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You don’t know, what you don’t know. Hold that phrase in mind as I explain why one of the worst job listings I’ve ever seen was so terrible.  

The company, while not a traditional startup, had a founder—who built the company from the beginning into something that is certainly impressive. A lot of growing pains typically result from one person breathing life into a company. The skills and approach that allowed the founder to build, often complemented by delusional confidence and dumb luck, rarely scale with the organization

The Peter principle is the idea that employees are frequently promoted to a level of functional incompetence, where they can no longer be promoted. The skills and habits that served someone well in a previous job usually don’t allow someone to continue progressing. For founders, success is effectively promoting themselves, sometimes from the leader of a one-person company to having hundreds of employees. 

As an organization grows, coping mechanisms suddenly become less effective, up to the point of unfeasible. A founder can go from being able to do the jobs of every employee, to those of any employee and eventually must have employees with skillsets they are not qualified to evaluate. Being able to lead via direction with clear goal setting goes from a useful skill to one that makes or breaks the organization. 

The job listing I saw was for a CMO of a growing beauty brand. The job listing gave me pause, and not in a good way. The first major eyebrow raising line is, “you will be asked to complete PROCTORED assessments in the following areas: business math, writing, Excel, behavioral and cognitive.” Excuse me; What? 

It’s a CMO job. Asking for proctored math, writing, and Excel tests, along with an IQ test, is insane. I read that line as saying that this company’s leadership don’t know how to assess the skills needed for the role and are unaware of that knowledge gap. But an Excel test for a C-level marketing job wasn’t even the biggest red flag.

The biggest red flag to me was, “During the interview process if you are shortlisted, you will be asked to present a top-line one-year strategic plan. This project is designed to illuminate your deep understanding of the [brand] and your ability to identify high-growth opportunities.”

Building out a “one-year strategic plan” presentation for executives requires an absurd amount of research. Properly conducting market research, evaluating historical efforts, and interviewing the organizations’ stakeholders would require between 90-120 hours. The way the description is written implies company leadership is looking for candidates who agree with their preconceptions of “high-growth opportunities”. I could say more, but building a one-year marketing plan is not an interview question; it’s the first few months of the job.

You don’t know, what you don’t know. I assume that the person who wrote this job description has no idea that their ask is a request for many hours of highly skilled work. The huge portions of the job listing reading like someone stringing marketing-related words they heard on TikTok reinforce my opinion.

When someone doesn’t know what they don’t know, the human tendency is to develop proxies to evaluate. These proxies often sound rational to someone with knowledge gaps and borderline erratic to folks who better understand the subject area.

Many are the conversations with clients and prospective clients who wish to use online-only advertising to reach a younger demographic. The facts that youth see ads on TV, radio, and OOH, and that octogenarians see ads on Facebook don’t matter because, for the speaker, the internet is a proxy for youth.

Based on this job listing, I believe that the founder and CEO of the company, has scaled way past their functional capacity to manage but also is super protective of the baby (company) they started. So they are trying to find the best babysitter. The problem is the search tactics that will drive away almost anyone who is a good choice to watch the baby and anyone with a way of thinking that differs from the founder’s.

Founders who scale themselves to successfully helm a company as it grows well past the startup are rare. Even the notable exceptions may well now be the downfall of their companies. For an example, look at Mark Zuckerberg’s pursuit of the metaverse.

Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash