Research Assistant Selected + Third Round recap

The hiring process is now over, and I will go over all of it I haven’t yet gone over in this post. Here was the task for the third round of applicants:

“Congrats, you are one of the final 100 people in contention for this gig. There is one final task, and then the selection will be made. This assignment is due Sunday, January 29th at 11:59 pm, PST. If it is submitted anytime after that, it will not be considered. The assignment:

Complete a comprehensive research report on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Find as much information about him as possible, figure out what is important, and present it to me in such a way that it is easily and quickly digestible. How you organize and present the information is up to you. You can use all forms of media; text, video, interviews, radio interviews, magazine profiles, etc, and mix them in any way you think works. What matters are results. I want breadth and depth, but presented in the simplest form possible. Content and design matter.

You are welcome to use any source you wish, and in fact, successful completion of this project will require you to aggregate information from many, many different sources. Wikipedia is a good starting point of course, but if it’s a major source for your report, you’re doing it wrong (I didn’t change the page this time, but I can’t guarantee that other people won’t).

Some examples of things that should be in your report: His general life history, his accomplishments, his failures, his relationships, his friendships–essentially anything about him that is either important, interesting or relevant. What controversies have been in his life? What were his struggles? What were the inflection points? What was his biggest movie? His worst performing? What amazing things has he done? What has he done that people often forget or overlook? Who are the important people in his life? Who are his friends? What has his movie career been like? What are some cool anecdotes from his life?

[I do NOT want you to put those questions in your report and then answer them. That’s not the proper way to organize a research report. But your report SHOULD have all the facts/information to answer ALL of them and more.]

I picked The Rock for two reasons:

1. The Rock is a major celebrity who has had three different interesting careers spanning two decades (football, wrestling and movies) and as a result, there is essentially an unlimited amount of information about him. You are going to make choices and figure out what is important and what isn’t.

2. I know enough about The Rock to know if you are did a good, comprehensive job at research, but not enough that there still aren’t new and interesting details I could learn about him.

This is a very open-ended assignment on purpose: Given the short time frame, you cannot possibly aggregate, digest and present ALL the information available on The Rock. You could in theory spend months at this assignment. This will force you to make decisions about how much time to spend researching and how much time to spend putting the research together into a report. In addition to seeing what information you find, I want to see how you prioritize it, organize it, and present it to me given these constraints. This assignment also tests three skills you will need in this gig: How much information can you find, what do you pick to feature (and what do you leave out), and how well do you present that information it to me.

Remember: This is a report, NOT a document that will require extensive original writing. I only care about WHAT information you find, and HOW you present it to me, not anything else. Do that, and your job is done.


This assignment is going out to 100 people. Only 1, maybe 2, will get the research assistant gig. You aren’t just competing with my expectations, you are competing with 99 other very motivated people. Your odds, even if you do a great job, are very slim.

I am telling you this because I think some of you have unrealistic or improper expectations of what this job will entail. This research assignment is very much like what you’ll be doing for the gig; it is hard, long, grueling work for not much money. Maybe this isn’t what you expected it to be. If not, that’s totally OK, just don’t do the assignment. You made it to round 3 and whats great, but you’re in NO obligation to continue.

If you do choose to do this assignment, you MUST understand that there are no guarantees of anything. To do this right, you’re going to have to essentially give up your whole weekend, and you may get nothing out of it beyond the experience of working on this assignment. This means you are going to possibly do work for nothing. If that’s OK with you, great, go to it. If not, I totally understand and I have no problem with you stopping now. That’s part of the reason I am giving such a hard assignment. This gig is not for everyone, and I only want the people to try it who are doing it for the right reasons.”

Of the 100 invited, 70 sent me something. And of that group, I would say that only about 10 were dogshit. That left 60 research reports on The Rock that I had to look through, read, and fully evaluate. I read all 70 once, found 11 that were of superior quality, and went over them multiple times. At this point, I think I know everything on the internet there is to know about The Rock.

