Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Four Tips for Hiring Great Employees

Much of the sage wisdom on interviewing is directed towards the candidate in securing their next job opportunity while there is little guidance on how interviewers can improve their own ability to recognize and hire great talent. Today, I will provide you with Four tips based on both my own observations of interviews I have been on as well as many of the worst practices I have committed in the past...


Awhile back, I went on an interview for a position that would lead a team of five to six architects yet the interviewer spent little time on figuring out my leadership abilities.

Part of the challenge in finding a genuine leader is to look past pretty much the history of the industry age and what historically has been taught in schools.

Reflect back on your own school experiences and you may realize that increasingly, school is preparing people even less for the modern world than it has in the past. If an interviewer asks where you good in school, what is it that they want to understand?

Being good in school is a fine skill if you intend to do school forever. For the rest of us, being good at school is a little like being good at Nunchuck fighting. It's nice, but it's not relevant unless your career involves homework assignment, looking through textbooks for answers that are already known to your supervisors, complying with instructions and then in high-pressure settings, regurgitating those facts with limited thinking.

If you were to study the likes of Bill Gates, Barack Obama, George Bush, Warren Buffett and others, what would their school records look like? Leadership is not about education, but is all about the ability to be socially smart, to be open to connection and to understand the elements that build a tribe.

If an employer wanted to know more about my leadership abilities and style should they focus on scenarios where I was simply following a process that resulted in success or where I had to make difficult decisions where there was no roadmap or anyone to guidance provided?

Should an employer figure out whether I am simply a leader who does so under pressure or whether I make conscious choice to lead others? Would examples such as volunteering to run say The Hartford Chapter of OWASP on my own time be something that should be explored deeper?


Way too many interviewers attempt to test one's knowledge by asking them trivia-oriented questions. I remember one interview where someone asked me the difference between the Java keywords Transient and Volatile. Does knowing this or not knowing this make me a better architect? a better developer? If I happen to remember the method signature for the readLine method does that indicate that I am a great developer or simply a mediocre developer with good memory? As a developer, is it not better for me to use the intellsense features of my IDE to help fill in the method signature than to spend additional time remembering it? Developers are expensive resources and productivity is of the utmost importance.

Is it a good thing that a candidate know how to write his own framework or is it better that they know of the capabilities of multiple frameworks and can make the appropriate choices within a given context? If I know how to write Struts or Spring from scratch, does this make me a good developer or does this mean that I am pretty good at reinventing the wheel? Wouldn't a good developer on your team prefer to not know how to write their own framework and instead prefer to reuse something that already works?

I remember being asked several questions that were supposed to test logical thinking, but in reality may have been along the same lines. If you were to ask me to design a routine that can reverse a string using recursion, is it better for me to demonstrate my elite ninja whiteboarding skills or to instead know that the answer to this problem has already been thought about, solved and to conclude that time is better spent using Google to find the answer?

Intellectual masturbation is often committed by interviewers who are misguided in seeking people to compute the length of the hypotenuse of a certain right triangle when the focus should be on figuring the capabilities of an individual to relentlessly seek out new problems even more interesting than that one. Innovation drives our culture and pays higher dividends than spending time solving challenges that have already been solved and even have become commotitized.

Background Checks

Background checks should not be about the HR process of figuring out whether someone is a criminal or whether they have a bad credit score. A background check should be the time spent by the interviewer in figuring out what they can learn about a candidate before the interview begins. Way too many interviews spend time upfront on general courtesies that have no return. The infamous script usually sounds like: "So can you tell me a little bit about yourself" where the candidate essentially provides a short-form narrative of exactly what is written on their resume. Since most interviewers are more than capable of reading, I propose an alternative approach.

One of the best interviews I have ever had was when the interviewer did homework on me in advance of the discussion. They started with simply looking at my LinkedIn profile and noted that I had lots of recommendations. They also spent some time reading my blog entries and some of my latest tweets which gave them a better starting point in exploring my background. In other words, the interviewer controlled the conversation and was certain that they had maximum opportunity to explore areas which are of interest to them.

My LinkedIn profile indicates that I am an Enterprise Architect and when I describe my job, it will have strong affinity to concepts such as strategy and planning, leadership and mentoring capabilities. Is this what I do or is this what enterprise architecture is really about? One interviewer had asked me a question about an article I had written awhile back that I thought was brilliant. It provided him with the opportunity to learn if I did the bare minimum in terms of thinking about the subject area or had thought more deeply on the subject. In other words, they were able to tell my true experiences above and beyond simply describing my position.

Hiring your Twin

It only makes sense that many a hiring decision would be based on finding those who share a similar style, view or temperament to one's own. Yet similar traits in an employee consistutes familiarity, not necessarily the best employee hiring choice. I realized that this was one of my earliest career mistakes in that I would hire people who share common interests whle ignoring people who may have added flavor to the mix.

We have all seen the effects of the alumni network where one day, a new sheriff enters the town and becomes your CIO. He happens to also be Accenture alumni and soon after, ever subsequent hire also has this same alumni background. Does familiarity in this scenario serve to unite or potentially divide? Is the better answer to recognize that you need someone complementary but not necessarily your twin?

There are individuals whom I have worked with in the past that I absolutely cannot stand as an individual, yet I would hire them in a heartbeat because regardless of how I felt, we made beautiful music together. In other words, my personal feelings on a given situation should come second to the ability to create a successful business outcome.

It takes a lot of soul searching for you to figure out your own biases and to appreciate the benefits of embracing diversity and inclusion. It is not just a buzzword to be thrown around by HR professionals, but something that needs to be embraced by all. Once you go down this path, you may discover that you have placed many artificial constraints on your thought processes and in liberating your own mind will result in not only hiring better employees but in also making you a better person...

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