The Right Stuff

I’m sorry for the time between posts.  Our family has been very busy over the last few weeks with one daughter graduating high school and another getting married.  It was a lot of fun and we also had a tremendous amount of family and friends that stayed for awhile after the festivities and we had some tremendous fun in and around the Rockies.  Everyone else has gone back to their homes now and the house is a lot more quiet leaving me time to think.  Recently my thoughts have turned to hiring quality talent or people with “the right stuff”.

Some time ago I worked as a manager at a start-up that had been acquired by EDS.  As you might expect with a company like EDS, they had a well defined program for training new managers that I was fortunate to attend.  I had already been managing small teams and had done some hiring.  We were still growing at a good clip and adding new people so part of the training was devoted to hiring the right people for the company.  Up to that point when hiring new people for the team my focus had always been on their technical ability and experience with the systems and networks that we had in use.   Interviews were peppered with questions that helped determine if the candidate understood Cisco’s IOS or could program in C.  Did they have wireless/cellular experience and if so what platforms.  While I am certainly glad we asked a lot of those questions (because we did weed out some folks who claimed to be expert in those areas and did not come close), we were only covering a small portion of what mattered.

At the managers course I was asked a series of questions that helped change the way I view bringing in good talent.  For example I was asked if someone demonstrated a strong knowledge of FORTRAN (OK, this was a while ago) could they learn C?  Or if someone knew how to troubleshoot a T1 could they learn to manage DS3’s?  Basically if someone was demonstrating great proficiency in a technical area that was of similar complexity could they learn what they needed to master the technology we were using?  While I know that this needs a standard disclaimer that past performance is not necessarily a guarantee of future performance, it’s fair to say it’s a good indicator.  My thoughts were that most people who were good at other complex systems could quickly come up to speed on new systems of similar complexity given the right amount of training (investment in their skills).

Then the questions turned to things that were about as far from technical as you could get.  If a candidate was a dishonest person, could they be taught to be honest?  If they were lazy, could you teach them a good work ethic?  If they had a negative attitude, could you teach them to be a more positive person?  The list went on but I think you can get the picture from here.  Basically, while we know people can change and we all do change and grow even in later years, ethically speaking, a lot of what makes you who you are is fairly well set by the time you are in your early 20’s and entering the job market.  If you did not have the benefit of being taught the importance of integrity by your parents how well can a hiring manager fix that?  If you weren’t taught a strong work ethic, how easy is that for the company to train?  Would you prefer to teach an employee who demonstrated proficiency in Ethernet how a switch works or would you prefer to teach an employee who likes to call in sick all the time the value of a good work ethic?  Which one do you think would be more successful?

As I talk with candidates lately about their experiences in the market I’ve noticed what appears to be a fair amount of companies focusing more on very specific skills or market experience and less on figuring out if the candidate is the right kind of person for the culture of the company.  Or at least that is the way it seems.  Over the years while working with candidates applying for jobs I have split my energy between hard skills and the more subjective soft skills and I feel that I have made much better hires when I know someone who would be truly passionate about their new role and quickly adapt to their new surroundings.

In a difficult job market like the current one, I think it’s good for a company to be choosy (actually it’s smart to be choosy in any job market).  Hiring smartly is something that pays dividends for years and years as you stock up on great employees that can help move your company forward.   I would be curious for feedback from the readers of this blog.  Do you think companies are valuing the ethics and attitude of candidates or do you think people are stuck on whether or not you are a god with Java?  Please give it some thought and leave your feedback!

– Yeti

P.S.

If you are looking for good leaders who also happen to blog, there are two in particular I enjoy that you might want to check out:

Dan Caruso who is the CEO of the Zayo Group and he has a blog at Bear on Business.

Brady Rafuse who is the CEO of euNetworks and he has a blog at BradyRafuse.com.