Sultans of swing – in Slush

You get a shiver in the dark, it’s raining in the park, but meantime: the lazers cut the air in the dark venue at the exhibition center in Helsinki, and the notably heterogeneous crowd seems to flow every direction. Even though the air conditioning keeps up with the crowd surprisingly well, there is a stark contrast between, well, the slushy November weather outdoors and the temperature in Slush. If one had to describe how it would be like inside an ant’s nest, the atmosphere at the Slush 2017  would probably be fairly close.

You step inside but you don’t see too many faces. Honestly, the venue is simply so dark, that it takes a while for the eyes to adjust. In most situations, the size of the name badges every participant has to wear when entering Slush would be a cause of laughter, even embarrassment. But in this particular venue, even the sizable badges are barely readable due to the remarkably dim lighting. At the same time, the darkness makes for a compelling special effect – it sets Slush apart from any and every business forum I have ever attended, closely resembling the atmosphere of a night club instead. But a vast, massive one at that!

There were several stages for the key note speakers inside the venue – the main one called Founder Stage really looked like something Beyonce could get up on at any moment. The light show and the screens around that stage seemed to be short of only pyrotechnics. Most of the stages were set up so that the speaker was at the center, and the information-hungry crowd all around them. From what I could witness, the presentations – or actually many of them were more like interviews, with interviewers coming from the BBC and the like – attracted crowds beyond capacity. Slush is not trying to compete with Nordic Business Forum on the household names as speakers; instead, the speakers here were stars of the business world in one form or another, and as such well known by the initiated. Well, a household sports celebrity was on the agenda: one man who stepped right up to the microphone at Slush was the two-time Formula One world champion Mika Häkkinen.

Most obviously, Slush has managed to establish a globally unique reputation in the start-up scene. Kudos to all the initiators and organizers for that! The diversity of businesses present was borderline unbelievable. The fact that so many embassies had their own stands in the event is a solid testimonial to the importance of Slush as ‘the event’ to be seen in. I came to the same conclusion also with regards to some of the largest Finnish companies that had sizable stands in Slush: they did not necessarily have anything particularly new and exciting to showcase in the event, and they certainly have not qualified as start-ups for decades. However the nature of the event has such a high coolness factor that the established businesses aim to make use of it to perhaps revitalize their company image, particularly in the eyes of fresh talent.

And talent – if anything, the Slush event is full of that. Ranging from the passionate and driven entrepreneurs, to the recognized players as the key note speakers, to the thousands of volunteer workers (typically local students/graduates) making sure that anything and everything runs smoothly. Not forgetting the paying audience, ranging from the investors to the potential customers to the plain curious. Since nearly everybody is there, it comes as no surprise that recruitment is high on the agenda for many of the companies present. Some are looking to attract talent in the event itself – others are counting on Slush presence helping them to plant seeds in the minds of desired target profiles, to enhance future recruitment. To enable valuable encounters, the organizers had also a recruitment app available for the event as a kind of a match-making tool.

I did not come across Guitar George, but the hilarious Windows95 deejay at the Slush-store certainly captured my attention. Not only by the retro music he was playing, but by his appearance and those moves. The shorts… well, let’s not go there.

It will be interesting to see how and where Slush as an event evolves from the current shape. With its various sub-theme events catering to for example music, mobility and science, it is already bringing Helsinki alive in the darkest time of the year. At Slush, they mind. And they make the scene.

Name your price…oops…salary

There’s not too many countries in this nice, blue planet of ours, where everyone knows how much money their colleague, their neighbor and their favorite celebrity made last year. But in Finland we all have access to that information via the public taxation records. What benefit does that serve? I can’t think of any. One major disadvantage comes to mind though: in a country where envy grows as an endless natural resource, that ability nothing but fuels it.

Okay. Fine. So we have public taxation records. Live with it.

I do. And I personally don’t bother with it. What does bother me, though, is the completely opposite approach – the ultimate secrecy – that hovers in the job market around salary ranges for any advertised vacancy. In public sector, the salary grade is often noted in the job advertisement. But in private sector, you will not find any such numbers in job ads. You would be more likely to find the original recipe for Coca-Cola in the vacancy text. This approach would not be sensible in most markets. And it is downright ridiculous in a market where the taxable income of everyone is public information.`

If the salary ranges were given in the job advertisements, everyone would benefit. The applicants would have one more critical piece of information available to determine whether the position is within their interests and reach (trust me, that is not always easy to evaluate from the requested years of experience and expected degrees). The employer would most likely get less applications – or at least applicants would be more of the expected caliber. And the unavoidable discussion on salary in the final stages of interviews would be far less likely to result in a dead end.

To further demonstrate that all Moomins are perhaps no longer in the canoe, in the Finnish job market it is normal practice to ask the applicant to state his or her salary request in the job application. Sing Hallelujah, brother! Dear employers, are you asking for salary request just because most other employers are doing so, or is there really an auction about to take place? But wait – if it is an auction you have in mind, is it the lowest or the highest bidder who gets the job? Do you then go for the seasoned, experienced talent who knows his worth, or aim for a discount deal?

In motor sports, race drivers have two ways to proceed with their careers. One is talent. By driving better than the rest, even with mediocre equipment, showing you got what it takes to become a champion. The other way, if you can’t quite excel on the track, is to excel on the sponsorship collection. You can buy your way to the next class, to the better team. Even with the latter approach, you can enjoy a season or two in the limelight and live your dream. Nothing wrong with that, as such. The champions, however, tend to still come from the first category.

When I coach job seekers, one of the most common questions I get is regarding the salary requests – how to address those. My advice is always the same – leave it out. And my justification for this is very simple: from the job applicant’s perspective, stating a salary request can only work against him. I have not come across a single case where otherwise promising candidate did not get invited to a job interview because he or she did not state a salary request in the application. But I am aware of cases where the opposite has happened: the single reason why a candidate was dropped out was because the stated salary request was off the employer’s range for the job. Typically quite significantly off, either too low or too high. The employer always – always – has a planned salary range or other compensation model in mind for the vacancy they have. They know what they want the person to be selected for that role to achieve, and what those achievements are worth to them. And they typically have done their homework on what, roughly, the ranges for similar responsibility level of roles, with similar candidate profiles, are in the market. Or at the latest, they will get that understanding when using a professional recruiter and discussing the role and the responsibilities.

There really is no need to run a lottery with the applicants to guess the numbers.

Did I hear someone yell ‘bingo’?