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Passion, People and Principles

Who to Hire

post # 97 — June 4, 2006 — a Careers, Managing post

If you were in charge of recruiting and selecting entry-level people (say, people in their early 20s) what criteria would you use in prediciting future success not just as a skilled technician, but as someone who would be likely to succeed in becoming (eventually) an effective manager or leader in the business?

Based on what I’ve seen , here’s what I’d look for: Someone with…

  1. A modest background – not extreme poverty or riches. – Someone who had had to create their own success – a self-made man or woman, with above-average energy, drive and ambition
  2. A character that shines through regardless of the role they are playing, as illustrated by references from past clients, subordinates, colleagues, superiors and friends. I’d want to know if everybody (from every direction) said the same thing about the person’s character.
  3. A track record of having a hunger for responsibility, already demonstrated in volunteering for leadership roles in extracurricular activities Consistent high-rated scores from the beginning, not just as they approached final exams or the end of school.
  4. Some evidence that they are driven by a restless curiosity, seeking variety, showing the initiative to eagerly taking risks with their careers. I’d worry about someone who had been too focused, or followed too logical a path.
  5. A history of long, strong, stable personal relationships.
  6. A desire to accomplish something that they can describe interms other than money, treating riches as the outcome of achieving their success, not as the definition of it.

Anyone agree? Disagree?

Do you think you could spot these things in a young person in the typical recruiting interview process? If not, how would you go about finding out about them?

(Would the criteria change if you were recruiting mid-career lateral hires – say, people in the 30s, 40s or 50s?


Roman Rytov said:

I’d even more emphasize the necessity for a yong pro of ambition and a desire to ask “why not” questions.

It’s interesting to see how the blogosphere reverberates rhythmically since I yesterday posted a blog with almost the same title: http://roman-rytov.typepad.com/miles/2006/06/whom_to_hire_fo.html

posted on June 4, 2006

Carl Singer said:

Certainly different jobs / careers require different technical skill sets and different attitudes, social skills and a special ethos.

One question I like to blend into my conversation with candidates is what did their parents do for a living. I don’t so much care about the specific reply—I care about their attitutude towards hard work and it may be reflected in how they discuss their parents’ jobs.

I must caution that this may be a slippery slope re: permissible interview topics.

posted on June 4, 2006

david foster said:

It would be a positive sign if the person has done something other than ride the educational conveyor belt that runs from kindergarten through college degree and/or grad school. Serving in the military, starting a business, etc…these are signs that the person may be capable of making his own way rather than just being programmed.

posted on June 4, 2006

Tim Griffin said:

David’s list is right on. In the engineering consulting field, our team has started looking even younger. We hire mid-school interns through a co-op program, selecting based on these skills. The caveat is the program gives the candidates time to demonstrate these attributes prior to graduation. Our success rate for full time hires has been 100%.

posted on June 5, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Thanks, everyone. Tim, you may be interested in a comment that I left on Roman’s blog, where I asserted that a good strategy was always to hire people with fewer qualifications and give them lots od responsibility and oportunties that they could not obtai n elsewhere.

Done this way, people will be enrgized, loyal and will accomplish things even they never knew they could. It sounds like astrategy you would endorse, Tim.

David is, of course, absolutely correct, that just “riding the educational conveyer belt” (a phrase I love) gives very limited info about a person. I’m sensitive to that, because it’s just what I did, and I wish I had not done JUST that.

Carl raises an important and delicate subject. I, too, suggested that parental background is relevant, but this (as he points out) can be misinterpreted and twisted.

I’ll never forget returning to England as a high-priced consultant, having a “let’s get to know each other” lunch with some high-powered clients. Within minutes, I was being asked what my father did for a living. Being England, I KNEW they were trying to poisiton me in the “class system.” I took great delight in pointing our proudly that I cam from a blue-collar (“working class”) family, although I’m not sure that’s the answer they wanted to hear!

Tricky stuff!

posted on June 5, 2006

Ron Evans said:

David: When ever we interviewed entry level people, one question was always asked. What did you do during summer school breaks though high school, univeristy or college years? The applicants that showed they had a desire to work, and taken on new challanges had a very good chance of being on the short list.

posted on June 5, 2006

Carl Singer said:

Summer jobs—good point! Let’s distinguish between differentiators—when you have a dozen bright shiny candidates each with similar high powered credentials from their trip along the “Educational Conveyor Belt” and you have to pick one or a few—and Qualifiers (or disqualifiers) you’re speaking of a specific individual and he or she fit and prosper on your team.

posted on June 5, 2006

Bill Peper said:

I worked as a Director of Career Services at law school in a previous life, so my perspective on this topic reflects my interactions with many talented students.

I look for:

someone who has worked during the school year, with self-financing of college a major plus;

Someone who finished a four-year degree in four years;

Someone who has had to get some answers right. My Dad interviewed candidates for General Motors for years, and he was always skeptical of a college student who had written only blue book essays for liberal arts classes. Dad said that he needed things done correctly, not essays;

Someone who has received significant raises and/or promotions at work;

Someone who I would feel comfortable meeting my best client on his/her first day;

Someone recommended by the Career Services Director or a professor with some grasp of reality as “special” or who they would hire first if they were starting a business;

Someone who has had some academic success, but necessarily at the top of the class;

Someone with the poise and social skils to be comfortable in speaking with adults on adult topics;

someone with exceptional writing skills;

and someone who I would be excited to hire and envision becoming a long-term friend and employee.

I would be less inclined than those previously responding to avoid candidates who went straight though college and lacked substantial experience

outside of college. This group includes many of those who were my best managers.

Obviously, the criteria would be different for a person with substantial work experience. I search for consistent achievement in work and personal settings.

One of the most underrated skills in business today is the ability to hire the best possible entry-level performers—those with great upend potential.

posted on June 5, 2006

Ted Harro said:

My list for 30’s/40’s: – Insatiable curiosity – they still want to learn and don’t think they know it all – Resourcefulness – they can show that they have overcome obstacles with creativity (and humor is a plus!) – Young references – they have invested in those younger than themselves (ie those from whom they may have little to gain) such that they’ll rave about them

posted on June 8, 2006