On Hiring Techies – Evaluate Potential, Not Accomplishments

This is a part of a series on Hiring Techies.

Evaluate Potential, Not Accomplishments

I don’t spend a ton of time reading resumes. Depending on the position we’re hiring for, I may look for a few critical skills but I’m mainly looking for themes that tell me that the candidate has a passion for technology. Do you contribute to an open source project? Do you blog? Do you have a history of attending or even speaking at conferences? Show me that technology is an important part of your life.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not want to read about your hobbies or what you do for fun. The fact that you have been the president of your local Pokemon club for 3 years or that you’re and avid White Sox fan is irrelevant. I want to get a sense of what you will bring to the team.

Does the candidate’s resume only highlight individual accomplishments? Are there any bullet points about past team’s successes? How about any experience introducing new technologies or organizing brown bag lunch sessions? I can typically spot a true team player based on how they highlight their successes and what they are proud of.

I want to work with a team of leaders. I want a team of mentors. There are millions of people who can write a web application. There are very few people who can write a web app and help me build a better team.

I’m looking for technological aptitude. A laundry list of impressive technical languages and tools is indeed impressive but it should never be the reason for hiring a candidate. Worse yet, it should never be the reason for passing on an interview opportunity or turning a candidate down. It took me a long time to realize that I don’t need to find someone with that fulfills every item on my wish list.

It’s important to remember that when we hire, we’re hiring a person and not a bag of skills.

Skills and experience are important, of course, but this should support your decision to hire someone rather than be the basis of your decision. This is probably the most frequent mistake I’ve seen folks make. Teams have missed out on great candidates because they were missing some specific tool in their belt. I’ve also seen very smart people hired who end up being culturally destructive.

I can teach an Eclipse user Visual Studio. I can teach a C# developer JavaScript. I cannot teach someone how to be passionate. I cannot teach someone how to fit into our culture.

Every position is different and the skills that are critical for the candidate to be successful in that position will vary. If your domain requires certain skills or experience then, absolutely, screen for that. I would expect this to be the exception rather than the rule, though.

3 comments:

  1. Nick,

    Lots of great points about hiring in your post. I’ll use a few.

    I was curious about the following section. “Do you contribute to an open source project? Do you blog? Do you have a history of attending or even speaking at conferences? Show me that technology is an important part of your life.”

    How do those things map into someone who can help your organization?

    Obviously, working with open source projects shows initiative and the ability to work with a team.

    Why are you interested in someone who blogs on a regular basis? Would writing posts perhaps be a regular part of a position at your company?

    Why do you think it’s important to attend conferences? Do you send your people to conferences? What do they bring back or accomplish, while on the trip? How do you choose the conferences or who goes?

    Same question with a colleague who speaks at conferences. A lot goes into preparing for a conference talk. How does having someone who is a strong speaker help your business goals? If they are solidly technical, how do they interact with marketing, sales and others on the team? Do they mentor others, on tech, speaking or both, in your company? How can they do technical stuff and be an outgoing, effective speaker at the same time? A lot of times, those two don’t go together very well, without a lot of work.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being critical or negative.

    I’m curious about your view, since most of the organizations I’ve worked with, have not specifically spelled out these areas as being truly valuable, certainly not at the very beginning of something they’ve written for public consumption. Sure, there’s a lot of organizational lip service, saying those things are important. In practice, most companies don’t recognize those skills in their people, much less put effort and funding into competently training or encouraging them to really shine.

    I like how you tied your points to leadership and just wanted to understand your hiring thought-process in greater detail.

    Thanks for you time and consideration.

    1. These are great points, Rob. And thank you for commenting!

      Very rarely will blogging or contributing to open source be a requirement of the job. It will definitely make you a better developer, though. Conferences should be a part of your job. I absolutely encourage everyone to attend conferences or meetups and teach the rest of the team what they learned. Even the most junior person on a team should be doing this.

      When hiring, I’m always looking for someone who has a passion for technology. Public speaking isn’t for everyone – I totally get that. Most people that love technology (especially programming) do some sort of “extra curricular activities” including blogging, speaking, working on open source. I just picked those items as examples, though.

      Maybe you wrote a macro that organizes your photos, maybe you have a personal website where you play with new languages or frameworks. Heck, maybe you just read and comment on blogs 🙂 When tech is more than a job it will always come through in one way or another. For me, these people are always going to have an upper hand when interviewing. Even if the person is less strong technically, I know that they can and will learn whatever they’re missing. And I guarantee that person will make everyone around them better.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying your life needs to revolve around technology or programming. Frankly, I don’t want someone on my team who is going to put in 12 hour days. Everyone needs to find a balance that works for them.

  2. I totally agree with your post … passion for tech and people that love to learn new things are important just like experience from past jobs.
    I’d like to add one more attribute: imagination.

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