Hiring people is always a challenge… at least for me. I’m generally not good at it. I tend to believe everyone would do whatever it takes to be successful. I have learned to water down that impression somewhat but I have to constantly monitor my impulse.
Over the last month or so I’ve had to oversee hiring another programmer. After harvesting a stack of resume’s we began the interviewing process. What was different this time was a book I read just a few weeks before. “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lincioni. It is an awesome book for team building. The read is easy since its in story format (Socratic). With the simply outline of: Humble, Hungry, Smart our IT leadership went about evaluating the interviews.
We had four finalists that made it to the physical interview process. Almost immediately it was brought down to three. It appeared all three applicants could do the job. Their resume’s were very similar, in fact almost identical (font included). All of them took the exact same courses from the exact same college. Given what they took in college could hardly scratch the surface of what we needed, we began the frustrating process.
One feature we look for in programming more than anything else is what projects have they developed on their own… apart from school and assignments. Two of the three had this experience. One applicant wrote a program that scanned grocery prices and kept a total of what was in the cart. Another applicant wrote a scheduling program for a non-profit to help in their deliveries. Being interested in your field of study means you will FIND ways to use use your abilities naturally… without being told what to do. It’s a measure of personal initiative. If someone displays hunger, they go to the top of the pile.
At the end of the first interview we gave the applicants the option to view some training video’s we have on the specific languages we use. They were each given a user name and password so they could watch them at home on their own time, before the next interview… if they chose to. Only two chose to watch, the same two which wrote their own programs. Then, of the two, only one spent more than a half hour of the 14 available hours of videos. The top contender watched over five hours. We had only two hungry applicants.
Within five minutes of the second interview one applicant (who viewed only a half our of the videos) required a base rate in excess of what our existing team began with in their first year. Upon explaining our dilemma the applicant stood up and walked out of the interview… and went back to his construction job (shoveling concrete if memory recalls correctly). It’s not exactly the humble reaction we were looking for… or the “smart with people” response either.
About an hour into the final applicant’s interview process he too began making what we thought was unrealistic demands. Apparently the government program he was on allowed him to benefit the same as our starting wage and he thought it better to get paid for nothing than to get paid for working. We thanked him for his time and decided to talk over the options privately with our team. In the discussions we eliminated the financial conflict, we could pay if it was necessary. What bothered our team about the final applicant was the lack of humility. We knew that within a year we would be facing another demand… then another. It appeared to us that the applicant wasn’t focused on the work… only on what he could get from their work. We would be putting in hundreds of hours in training, then loose them to someone else. At best, we were a stepping stone.
We hired none of them. Highly functional teams would rather work short handed and under pressure than with an unruly or unreliable co-worker. It’s miserable working along side an uncommitted a**hole.
Then I got a phone call from a prior client. He had a programming idea and wanted our opinion. He came in on a Tuesday and pitched us. He had already wrote a different program for the trucking industry and even successfully sold it. His new idea was good in theory. Though he wrote it in a language we don’t use any more he was now fascinated by how and what we were building. After a couple hours we realized we answered more questions about what we did than he answered about what he did. We asked him to come back Friday so we could view his work. In his interview he was humble and smart (with people). His desire and ability to build in our industry was clear evidence he was hungry. He had no formal education. We offered him the job.
This example is not a new one. I have come to believe that formal schooling is sometimes counter productive. Diplomas and Degrees can plant seeds of arrogance, the thinking that they are more important and valuable than what they really are. Colleges can set unrealistic expectations about the job market… implying a graduate can/should start at the top… or nothing less than the middle. Students are led to think that only doing work AT school FOR school is enough to get a job. Sometimes it is… but it depends on the job itself and/or the employers desire to build a strong team rather than a group of workers.
Showing initiative and humility multiplies a persons chances of successful placement. Being an employer who builds a team of enthusiastic participants is much different than someone who just looks for a warm body. A team builder needs the ability to walk away from qualified people who are too full of themselves. Walking away isn’t a luxury in team building, its a necessity.