This is not my typical article, but rather the sharing of a real, personal story that has just happened to me. It is about learning how to evaluate and select your own candidates, if you like me, are in constant need to find new talented suppliers and collaborators for your online business. It is also about how to communicate, present and sell yourself when you are on the other side of this possible working relationship, and need to avoid playing tactics or bluffs that will not pay back in the longer term.
Photo credit: ChoreograP
This short story is about an apparently kind and lucky offer I received via email from a prospective audio transcriber, who reached out to me to promote his transcription business and to offer me an easy way to try it out.
What's the big deal?
The reasons why I am sharing this true story with you, is because I think there are a number of valuable lessons to be learned from it. Especially if you are like me, a small independent online publisher trying to do your best to find and work with partners that are reliable, honest and which produce good work, is not as easy as saying. Actually, the amount of time that goes wasted training individuals that will go away after a few weeks or by explaining the details of how a job should be executed to someone who will deliver it late and full of mistakes is not such a rare situation if you are out there trying and testing new people all the time.
Having several open vacancies and an always-open internship department here at Master New Media I have had to learn how to work wit these issues and what stance to take in unclear, ambiguous situations. And indeed, having a simple set of references of what I accept or not from a new candidate or suppliers has made it much easier for me not to get involved too long with someone that doesn't cut it.
The simple set of references I use is indeed very, very simple: it basically goes like this:
a) If you see the new candidate hiding, lying or making up some of the information is passing to you during your initial "get to know" phase, drop him fast.
b) If you assign a test to your candidate and she makes mistakes on it at the first round, you can bet your mother that she will do more and worse ones later on along the way.
That's all I need to figure the guy out.
Where we make tons of mistakes is when replace some simple and fact-oriented analysis like the above with more of our emotions and feeling about the person. Especially when we start to listen to their voices and explanations of why they did this or that, we may easily get derailed. We are often too trustful, open, optimistic and we fail to see factual evidence in front of us and while getting somewhat hypnotized by their own stories and promises.
Never do that.
Here, the story of such an event, which happened only less than a few hours ago, and which it is self-narrated by the exchange of a few emails between me and this new potential supplier who offered his talent.
"Hi Robin Good,
I work as a freelance transcriber and I can do transcription of your audio recordings.
I offer a very low discounted rate of USD 25 per audio hr for general transcription and 6 cents per line for medical transcription.
I assure you of quality work and most importantly confidentiality of all the proprietary information / materials. All the work is deleted from our systems as soon as the transcription is completed to the satisfaction of our client. I do sign an NDA if so required
You can send the audio via www.transferbigfiles.com to my email address email@example.com and I will transcribe them and send it back to you for your review.
What I can do is a free sample and if the sample is to your satisfaction, then we can take it forward from there. Before moving on my own, I was working as the Operations Manager for xxxxxx xxxxx."
Payment can be made only if you are satisfied with the work and the payment mode could be PayPal, wire transfer or any other means as per your convenience.
Let me know what is a good time to call you and discuss this further. Looking forward to hearing from you soon and working for you and once again I assure you of quality work and confidentiality of information.
thank you for writing.
I don't know how you got my email and would be curious to find out, but besides this, I was actually looking for someone like you.
I just wish you are not spamming a thousand people with this letter because I DO NOT happily support the people who use these marketing practices to reach out for business. While I await your kind response on the above, I am also happy to take up your free sample offer.
I work mostly with video clips that need to be transcribed. Here is a short 5min one you can use to demonstrate me your talent: http://www.youtube.com/v/xxxxxxxxxx
I would be also curious to know, because this is very critical for me,
a) what is your turnaround time,
b) on which days and times you are open for business as for me timing is very essential (I suppose we are about at least 6hrs apart as I am based in Rome, Italy.)
Look forward to hear from you soonest,
from sunny Rome"
Thank you for your note, appreciate it.
I came across a few clients who are into delivering seminars, speeches and doing coaching and training kind of work and they always had this kind of requirement. They were quiet happy when I did some work for them as they didn’t know whom to reach out to or if they did, the prices were very high. Thus, I contact people such as you who may have such requirement
I am attaching the transcribed file of the video.
The answers to your questions are as follows
a) Audios can be transcribed and returned in 48 hrs time. If it is a video file then will need extra time as video files take longer to download and then converting them to audio mp3 format is another lengthy process as the software that we use to play the audio doesn’t support video files.
b) We work from Monday to Friday and if the need be we even work on Saturdays and Sundays in case if any audio needs to be worked on a priority basis.
Let me know if I can do some work for you.
Looking forward to working for you and prosperous business relationship."
