July 17, 2006

Thoughts on the KM Interview Process

Well, it's been months since I started my blog and I've finally come to the realization that I'm a total flogger...a flaky blogger. You say you're gonna write, you tell the world you're going to put in the time, and then you flake out, giving nothing to world but wordless disappointment.

So, in an effort to rebuild some of my unearned trust, I thought I'd finally create a new post.

Towards the end of February my dreams of bringing knowledge management to Brierley+Partners turned to dust when I was told the company could no longer afford to fund the project - which particularly sucked because I was told at the onset that funding was very much a non-issue. At any rate, I've relocated back to Atlanta and have been interviewing nonstop for various KM positions locally.

The interview process is interesting for a number of reasons:
1) I'm always curious about the background of other applicants. Although my BS is in Urban Policy Studies and my MSc (when I finish my thesis) is in Adult Education and Organizational Learning, I've focused my entire academic career in the field of knowledge management - every paper, (most) every project centered around acquiring and developing the skills I felt would be most beneficial to my career. I didn't have the benefit of any advisors or course selections throughout school and the literature I was reading was too academic and theoretical (and too heavily focused on KM technology tools) which pushed me to really develop my own theories and, in my opinion, has made me a better knowledge manager.

During at least two interviews I was asked about my affiliation with KM organizations such as KMPro , KM Benchmarking Assn (KMBA), and Assn of Knowledgework (AOK) or any KM certifications I held. I suppose because of the academic and career success I've enjoyed (despite being booted from B+P) I've yet to see the benefit of joining any organizations and I think 6 years of digging for, chewing up and spitting out every nugget of info I could on KM plus 3+ years of working in the trenches trumps the certifications currently available. Still, I know that many process-driven orgs like being able to see (and tout) certification, so I'm curious to know what if any, other applicants bring to the table, in addition to their academic and professional training.

2) I'm also curious about how other KM applicants approach the interview process. Typically, I take a very consultative approach. I use my initial interview as a means of acquiring enough information to develop a high-level strategy which I then pitch during the follow-up interview. Mostly, my interviewers are very impressed with this strategy, but at least one company still chose to offer the position to the other candidate. I wasn't upset about not being chosen (I kinda sorta didn't really want the job after doing a little more research into the company and uncovering some cultural similarities to my last job that were a little too close for comfort), but after my kick-ass pitch I wondered what could have topped it. Of course, I've interviewed for KM jobs in the past that went to PhD's and professionals with 20 years experience (not all within KM) so I can see how that beats my more limited experience, but when it doesn't, is it really just a personality fit? Does the company have more if an idea about what they need/want they are letting on in the position description and early stages of the interview process? Did I set the bar too high? Too low????

3) The other thing that intrigues me is KM recruitment. Since Atlanta is not really a hotbed of KM opportunities I've actually been exploring the idea of moving into recruiting. Part of the pain of job hunting in this field is that there isn't any person or organization that really focuses on recruiting within the field of KM. Many, if not most, of the current professionals have come into the field from other areas, usually in response to the specific needs of an organization (which they may or may not have successfully responeded to) and not always with a larger awareness of the entirety of KM. Outside of the "real world" (read: business world) there are a few KM courses cropping up here and there, but there isn't a prescribed path for pursuing a career in the field.

I find it ironic that when I was in undergrad at Georgia State, while I was given room to do my thing, there wasn't any real support for my studies. And then, less than four years later, fresh from my graduate studies and working in my first KM gig I was back at GSU giving a presentation on KM to a knowledge management class with my co-workers.

Still, today, KM is not often regarded as a critical strategic function that necessitates (a) dedicated resource(s) and requires, academically speaking, a multi-disciplinary background; effective knowledge managers are strategists, marketers, salespeople, financial analysts, techies, psychologists, web designers, statisticians, data analysts, librarians, researchers, entrepreneurs, reporters, secretaries, telemarketers, stalkers, hand holders, and babysitters all-in-one!

But I digress...

The point is that there isn't a generally accepted idea of what knowledge management is; there isn't fixed career path; typically only the hiring manager knows what s/he is looking for and the average (read: pretty much most of them) recruiter doesn't have a clue which, in my opinion, limits their ability to effectively fill the position(s).

I'd love to see some of the KM orgs out there begin to address these types of issues as a means of growing the field. In the meantime, if none of the KM opps I'm working on pan out, maybe I'll take up the recruiter challenge. Being a pioneer certainly suits me (as long as I can do it in capris) ;-)