Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hiring hiring hiring

Hiring is on my mind lately, not the least because i have a couple of spots that i'm looking to fill.  This morning the twitterverse handed me a couple of articles that made me want to talk about hiring a little bit.

The articles in question are "Why you should hire like a rock band."  and "The case for hiring 'under-qualified' employees,"  You can read them as you will but essentially the first talks about hiring for culture and the second talks about hiring for hunger.  Both of these articles struck a similar chord to me, both have the same goal in the end.  You need to hire people that will fit your organization more than you need to hire the skills that your headcount requires.

Rating fit above skill is the hard part for a lot of people to swallow.  This might be in part because it's a lot more nebulous and therefore is more difficult to measure.  It's not even all that easy to adequately assess the technical skills of a candidate but at least you're capable of measuring something and having some idea about their qualifications.  Anyone who objects to this statement hasn't really tried to write a test or set of questions to give a high level of confidence of the actual practical appliable skills of a candidate and then matched them to the results down the road.

It's kind of the holy grail.  A test that shows you that they'll be able to do the work that you put in front of them at the level that you desire.  Either they test well and implement poorly or test poorly but might implement well, but you'll never know cause you didn't hire them based upon the test.

On the other hand, if you start by attempting to match for culture and personality fit with skills secondary (but not unimportant) then you stand a much better chance of getting where you're going.  If you can figure out that a person is someone who wants to achieve, will work hard, will mesh with your team pretty well and is capable of achieving shared vision with your organization then you should be able to train them to whatever level you need them to occupy.  Granted, the closer you can get to the skills you want/need will shorten this amount of time.

The next question might be to ask how you assess this fit.   It's not easy.  When i go into an interview i have a few questions written down, about 20, that i like to get ask.  Not really necessarily because i like to know that they have the right answer to the question but rather how they tackle the question and the process they use to achieve an answer and then what they come up with.  One of my favourites was discussed in an earlier post about usability.   The two-parter asking the candidate both, 'who in their experience owns usability' and 'who should own usability.'  There isn't a correct answer to this question, there's barely even a wrong answer if you can give me reasoning that makes me believe that you can think coherently about things.  But even in the way that you deal with left field questions will help me to figure out if you're going to fit in.  do you have a good attitude about it, tackle it positively, don't fill your answer with too much bullshit etc.  I know there's a lot of science behind interview process but in the end the assessor, or interviewer, has to figure out the fit thing on their own personal level.

Here's one of the good things about bringing in someone to interview who's not really qualified for a job; they don't hold back.  Generally they have nothing to lose, so they really put themselves out there.  there will be some that are too nervous to make that work but that's the thing with someone who's not qualified, if they can't shine in the interview you really don't want them.  In a lot of ways the decision becomes easier because you only care if they really shine.  In tech, sometimes you have to consider people who are fully qualified but have quietness issues or smell weird or whatever because you're hiring for an odd skill set and your price range is fixed.  That doesn't work with the under-qualified.  If they don't impress the pants off you in the interview you know that they're not going to have the go-gettum-ness to learn the skills to do the job.

I've had a lot of success in hiring for fit and ability to learn for Jr positions.  Especially in QA.  QA's a tough one for finding qualified jr's though.  Generally they only stay a Jr for a couple of years and they won't really be looking during their first job for something else until it's time to move up.  So you have a choice, you can hire fresh out of training, and frankly i've never ever been particularly impressed with the candidates i've seen coming out trained for QA or you can hire someone with an obvious aptitude that you can train.  a person who's shown that they want and need to learn things can not only learn the skills they can learn to adapt to your culture faster, easier, better.

And here's the clincher; I'm not just talking about social/work culture.  I'm talking about culture of quality.  You get to take a receptive, clean (so to speak) mind and imbue them with your quality goals and concepts.  it's a very powerful way to help your team grow in quality the way that fits your quality vision.  Top down to the bottom and then bottom back up.  Having people who are ready, willing and able to achieve shared vision with your rapidly is very powerful and can't be discounted.

In summary, no matter your skill needs, always try to hire for fit but don't discount the under-qualified because longer-term they might be the best choice for the job.


  1. Great article. I agree with most of it. From a practical stand point, how do you choose who to interview? You can't really see fit or attitude in the resume.
    I'd love it if we could hire more on the person than the experience. When I am hiring for myself, I try to identify an interest in continuous improvement in the way the team does their work, self aware / critical, and that their chosen job meshes with their personal interests (not just a pay cheque) but I always start with some type of experience base line. It may experience similar to role as opposed to an exact match. I have trained many people from scratch and it is really great to see someone realize they just found a job they love. But it is definitely more risky.

  2. You raise a very good point Darielle. That initial filtering has to be done on some basis. I will admit that i like having someone else filter resumes down to a few so i can start my judging there. At that point you can read a resume thoroughly to see if you can get a sense of their personality coming through. Which in itself is a trap because 9 times out of 10, when someone has made their resume 'interesting' i've chosen to hold it against them in some sort of pre-judging fashion. But if you have 200 resumes, skills and experience are all you can hope to filter on.
    For someone really not qualified for your job or a Jr hoping to break in, then you have to look at the experience that they've had or their cover letter or some other glimmer. Most of the jr's i have hired have been lucky enough to be recommended by someone. but you can't rely on that i guess.