applicants. He probably has just as much experience in this area as a hiring manager at any Fortune 500 company. Over the years he has honed his strategies using his expertise in “Game”, essentially the understanding of social dynamics at a masterful level, to create a team where every member is completely solid. I have met most of these team members, and I must say, I am consistently impressed.
For Neil Strauss, having a team he can rely on to complete tasks timely and correctly, working autonomously, allows him to travel, and do all the things that he loves to do: surfing, coaching, hosting a radio show as well as dinner parties, while still managing to get all of his writing done. In today’s exponentially increasing productivity nightmare, being a masterful leader and team builder is an enviable skillset. It’s damn near impossible to delegate high level tasks with confidence. Finding a competent person with an entrepreneurial mindset who doesn’t want to get paid six figures can be a challenge.
In the hiring process, Neil starts off with a small net, widening as necessary. If no one is available that fits the bill through his professional or personal network, he will begin to widen out. His first barrier to entry is the way that he structures his ad. “We list seemingly simple instructions, but they are rarely carried out to the letter.” he says. It can be something as innocuous as “reply with this subject line” or it could be a little more subtle, like an odd request in the text of the ad to make sure the proposed applicant is actually reading and not just skimming and shotgunning resumes. “Most of the time, a resume is useless”, says Neil. “Most employers will value the information they find on Google over what you put on your resume”, says one expert. You need something that differentiates you from other applicants. “Another tactic I use is to have people call an unmonitored Google Voice number and leave a message. I make sure they sound professional, are socially calibrated, speak clearly, and leave their number twice. They need to have the forethought to remember that a cell phone might cut out.”, says Strauss.
Some of Neil’s tests are a little more fun to administer, but achieve the same ends. “I’ll typically play a card game with the candidates if they make it to the end of the interview. SkittyKitts works well, because it requires people to be very strategic, in a new environment, in order to win. SkittyKitts travels with me, so I can play it with friends during downtime. We’ve played in Machu Picchu, Peru and even North Korea. It takes a couple games to learn, but then you’re hooked. My girlfriend gets really into it, very competitive. Often, after I’ve hired someone, I’ll find her distracting them with a SkittyKitts game.”
SkittyKitts was created by Strauss’ former employee at StyleLife, Jason “The Sneak” Schultz, and features a colorful enlightened space raccoon as its namesake. “I’m pleased that SkittyKitts is being played around the world, and under such unexpected circumstances”, says Schultz. The card game started on handwritten index cards, something unique he made up for a date. “She would get mad at me if I beat her, really frustrated.”, he says. Jason knew he was on to something when people he played with kept wanting to keep his homemade deck. Later, he went on to produce custom decks with new characters and artwork. They retail for $12 on the SkittyKitts website. Schultz hopes to release an app version of SkittyKitts in the near future.
Neil will further ratchet down the applicant pool by having them perform 3 tasks, where the onus is on the applicants response, research, timing, and reporting skills. “If they hammer me with emails, or frivolous questions, that’s a big red flag. Remember, I’m hiring them to take work off my plate, so if they add to my inbox unnecessarily, it’s not going to work out.” He makes the job sound harder than it actually is, to discourage slackers, but also to prepare prospective teammates for the inevitable times when they will get slammed with work and deadlines.
Neil will also adhere to a trial period before letting anyone get inside his inner circle. “I’m slow to hire, quick to fire. I usually know within the first week if someone will work out long term. If there’s any doubt, they’re gone.” Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are required, as well as a company cell phone. “The nature of my writing is very private. The people I write about, many of whom are in the public eye, need to be able to know I can keep a secret.” If someone leaves Neil’s organization, they are immediately cut off from access to information, including the cell phone they were issued and any logins or passwords.
With regards to applicants, it’s also important to know what their goals are, especially if they have a timeframe in mind. “Sometimes the traditional questions, like ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ are more helpful than you would think”, says Neil. “I’m not sure I want someone who wants to work for me indefinitely. I want them to have their own goals and aspirations. In fact, I become better friends with people after they work for me. I wouldn’t have hired them if I didn’t get along with them in the first place, but having the boss/employee dynamic end allows an equal relationship to develop and hopefully flourish.”
Brad Hart manages a private fund that invests based on technological trends, among other strategies. He lives in New York City.
Disclosure: Brad Hart is a member of the board of Idea Men, Inc, which produces SkittyKitts. His company owns a minority stake.