The International Space Station – Choosing the Right Talent for the Orbit

This weekend, Space Shuttle Endeavor aims to add a new piece to the space station’s Japanese Kibo lab. Weighing in at 335 tons and carrying a staggering price tag of approximately $100 billion dollars, the International Space Station is the largest engineering project ever undertaken. With more than 30 shuttle launches to place the station’s hardware in space and more than 100 spacewalks to complete construction, the assembly of this orbital lab required a talent acquisition support process that most companies envy in the private sector. Despite the obvious magnetic pull 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, since the early days of the Mercury program, kids have looked their parents in the eye 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 and improved 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 of the best military experimental flight programs. As with most things in life, marketing is everything. Companies can make a note of the pages of NASA. Building a brand that not only attracts customers but also inspires talent is a surefire way to propel your organization to new heights. Take a moment to look at the talent pool of companies like Google and you’ll understand what corporate branding can do for your human resources department. Even with a small business, selecting the best talent is a lot easier when the doors are knocked.

Understanding your needs

During a lecture in the 1960s, a reporter asked John Glen what he was thinking while in the Mercury capsule, just before becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. Glen’s answer: “I thought the rocket had twenty thousand components, and each one was made by the lowest bidder.” Glenn’s point hits the target. With the Apollo program, an infinitely more complex launch system, not a single astronaut died during launch or during spaceflight. Despite major technical difficulties during Apollo 13, the program’s track record is astounding, as the contract for each part was awarded to the lowest bidder who could prove that it had the technical expertise to deliver. Developing a clear understanding of your needs can go a long way in improving the hiring process for almost any company. Often, due to lack of communication or misinformation, a company will open a job search, when they have enough internal resources to handle things. In other cases, the HR team may not develop the correct job requirements to match the position in question. Always make sure you have the facts and know what you need before acting.

Development process

NASA has a long history of developing their astronaut talent pool from existing government resources. Prior to the existence of manned spaceflight, the space program was tasked with outlining requirements for the perfect candidates for the early days of the space program. These requirements emphasized several key attributes, including flying experience (especially test pilots), military backgrounds, excellent physical health, and to a lesser extent, engineering backgrounds. Given these requirements, the space program developed a clear process for accepting new astronauts, including flight experience ratings, direct recommendations from top military officials,

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

Taking advantage of technology

Pushing the boundaries of technology is one of the defining goals of NASA and the manned spaceflight 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 sources, including the elite military branches and the scientific community, communication is paramount to the selection process of any new class of astronauts. The same principles apply to the private sector. Communication or lack thereof is the biggest potential bottleneck in the hiring process. If an internal recruiter and a hiring manager are on different pages, the process suffers.

Collaboration and oversight are hallmarks of the best corporate recruiting programs. New technologies exist, such as  recruiting software,  that can give companies the competitive advantage needed to outperform their competition and streamline efficiency. These programs offer a powerful combination of features, flexibility and affordability. In the private sector, a degree in rocket science is not required to lead the way.

Equipping your organization with talented employees is only the first step to success. To achieve truly noble goals, you need to select people who can match and support your business vision. It’s like they always say, “If we can put a man on the moon, we can [your answer comes here]” I’d like to think that every employee-centric company can fill its own void.

I am an aspiring author. I like to share useful information with people. My three favorite subjects are business, computers and travel.