It is right here, from the first reply of my candidate that I immediately noticed something was not working right. These were the smoking guns:
a) He did reply in much detail to my specific questions but evaded elegantly answering my question: where have you got my email from!
b) His turnaround time, for someone looking for new business, seemed a bit long to me (48 hrs) and more than that his comments about the extra time needed to download video clips, convert them to audio and more was either all baloney he was making up either to increase his fee, or worse, it was the clear sign that he didn't know much how to use the many tools I write about daily.
c) His attached transcription, which was for a 5 minute video of Marshall McLuhan, who talked very slowly and by clearly separating one word from the other contained quite a few mistakes. I corrected 10 to be exact, while the original transcriber had also left two words untranslated but clearly marked. Of this though there was no mention on his feedback email.
These three elements by themselves made it very clear for me that this candidate supplier had enough unreliable traits fully exposed right at the beginning of our possible working collaboration. While in the past, I may have considered under the same conditions to further discuss with the candidate ways to improve our working relationship, I have learned from experience and active research that it never works to my advantage to do that. When you see those clear signs, you need to acknowledge them and drop the ball. Right there and then.
And so I did in my next email to him. Here is what I wrote back:
thank you for your fast reply and for having already translated this video for me.
Here is my feedback:
a) You have not addressed openly my first question about spamming people. I do not know where you have gotten my email address and who has given you permission to use it, but I certainly do not have your email in my records. I like to work first of all with people who are honest, transparent and who do not hide from me.
b) The translation you have provided is acceptable but not error exempt. Outside of the few words you clearly left out by marking them, there were over ten errors or spelling mistakes inside this short test item (5 min audio). I find this overall result a bit discouraging as I expect anyone doing a test to offer his/her best talent in that very occasion. So if your best talent starts with this number of errors it is not acceptable for me.
c) I hear you lamenting issues of my video clips adding additional time because you have to download them and convert them. I am surprised you are not aware of free web services and tools like http://all2convert.com, www.soybe.com, listentoyoutube.com or movietomp3.com that will do all the dirty work for you all automatically. (Frankly I don't see the need to even do it on an MP3 file when you have a video available, but I understand that in case you don't have a fast Internet connection an MP3 file maybe much smaller to deal with.)
d) I would like to use your test translation and pay you for the time you have spent. If you have a PayPal account I will be more than glad to send you whatever you think I owe you for this.
e) My personal suggestion for your growing business is to be more honest, upfront and to declare all of your limits to your prospective customers right away. I am sure one could agree to a price level that was fair for your level of expertise, but trying to sell your service as professional when it is not yet so, is not selable at any price. Do not spam. If asked about it, be frank, don't hide.
Look forward to hear from you,
Thank you for your feedback, appreciate it.
I understand I did not live up to your expectations as far as the work goes and thus as a principal I do not charge my clients if they are not satisfied with the work.
As far as spamming goes different people have different means of interpreting email based marketing.
For you it may be spamming however for another person it may be identifying opportunities for narrowing the bridge between communication and directing the right requirement to the right people and again thank you for recommending the video files converters."
And that really made me feel better. On the negative side he confirmed that his spam ethics were nothing close to mine even when given the opportunity to do so. On the positive one he showed to have some integrity overall as his decision not to charge me for his transcription work demonstrated his willingness to acknowledge his own mistakes. He also was kind enough to thank me for the URLs of the video-to-mp3 services I suggested to him, which further acknowledged his well hidden inexperience and desire to do better.
a) Be very rational, not emotional when evaluating new people that will need to work with you from a distance. Look at the first signs they send you, because later on your simpathy for the person may shield you from seeing the actual facts. Stay with the facts is in fact the best advice I can give you. Look close at those early initial facts.
b) Ask direct questions and verify whether you are given true, honest answers for each. Any evaded questions is a sign that there is something to be hidden. Stay clear of possible collaborators who right at the beginning hide even the slightest info from you for fear you may not like them. They are very dangerous.
c) Test them right away. Even if you are not so lucky to get someone like the gentleman above, who has spontaneously offered his time to show his skill level, pretend always to see the quality, time and integrity of the work executed by having your candidate take a real-world test. By just looking at the way your candidate will manage the timing, delivery and communications you will learn lots of valuable things in a very short time.
d) Finally, if you are someone like my candidate audio transcriber above, do not sell what you are not. I think you could get lots more customers if you chose to really tell the truth about who you are, and what you can do for them. It is much more valuable for me to have someone I know is honest and I can fully trust, even if this person is a bit slower or makes more errors than another one. What counts for me is rather is open desire and ability to learn how to correct his mistakes and his ability not to hide the limits and mistakes he will surely made.