The International Space Station – Picking the Right Talent For the Job

This weekend Space Shuttle Endeavor looks to add another piece the space station’s Japanese Kibo laboratory. At 335 tons in weight and coming in at a staggering price tag of around $ 100 billion dollars, the International Space Station is the largest engineering project ever undertaken. With well over 30 shuttle launches to place the station hardware in space and over 100 spacewalks to complete construction, the assembly of this orbital laboratory has required a supporting talent acquisition process that would make most private sector companies envious. Despite the clear magnetic attraction that the space program has on top engineers, many of the same strategies, technologies and nuances apply to talent acquisition in the private sector.

Building a Brand

Let’s face it, every since the early days of the Mercury program children have looked into the eyes of their parents and exclaimed, “Daddy, I want to grow up to be an astronaut.” This behavior is a byproduct of years of publicity and a cold war propaganda machine that took a Patriotic Sham-Wow and buffed up the public image of the space program. Live video of heroic men taking the first steps on the moon helped seal the deal. These were astronauts, the best of the best, test pilots from top military experimental flight programs. As with most things in life, marketing is everything. Companies can take a note from the pages of NASA. Building a brand that not only attracts customers but also inspires talent is a sure fire way to push your organization to new heights. Just take a moment to look at the talent pool of companies like Google and you will get an understanding of what corporate branding can do for your human resources department. Even with a small company, selecting the best talent is a lot easier when people are knocking at the gates.

Understanding Your Needs

During a lecture in the 60’s, a reporter asked John Glen what he was thinking while he sat in the Mercury capsule moments before becoming the first American to orbit the earth. Glen’s response, “I was thinking that the rocket had twenty thousand components, and each was made by the lowest bidder.” Glenn’s point hits the mark. With the Apollo program, an infinitely more complex launch system, not a single Astronaut died during launch or in spaceflight. Despite the fact that there were major technical issues during Apollo 13, the track record for the program is astounding considering that the contract for each component was granted to the lowest bidder who could prove the had the technical expertise to deliver. Developing a clear understanding of your needs can go a long way to improving the hiring process for almost any company. Many times, due to lack of communication or misinformation, a company will open a job search, when they have quite enough internal resources to handle things. In other cases, the HR team might not develop the proper job requirements to fit the position at hand. Always make sure you have the facts and know what you need before you act.

Developing Process

NASA has a long standing history of developing their astronaut talent pool from existing government resources. Prior to the existence of human space flight, the space program was tasked with outlining requirements for the perfect candidates for the early days of the space program. These requirements stressed several major characteristics including flight experience (especially test pilots), military backgrounds, outstanding physical health and to a lesser degree engineering backgrounds. Given these requirements, the space program developed a clear process for accepting new astronauts which included flight experience reviews, direct recommendations by top military officials, intense physical fitness tests by trusted medical doctors and an overall review of educational expertise and psychological background to see if the candidate was a right ft for the job.

Needless to say, the candidate review process was extremely well defined and thorough. Despite the fact that most companies do not have NASA-like resources, developing a clear hiring process is just as critical for success. Companies need to have open communication and collaboration between hiring managers, internal recruiters and top decision makers. In order to be successful, this process requires a clearly defined process flow. The last thing a company wants to do is mishandle a talented candidate during the recruiting process and diminish that candidate’s perception of the company. Developing an intake blueprint, eliminating bottlenecks, and emphasizing collaboration are key elements to a well tune talent acquisition program.

Taking Advantage of Technology

Pushing the frontiers of technology is one of the defining goals of NASA and the human space flight program. Each mission presents a new set of technologies, scientific variables and obstacles that serve to increase the knowledge base of the engineering and scientific communities. Because the space program draws their talent from a wide variety of resources, including the elite military branches and the scientific community, communication is paramount to the selection process of each new class of astronauts. These same principles hold true for the private sector. Communication or lack there of poses the biggest potential bottleneck in the hiring process. If an internal recruiter and a hiring manager are on different pages, then the process suffers.

Collaboration and oversight are defining characteristic of the top corporate recruiting programs. New technologies exist such as recruiting software which can provide companies with the competitive edge required to outpace their competition and streamline efficiency. These programs offer a powerful combination of features, flexibility and affordability. In the private sector, being on the cutting edge does not require a degree in rocket science.

Outfitting your organization with talented employees is only the first step towards success. To achieve truly noble goals you need to select people who can match and sustain your corporate vision. It’s like they always say, “if we can put a man on the moon we can [your answer goes here]” I’d like to think that each employee oriented company can fill in their own blank on that one.

I am an aspiring author. I enjoy sharing helpful information with people. My three favorite topics are business, computers and travel.

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