The Mastery of Recruiting?

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 8.40.18 PMMy wife and I watched a fine documentary on TV called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It was about an 85+-year-old master sushi maker named Jiro Ono who has a 10-seat restaurant in the Tokyo subway. He probably makes the best sushi in the world, and maybe ever. He only serves sushi, and it costs about $300 for 20 pieces. He’d been doing it for about 75 years. The documentary talked about his life, his approach to work, his family (his two sons were in the business), and people who knew/interacted with him.

Here are some interesting quotes (with some editing from me) from the movie. After that, I’ll tell you what this means to you, the recruiter or human resources professional. 

The quotes are from various people throughout the movie and not all can be attributed to Jiro Ono.

Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve upon yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft.

Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.

It really comes down to making and effort and repeating the same thing every day.

He always worked incredibly hard. He would only take a day off if it was a national holiday.

The way of the shokunin (master craft[wo]man) is to repeat the same thing every day.

There’s a great deal to take from these quotes, and the movie, too. I bet you’d expect me to say something like:

“To master recruiting, we should view it the way Jiro views sushi making.”

To paraphrase a movie ad: “You might think you know where this is going, but you’d be dead wrong.”

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I think there are very few people (and I am not one of them) who have the basic ability combined with the obsessiveness to totally devote their lives (at the expense of much else) to mastering a given art/work As I mentioned, Jiro had (two) sons, and they’re both in the business. He joked that when they were growing up, he’d often come home from the restaurant only occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings. Jiro joked that they’d say: Who’s this strange man sleeping in our house?” To be a sushi shokunin, Jiro had to sacrifice his family life. (It was interesting that there was never a single mention of a Mrs. Ono, either present or past …)

My wife and I have had the opportunity to know to some degree two MacArthur (aka “Genius”) Grant winners. While they were doing very noble things, they were both quite obsessed. (In one case, it damaged their physical and mental health, and broke up their family.) Two examples do not a strong case make; at the same time, I’ve found a number of work-obsessed people to be rather difficult and/or unpleasant, especially to work for.

In summary: I think there are few people who are obsessed enough to become masters of their art, and even fewer who don’t delude themselves into thinking they can “have it all” without any consequences. Maybe you can, but most of us can’t, and demanding to get that from someone who doesn’t share your obsession isn’t right, and neither is burning out someone and then tossing them away like last week’s garbage.

Maybe I’d feel differently if I were half or a third my current age, but I‘ve chosen the course to be more of a moderately well-rounded, fairly competent, not too-unpleasant human being who views his life as something to experience and not just a bunch of things to tick off a “to-do” list on the road to being some type of superstar/guru/shokunin. I can’t really speak for you (only you can do that), but I think for most of us, that last one is a realistic course to follow.

Keith Halperin is currently working as a senior contract recruiter and performs additional sourcing work. He has worked in recruiting, placement, search, and research for highly diverse clients (from startups to Fortune 500 firms) throughout the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986. He conceived, designed, and implemented corporate recruiting strategies, and developed a white paper for a $70 million, five-year NASA CS recruiting project. He developed the Recruiting Process Methodology, a comprehensive open-source roadmap of recruiting. He co-founded MyIPOJob job fairs for pre-IPO companies, and founded Recruitersforum, an online job site for all types of recruiting positions.