A few months ago, I made the trek to Connecticut to see my sister participate in a batizado, or showcase (though its literal translation is “baptism” and involves the exchange of cords) for her chosen sport, capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines music with fighting, known to most people from an early episode of Bob’s Burgers (appropriately and hilariously called “Sexy Dance Fighting”) that I invoke often when talking to her about it.
Because she started in college, and practiced less when she returned home after college, neither I nor my parents had had a chance to see her “play” prior to this day. So it was really fun to get to finally see her in her element, with a number of her friends I had met previously but never seen in the context that she’s typically in.
What were my first impressions? Well, it was long. The event, so to speak, was about four hours long. But it was structured like no “recital” scenario I had ever seen before. And, as an idea blender, I must confess- it got me thinking about what we could learn from how a batizado is set up…when it comes to hiring. How?
Change the way candidates interact with one another.
When we hire others for positions, the candidate pool is shrouded in mystery. Who else is interviewing? What sort of skill are they coming to the table with? Where are their strengths? Where do I stand? But in the troca de corda, the “candidates” for cords aren’t hidden from one another. They play, as the terminology goes in capoeira, with one another as they’re vying for advancement. They get to see where the other candidates’ strengths and weaknesses lie, and it pushes them to bring out their best moves and blocks.
Another element of the troca de corda is musical- several traditional instruments are played throughout the performance. At any point, a student (all of whom are trained to play the instruments used) can step in and relieve a “colleague.” Individual performance counts at the event, but so does your willingness to take initiative and play a role for the team. Individual interviews make it tough to see how people will actually behave in these situations, rather than how you say you’ll respond.
Change the way candidates interact with the “interviewer.”
A fascinating part of the troca de corda is getting to play with the person judging your advancement- the interviewer, in our world. You get out there and play with him or her. As I watched my sister’s classmates and teachers interact with her, I saw glimpses of what we should all hope for in a boss: she was given opportunities to use skills and moves that she’s really strong at (in her case, acrobatics). She got the chance to highlight the skills of others in her classes (including, at a high point for an audience, the youngest participant at the batizado– a six year old!). And she was challenged by the instructor himself- she, as well as each other person playing for new cords, was pushed down or otherwise roughed up by someone in a position of authority. But the roughing up wasn’t for the sake of being rough- it was to see how she and others would react. Presently, our interviews do little to truly pull out these moments of challenge, or hide them behind sanitized versions of how we said we responded in times of struggle. The troca de corda doesn’t allow that.
A troca de corda is an experiential interview. Can we do that?
When I was searching for jobs just after graduating from college, I got a call for an interview with a “promotions company.” Told I’d be spending a few hours with them, I dressed in my nicest outfit- including what would later turn out to be wildly impractical shoes- and drove in. I was told I’d be heading out with a few promotions reps that were already doing the job, tagging along and getting the chance to do what they did. As I later learned, the job was selling oil change coupon packages in Plant City, FL. In a suit. In June. And we walked. For those unfamiliar with Plant City, FL, selling oil change coupons is a lot like selling coal to the good people of Newcastle- they’re flush with ways to get their own.
While I vividly remember this interview for its ability to show me how much I did NOT want to do that job, I also credit it with showing me how an interview should work. If I had been interviewed for that job the way we currently interview most people, I could have stated how good I’d be at talking to people, sharing the merits of any product given to me, and convincing people who may not want a product, why they needed it. But I would have had no idea what the job was like until I was in it, and the people who interviewed me would have never known how poorly suited I was for the work until I was already in it. The Troca das Cordas showed me another example of the same thing. Students don’t acquire new cords after enduring a rapid-fire set of questions about how capoeira makes them feel, or what they would do if faced with a given sort of attack from a peer or instructor. In the time it takes most employers to parade candidates from office to office, speaking in theory about the skills and traits they’d bring to the office, capoeiristas just put you in a room and let you do it. The advancement opportunities come from your ability to demonstrate that you can handle the load, not the eloquence with which you express your potential to. Can we find ways to do the same?
I mentioned that the batizado was long. It started with two-hour long workshops from visiting teachers, followed by everyone’s chance to play with each other, and finally those who were up for promotion in cords faced teachers. But by the end of that, I had a far better idea of my sister’s skills, and the skills of her friends, than any conversation with them could have ever conveyed. It’s designed to bring experienced practitioners together, while also welcoming new capoeristas into the fold. Is this the goal of interviews? In a way, it is. How can someone know if they’ll fit in a space, and how can you assess that of them, with the differential that a battery of questions tends to reinforce? We (and by we, I mean anyone interviewing candidates for a position) already subject our candidate pool to long interviews that operate largely in theory. How could we make these marathon days more helpful for both sides? Find opportunities to let people confidently show you their stuff.
What realities of our day-to-day work can we responsibly allow candidates to test their skills at? Even if it’s something as simple as responding to phone calls or online inquiries, counseling students, or even operating the most temperamental copier in the office, the chance to take our potential to succeed out of the theoretical and into the practical is valuable for both parties in an interview scenario. For the candidate, you get a chance to assess the human resources you’d be surrounded by in a role; for the interviewer, you have a chance to see how your potential employee would behave in the workplace. Disingenuous or dishonest interviews can escape the watchful eye of search committee members, but it’s harder to mask those problems when you’re doing the work for real.
I’m going to share a video from my sister’s event, with the six year old I mentioned before. One of the coolest things I saw was the rest of the group’s ability to realistically test someone so young and relatively inexperienced, but still be attentive to his limits. As you consider designing an interview schedule and regimen, particularly one that may be taking place with a relatively inexperienced professional, think about how you can take this advice and approach to heart- be real with them while also recognizing limitations. (Apologies for the size of the video, had trouble adjusting!)
This could start slowly, with student interviews. Will you have a student answering phones? Consider letting them sit in the office with a more senior student who can show them the ropes, then watch how they respond in action. Will someone be advising students? Consider letting them work with a student on a project to see how they interact. Instead of the canned presentations that we request (something that few professionals will do again in their role), let them give a tour to show how well they researched the institution, or have them prepare a report as they might do at the end of a semester. Let them do the work they’ll be doing, and select based on performance over potential. What could this idea do to our office dynamics, our efficiency and productivity, and our job satisfaction?