In the end, there were two people who stood out from the rest, both were women, and I am probably going to be working with both of them in some regard on this project. Before I show you what they did right, let’s go over what I was looking for:

1. Someone who can make the right decisions: The applicants had only two days to do this. That’s not enough time. I wanted to force people to make decisions about what information to include and what to exclude, so I could see how they thought.

2. Someone who wants to work hard: This assignment was a ridiculously hard thing to do for a weekend, and would require the person to give up a lot of their time. I did this on purpose, because I knew it would eliminate a lot of people who might only be casually into this. I don’t want a casual assistant. I work my ass off, and if you don’t want it as much as me, I don’t want to work with you.

3. Someone who knows how to think: Research seems easy. It’s not, it is deceptively difficult. Theres a reason that Wall Street pays the best research analysts a shit load of money.


The things people did wrong:

Wrote an essay: This was the #1 problem, the main thing people did wrong. And when I say they wrote an essay, I mean they literally wrote a 5-10 page essay. I explicitly said I didn’t want this, I said not to do tons of original writing, but for some reason some people did this anyway. There was one person who did an essay format that made it to the final 11, but only because she did so much research and had so much information, I couldn’t keep her out. If she’d laid it out in a better format, she might have had the best report.

Used Powerpoint/Prezi: This choice was just awful. Look, Powerpoint is appropriate for one thing, and one thing only: IN PERSON PRESENTATIONS. Slides are crutches for you to utilize during a speech to help people visualize difficult representational objects. If you use Powerpoint for ANYTHING else, you’re doing it wrong.

That being said, THREE of the final 11 used Powerpoint. They did such a good job that they overcame a massive handicap they put on themselves. If they’d used a better presentation method, well, who knows? But for someone who wants a format that presents the information in a way it can be USED, Powerpoint is pretty much the worst.

Except for Prezi. About five people used a new online PowerPoint clone called Prezi. Fucking awful and annoying. I am not looking for an assistant to make my life harder. I want quick, easy, tested results. Prezi is a piece of shit (at least for all uses I’ve seen, maybe its great for something else).

Didn’t pay attention to information design: This was the biggest problem that at least 75% of the reports had. I said in the assignment that “HOW you present it to me” was important. I wasn’t expecting some incredibly polished report, in fact, I only gave people two days to do this because I didn’t want them to spend too much time on it and I wanted to see what decisions they made under constraints. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that most people didn’t seem to give ANY thought that OTHER PEOPLE would have to interpret their report. I think this is a problem of the way our educational system is structured; it’s about just getting the assignment done, with no thought to what the actual purpose of the assignment is. I didn’t ask for a research report for no reason–I wanted the right information presented to me in a way that I could easily digest it. It’s like a bunch of people never stopped and thought about what the end use of their work would be, what the PURPOSE of it was.

Some people had the opposite issue. They took my instructions to mean I wanted something pretty and fancy looking, and then submitted something that could be a magazine layout, but ignored the substance and included pretty much no information. No, that’s wrong. I could care less about flash; I wanted substance presented in a way that was easy to read, and good design accomplishes both things. [This doesn’t mean you couldn’t just put the information in a Word doc. Of course you can, and most of the best reports did that. But HOW you organize the info within a document is what matters.]

Provide poor or no analysis: Raw information presented without context, is more often than not totally worthless. You need to take the raw information and place it in context for the reader. For example, saying that “The Rock had a some movies not do well in 2005 and 2006,” is fundamentally different than explaining why those movies bombed, whereas the ones before and since have done so well (they were goofy family movies that his audience didn’t respond to, they weren’t the right roles for him, etc). It didn’t have to be a full, comprehensive analysis, but it had to be there to some extent. I want a research assistant who can think.

This was one of the main problems with just a straight outline format. It leaves no room for the insertion of analysis or opinion. A lot of people seem to think that research report means that they just put information together and thats it. No. You need to help people understand the information they are reading.

Not just no analysis, but poor analysis was another problem, and ended up being one of the key factors in eliminating people. That was actually one of the reasons I liked The Rock as a research subject; there are so many perspectives on his life one could take, I was able to discern a lot about the personalities of people just by reading between the lines of their analysis. For example, some people thought this was a joke, and were dismissive. You really think that bullshit attitude is going to make me want to HIRE you? Really?

