Proactive Dynamic Synergy
April 9, 2011 4:47 AM   Subscribe

I have to come up with a 250 word answer the following HR recruitment question: "What can X-company do to make sure it can operate effectively in a fast paced changing environment?" What do you think they want me to say? Are there certain "buzzwords" I should be using?
posted by moorooka to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's too vague to answer effectively without at least knowing the industry they're in etc. What other info can you give us?
posted by Jubey at 4:52 AM on April 9, 2011

My guess is they're looking to see how you think (and what you think about) when it comes to business strategy. Bonus points, I would think, for concrete suggestions that make some degree of sense in the specific industry you're in. If you're new to the industry, time to do some research. If you're applying for a C-level position, these ideas had probably better be really, really good; if you're applying for an entry-level job, they should at least show an ability to grasp the problems facing the industry.

My guess is it would be better, in 250 words, to put some meat on the bones of 1-3 good ideas, rather than offer 125 two-word examples of things they should be doing.

Just an off-the-cuff example for my industry (one of my industries, anyway):

Web Dev Co. should ensure that all of its developers are at a high level of training and awareness in the area of best practices. Security and rapidly-changing web standards and browser releases are just two areas where formal training trumps a seat-of-the-pants approach to web design -- an edge that WDC needs to compete against low-cost developers and to make the case that their prospective clients can't afford to risk their reputation by entrusting a web development project to the low bidder.

Hardly an original idea, and if I were actually sending it somewhere I'd do more polishing, but that's the direction I'd be thinking...
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:24 AM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, too vague. But avoid buzzwords at all costs. Craft your answer in plain English, clear and concise.
posted by pwally at 5:25 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's basically engineering and infrastructure consultancy, does work with public and private sector
posted by moorooka at 5:29 AM on April 9, 2011

Here's what I would say, in a very generalized way:

Slow down. In a fast paced changing environment, the worst thing to do is to wildly flail about, trying to always do the newest, shiniest, most talked about thing. A good company should operate like a player on the playing field: it should be quick and responsive, but it should take the time to confirm that an action is the right choice before following through. A football player shouldn't pass the ball without confirming that her teammate is there to receive it; a company shouldn't lob new technology at its clients without confirming they're ready for it.

The best way to enact this sort of mindful quickness is to be prepared: a team devoted to exploring new technology and responsible for determining what's worthwhile and what's a flash in the pan can hold regular seminars to keep the rest of the company up to date on the changes they need to know about. Furthermore, all teams that interact with clients should be adept at analyzing client capabilities. Now, by having slowed down and prepared, the company can move quickly—and intelligently—with change: it will be at the cutting edge of technology, and it will have the wisdom for knowing when to implement that technology, and when to use tried and true methods that might not be best in an ideal world, but are more suited to the client.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:45 AM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is pretty much my job and believe me, if I can fake my way through it, so can you. Look up stuff about complex project management. Pick any two or three of the following and apply it to your industry. Executive leadership rather than just management, management of risk and opportunity, developing resilience, improving culture, communications and relationships, sustainability, education, a new approach to benefits realisation. Avoid just parroting empty buzzwords back at them if you can, though almost nobody in business can speak english any more. You've got to look good enough to be able to do their job, but not so good they're scared you're going to take it.
posted by joannemullen at 5:46 AM on April 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

(Obviously, I don't intend for you to copy my answer wholesale—I have no idea if it's under 250 words, anyway. The point is: be quick but don't hurry, applied to a client-facing business.)
posted by ocherdraco at 5:46 AM on April 9, 2011

I would second pwally, and I forgot to address the buzzwords part of the question. Gah, buzzwords. I've read technical writing, or pseudo-technical writing, especially in advertisements and listening to marketing goobs at trade show booths, where I could not understand a single word. Short, declarative sentences. In my own example above, the sentences are too long, really.

