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How To Recruit An Astronaut

Can you recruit astronauts if you’ve never left the planet?

My colleagues in Montreal did; they recruited Canada’s first astronauts.

They did it by selecting mature, well-rounded, compatible individuals, i.e., they used the same requirements as for most terrestrial jobs.

How do you tell if a potential candidate is mature, well-rounded or compatible?

First, define the terms:  Mature means they’re at an advanced stage of mental or emotional development.  Well-Rounded means they have a fully developed personality.  Compatible means they work and play well with others.  Simple, eh?

But direct questions can’t really reveal someone’s maturity and well-roundedness so you need to identify the human behaviours that reflect those traits.  For instance, you might say, “Give an example of when you exercised sound judgment or dealt successfully with conflict.”  A good reply will illustrate how a candidate “walks their talk” and will demonstrate maturity and well-roundedness.

Hovering in outer space, in confined quarters, with limited supplies, with peers of different nationalities and cultures can stretch anyone’s interpersonal skills, so assessing compatibility with other team members is vital.

To observe compatibility, both Canada and the US use a selection team composed of current astronauts that spends considerable time interacting with the candidates.  The real astronauts spend morning, noon, and night with the candidates, in formal and informal situations (especially mealtimes), observing how the aspiring astronauts interact with each other.  It’s time-consuming but necessary because it reveals the candidates ‘compatibility quotient’.  It’s also a lot more accurate than the artifice of panel interviews.

Ok, but are the astronaut candidates sufficiently mature, well-rounded and compatible for the job?  After all, jobs don’t come much higher than astronaut.

To answer this, look at communication.  Astronauts can’t be secretly mature, well-rounded and compatible; they need to publicly display those attributes frequently through their communication.  Actually a common theme in all jobs (and therefore in all executive search recruitment) is communication.  Thus it’s always wise to assess it.

Easy ways to do so are to ask candidates for examples of how they achieved extraordinary results through superior communication skills, and then note how the candidate communicates that very information.

Written communication skills are easily seen— and judged — in a resume.  Sometimes a supervised written test is given as part of the interview process.  (Rare in Australia and North America but more common in Europe.)

The interview itself is a sample of communication style and content.   As important as the Q&A is, the style matters just as much.

The take-away message for earthly job-seekers is that the entire job search is an exercise in communication.  Potential employers judge you largely by the way you pursue the job.  After all:  how else could they evaluate you?

Bottom line:  if you act like a grown-up, communicate well, get along with most people, and can document it sufficiently, you’ll probably be considered “mature, well-rounded and compatible.”

This means that you’re well placed to get a job on this planet, or beyond.


[From an article by Alan Davis (http://www.alandavis.com) who has 30+ years’ experience in executive search.  He also recruits terrestrials and is based in Hudson, Quebec.]

About Dr. Duff Watkins [www.execsearch.com.au]

international executive search consultant / author-- dispensing career advice about how the job market really works


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Dr. Duff Watkins

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