Second, those of you who tried to be “funny” in your reports uniformly did an AWFUL job. It is HARD to be funny, and you aren’t funny. You may think you’re funny, which makes it even worse, because it shows you don’t have the aesthetics to really understand humor or content, nor the ability to look at yourself objectively.

I remember a specific submission, done in Powerpoint, where the person made a snarky joke about The Rock on every slide. If you’re going to do that, you’d better be REAL sure you audience will love it, and your jokes had better be good. I thought the jokes sucked (because they did), and I hated the tone. I don’t want the snarky (and stupid) opinion of some random, I want to see how well you can research.

Did very poor research: You would think that someone doing a research report would, at the very least, have all the basic facts and information there. This wasn’t the case all the time. Some people had reports that looked great, well-laid out, but had what was amounted to 2 or 3 pages of information. This is just not remotely enough.

First off, look at the Wikipedia page for The Rock. It’s long and fairly comprehensive at points. As a place to start, it’s fine, but your report should have had MUCH more than that page. If you don’t understand that concept, if you think just re-formatting or regurgitating whats on Wikipedia will work, you need to really evaluate what you think about work and life, because it’s ALL WRONG. That bullshit won’t cut it anywhere, unless you’re trying to be mediocre.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of people who did solid jobs, who didn’t make any of the obvious mistakes. I would say that at least 30-40 fit into that category. And there were about 11 or so who did good enough to get hired. But I tried to make clear that this wasn’t just a case of doing something pretty decent. I was going to pick the best person/people to work with, so doing an OK job wouldn’t be enough.



This is the research report I thought best captured what I was looking for. It has all the basic information about all aspects of The Rocks life. It provides good analysis where the basic information isn’t enough, and it lays the information out in a way that is very easy for me to read (it’s a tabbed layout, look on the right side, you’ll see like 10 tabs, one for each major part of his life).

Best Report [having problems uploading this, WordPress hates this file, if you really want to see it, email and ask for it:]

She is a bit light on information on one aspect: His wrestling career. But that was fine with me–if you’re going to cut somewhere, thats the place to cut. Some people spent a ton of time on all the crazy twists of his wrestling feuds or whatever, but who cares? WWE is all made up stage shows. The important things about his wrestling career are the things that happen outside the ring, not inside, and she covered that.

Here are some examples of research reports that have obvious mistakes:

-Tons of good information, but its outline format w/no analysis, no context

-Essay format, less than whats on Wikipedia

-Terrible information design

-Looks great, hardly any actual information


Lessons from the whole process, and a last word

First off, I want to thank everyone who participated. Even if you weren’t selected, I hope you learned something from this that you can take into other aspects of your life. I’ve learned a lot from this process, and I hope the people who were involved in the process have been helped as well. I said this in the last post, and I’ll say it again: Yes, this was a good opportunity for you, but please do not think it’s the only chance you have to succeed, or even the best chance. You don’t need me or this job to succeed at the things you value. You can do all it yourself, you just have to decide you’re going to do it, then put in all the work necessary.

From here, this blog will go onto other issues and I will write about a ton of other things, but I’m going to keep coming back to this again and again:

How does someone who has a little bit of talent and a lot of motivation succeed in life?

It’s the question I faced and answered in my life, I think it’s the question that a lot of other people want answered, and I have some perspective on that issue that can help other people. I know I saw a lot of that in the second round applications, and I know that several people have taken a lot from my write-ups of the first and second round of applications. Here’s the basic answer:

You need to actually put in the work to develop the skills necessary to be able to do things.

You want to be a writer? Then be prepared to write. A lot.  You want to be a marketer? Learn to tell stories. You want to be a designer? Learn how to use all the tools of design.

You wouldn’t believe how many people say they want to be something, yet have no desire to develop the skills necessary to do that. Makes no sense. That’s what this process is about: Seeing what you can actually DO.


Research assistant gig with Tucker Max

Recap of round one responses

Recap of round two responses

Why am I hiring an assistant like this