My Hiring Principles – Intelligence, Quirkiness, Certifications and Situational Testing

The current state of the job market has resulted in tons of articles on the best way to hire.  I read one this morning that said companies are putting people through incredible numbers of interviews before making any decisions.  I have worked as part of a hiring committee in a small business, conducted interviews and made hiring decisions by myself, for my own teams, and have also been in the unique position to hire my replacement in a larger organization.  Of course, I have also seen my fair share of hiring decisions made by others, all with relative levels of success.

As a general rule, I tend to live my life by surrounding myself with interesting and smart people.  I believe that you can teach smart people almost any skills they need to succeed.  Obviously though there are benefits to having an existing connection to the person and having them have some technical skills, but if the person is smart and has a desire to learn new things, you can train them for success.  This worked well for me a small business services company, one with a technical spin.  I oversaw a team of Indian programmers, along with a handful of people who processed all the customer invoices; answered all the billing inquiries; managed all the software development projects, including timelines, mockups and testing; wrote the RFP responses to our customers; on top of managing all the corporate infrastructure (phone system, computers, networking) and technical interface with our wholesale service provider.  Not one of my team was educated in technology.  My most technical resource had degrees in philosophy but had been involved with computers on the side for many years.  The others were mostly employees who came to the organization through the customer service department as a temp, was retained and showed interest in doing more for the organization.  In all cases, these employees continued their technical educations and remain in more technical roles today.

Another trait I look for is that little spot of quirkiness or uniqueness.  I find this tends to make life, and work more interesting.  It is the source of that unique perspective that introduces innovation into the organization and onto my team.  It is the thing that raises the lingering questions and drives  an individual to want to find a solution.  Colleagues and I would ask candidates situational questions, related and unrelated to work.  These ranged from how do you address the cranky customer who is unfamiliar with technology, doesn’t have someone to help him and can’t make it work; to what would you bring to the office potluck on the first day of the job.  We cared less about the exact answer and more about their thought processes and reactions.

This is the same reason we introduced a basic test for our customer service candidates.  It was a basic test of job related excel, powerpoint, and internet search questions.  We told candidates that it was imperative to be able to ask questions to properly support our high touch clientele.  We said that this was a test to gauge a very rough sense of their skill sets, however that was less important than their ability to ask questions.  Any employee was available to answer their question, but the most important component was that they be able to ask it.    I was always amazed by the number of people who gave up before they even started and those people who did very poorly but never asked a single question.  I’m not sure if they thought we were kidding or were afraid.  But ultimately we figured out that passing this test did a really good job of predicting success at our organization. There was one particular candidate who failed the test, but followed up through the temp agency requesting a second chance, did his homework and ultimately was hired.  This candidate ended up being a great asset to the organization and learned a significant amount along the way.  It was the tenacity of this individual that changed our mind.

The last point I’ll make about hiring relates to certifications.  A certification in itself doesn’t predict anything about how well a person does.  It means they received a certification for attending a class. A class is a structured environment with a set curriculum that most likely will not mimic the reality of the situations at your business.  I would rather see a few years of concrete experience in that same skill or technology over a long list of certificates.  I’m not saying there isn’t value in pursuing knowledge and learning new skills, but show me you can leverage those skills to help me solve my problems.  There are ample methods to showcase the skills you have learned even immediately after you completed a certificate program.  Leverage those technology or skill specific networking groups, find a non-profit who could really appreciate some assistance or create a project of your own that demonstrates your expertise.

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