My 7-year old son spent quite a bit of time last weekend watching the NFL Combine on TV. The NFL Combine is an invite-only skills competition where the best college football players who are entering the NFL draft are grouped together by position and run various drills in front of NFL scouts, coaches and managers. These players come from the top Division I programs and some even hold records for their schools or were on national championship teams. A solid combine performance virtually guarantees getting drafted, usually early.
Effectively, it is a week-long job interview, except it’s not behind closed doors, but rather in front of the nation on the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium. The stats on these guys are churned and crunched quicker than you can say “high jump” or “40-yard dash”.
With those numbers these players are analyzed. And criticized. The commentators were doing it. So were we. It was hard not to. But is it really fair to say that one player who ran the 40-yard dash wasn’t fast because his time was 2 hundredths of a second behind first place when all of these guys were running it well under 4 and a half seconds? It seems like an impossibly high standard. I’d like to see the NFL Network guys run the dash in that time or faster. I know I couldn’t.
At the end of the day all that speed might not matter. The fastest guy may not be the one with the most appeal. The coaches have different needs for the teams they represent although with all the camera shots up to Jason Garrett during the quarterback drills we all figured out pretty quickly the consensus is Dallas is in the market for a new QB. But maybe not. The teams picking early like the Cowboys may need strength and agility more than speed but there is no way of knowing. Above all, the new recruits have to fit into an existing team which is comprised of not only skills but personalities. A player may be a top performer at the combine based on the numbers but the only results that matter is if he gets signed or not.
Sounds like the job search, doesn’t it? We don’t call it a combine but it is actually the perfect word to describe what happens at an interview. After all the word combine means “the general of concept of bringing things together”.
The positions I have been interviewing for are highly competitive. There may be hundreds of applicants but maybe 5 are invited to interview. All of the candidates like me have MBAs, usually from top rated programs and years of experience. In my interviews, I also have to complete a barrage of drills, which includes everything from personality tests, tests to prove that I can blackline or mail merge documents in Word or run some pivot tables or nested if-then statements in Excel, or simply get grilled on a project on my resume from 10 years ago.
After everyone has been interviewed, typically what happens is there is another meeting between everyone involved in the interview process so hiring managers, executives who have the delegation of authority to sign off on a new hire, and human resources. They slice and they dice our responses. They talk about who had the best weakness. They also discuss whose strength was too strong. Then there is the most nebulous job requirement of all: fit. You could have nailed the elevator pitch and built the most elegant financial model but if the fit isn’t there, no offer for you.
The stress and the uncertainty are almost too much to bear. With those odds, it’s amazing anyone finds a job to call home.
But there is a silver lining, one that sustains me through countless rounds at countless companies, most of which don’t even give you the courtesy of a 5-second email to tell you that you weren’t good enough for them.
Let’s look back to last year’s NFL Combine since this year’s draft won’t happen for another eight weeks. I looked at the performance of the wide receivers in the 40-yard dash. I think we can all agree that wide receivers need speed and this position usually provides the best times for this drill. So, can you guess the amount of time separating the player with the top time from the three players who tied for the worst time?
It was 0.16 seconds. Yes, 16 hundredths of a second, less time than it takes you to blink your eyes was the amount of time separating those players the commentators were exalting as opposed to the ones who were seemingly doomed.
It didn’t matter. Those three players, all of them found NFL homes. Two weren’t drafted but so what, they still got signed. In other words, they all found jobs. They clearly have the talent and the 49ers, Seahawks, and Texans are lucky to have them. They all found homes, which is exactly as it should be.
It’s the same with the parade of candidates including myself. We have talent, we have training, we have experience. We will find jobs. We will find a new home. In that I place faith. It might take a few tries, but it will happen.
Which is exactly as it should be.
By the way, in case you were wondering, the wide receiver who finished first didn’t get drafted in the first round. He went in the fifth round, overall pick number 159. What was I saying about the fastest guy maybe not having the most appeal?
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