My advice holds - it's up to you to know this stuff at least at a level consistent with the position you're applying for. Worst case scenario, you're a recent grad with no real work experience in the industry -- at least demonstrate in your answers that you grasp the textbook problems associated with it.

I'm a marketing goob myself, and one very general structure I've seen applied to these kinds of scenarios is SWOT analysis - Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. They may have come up with a better acronym since I graduated, but it might serve as a pre-writing exercise to think those through. The first two are INTERNAL to the company, the last two are EXTERNAL and pertain more to the industry and the environment they're in.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:48 AM on April 9, 2011

In order to retain effective agility in an ever-changing world where the meme of the moment is as important as the current state of FOREX exchange, it is imperative that blue sky thought is placed in streamlining the operation of X-company for the purposes of maintaining competitiveness against the onslaught of rising competition from the antipodes. Thus, it is essential that non-critical operations and departments be curtailed and condensed into their core function -- beginning with HR and useless open-ended questions on effectiveness.
posted by gadha at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In our wheelhouse
Leading edge
Plenty of runway
Shared services
Best practices
Course correct
...and the ever-popular "bio-break"
posted by thinkpiece at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2011

Like everything else, it's best to answer honestly, truthfully, and in plain language, no matter how stupid the question. Try to give concrete, real-world examples.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Develop a clear and concise set of expectations with clients: we want to be on the same page with them through the development cycle so that there are no surprises and they are happy with the final output.

2. Leverage a clients current substandard practices as baselines to measure improvement against. By taking a Demming approach to engineering solutions, if we make a change - we need to understand the long term results. By understanding current operating conditions, we are not only able to make sure that we are recommending best practices, but that we are able to quantify the improvements.

3. After we have completed a project, it is necessary to reach back out to clients after they adjust to our new processes and products. By doing so, we have the opportunity to ensure customers are implementing our work properly as well as leverage our existing knowledge and their new business practices to continue the process of improvement. We need to not just be looking to make the one sale; we need to be focused in being our client's go-to for engineering excellence.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:08 AM on April 9, 2011

Push as much decision-making authority to as low a level as possible. Establish project teams and give them autonomy. Encourage sharing of ideas among employees. Reward employees for great ideas. Remove extraneous layers of management. Establish metrics for performance. Keep a goal in sight.
posted by kindall at 10:36 AM on April 9, 2011

Just make sure you understand what you submit... they just may try to set you up by asking you to explain it, re-word it or summarize it. Or they may say "that was great, now I'll leave the room while you answer THIS question" and put you on the spot.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:59 AM on April 9, 2011

Doesn't strike me as a buzzwordy question. Most industries are fast paced and changing. All companies want to operate effectively. I tend to give credit to people, perhaps undeservedly but that's me, and I would assume they are asking you a question and want you to answer it, rather than throwing you fluff and wanting fluff back. In other words, it's not a password request question, and they don't want you to say something specific so much as they want you to demonstrate aptitude and experience relevant to their industry. If you disagree with me, at least consider that a majority of candidates are likely to throw back fluff and if you do the same you will be lost in the fluff-ball.

So the real answer is, well, how DO engineering firms keep up? It's actually an empirical question, by which I mean the answer is out there being modelled by successful companies (and the converse by unsuccessful). I would guess (though don't really know, not having this experience) that things like continued employee training, engagement at industry conferences, interactions with academia, and in-house seminars and discussion would help a firm keep up-to-date and aware of new technologies, which is one important part of being in a fast-paced industry, though not the only part. You also need a way to bring these technologies into practice, which means dedicating some budget to R&D, encouraging employees to propose new tech to managers, encouraging managers to be receptive to such proposals, and doing frequent reviews of current practices to see how they could be improved. Stuff like that. None of this need be buzzword fluff.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:58 PM on April 9, 2011

"What can X-company do to make sure it can operate effectively in a fast paced changing environment?"

Hire editors or proofreaders to ensure that X-company's HR recruitment communications are well defined, easy to understand, and grammatically correct.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 3:14 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

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