Hiring people is always a challenge… at least for me. I am generally not good at it as I tend to believe everyone will do whatever it takes to be successful. I have learned to water down that impression somewhat, but I must constantly monitor my impulses.
Over the last month or so I’ve had to oversee hiring another programmer. After harvesting a stack of resumes, we began the interviewing process. What was different this time was a book I read just a few weeks ago called “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lincioni. It is an awesome book for team building. The read is easy since it is in story format (Socratic). With the simple 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 resumes 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 work and school 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 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 videos we have on the specific languages we use. They were each given a username 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 that wrote their own programs. Then, of the two, one spent only a half-hour watching the 14 available hours of videos, but the top contender watched over five hours. We had only one hungry applicant.
Within five minutes of the second interview, the applicant (who had viewed only a half-hour of the videos) told us he required a base pay rate more than 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 (shovelling concrete if my 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 by receiving the same income as our starting wage and he thought it would be better to get paid for doing 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 those discussions we eliminated the financial conflict; we could pay more if it were necessary. What bothered our team about the final applicant was the lack of humility. We knew that with this person, within a year, we would be facing another demand… and then another. It appeared to us that the applicant was not focused on the work… only on what he could get paid from doing the work. We would be putting in hundreds of hours in training and then lose this person to someone else. At best, we were a steppingstone.
We hired none of them. Highly functional teams would rather work shorthanded and under pressure than with an unruly or unreliable co-worker. It’s miserable working alongside an uncommitted a**hole.
Then I received 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 written a different program for the trucking industry and even successfully sold it. His new idea was good in theory, although he wrote it in a programming language that we don’t use any more. He was fascinated by how and what we were building. After a couple of hours, we realized that 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 but none the less we offered him the job.
This example is not a new one. I have come to believe that formal schooling is sometimes counterproductive. 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 person’s 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 is not a luxury in team building; it’s a necessity.
About the Author:
Robert D. Scheper is a leading Accountant and Consultant to the Lease/Owner operator industry in Canada. His first book in the Making Your Miles Count series “taxes, taxes, taxes” was released in 2007. His firm exclusively serves Lease/Owner Operators across Canada. His second book “Choosing a Trucking company” is the most in-depth analysis of the operator industry available today. He has a Master’s degree (MBA) in financial management and has been serving the industry since he and his wife came off the road in 1993. His dedication, commitment and strong opinions can be read and heard in many articles and seminars.
You can find him and his books at www.makingyourmilescount.com or 1-877-987-9787. You can also e-mail him at email@example.com.
Robert D Scheper operates an accounting and consulting firm in Steinbach, Manitoba. He has a Masters Degree in Business Administration and is the author of the Book “Making Your Miles Count: taxes, taxes, taxes” (now available on CD). You can find him at www.thrconsulting.ca and thrconsulting.blogspot.com or at 1-877-987-9787. You can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.