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Dawn Cannan is a software test evangelist who has been working to integrate testers as members of software development teams and improving the working relationships between testers, developers, and everyone else for the past 9 years. When not speaking at testing and agile conferences and user group meetings, she spends her time working in the open source community on the .NET version of SeleNesse, a plugin making it possible to create Selenium tests in FitNesse. She also writes actively, publishing articles and posting to her blog at passionatetester.com. Dawn is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 8 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Hiring misses: When we turn someone down for the wrong reasons

06.08.2010
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Filtering through hundreds of resumes can be a daunting task. Some people use recruiting agencies to help them filter the obvious misses, some go through all of them manually (I tend to fall into the latter group). Since I've recently been filtering through resumes again, I am reminded of a time when I learned first-hand just how much I missed out on when I didn't hire someone for something that today, I would find fairly minor.

It was 2007, and I had just gotten a job with a local nonprofit, starting their QA department from scratch (they had *zero* testers before me!). I sat across the cubicle aisle from a guy, let's call him Steve. Steve was a DBA, somewhat systems guy, overall smart guy. On my third day, we were all across the street at the pool hall playing pool at lunch time, when Steve finally decided to out me. He looked at me and said something like, "Okay, I waited until your third day. You don't recognize me, do you?"

Panicked, I am sure that I spent a few seconds (felt like minutes), trying to figure out who the heck he was. Why should I recognize him? ("Oh jeez, did I go on a *date* with him?!?!")

Finally (out of sympathy for my obvious flailing around a bunch of people I'd only known for 2.5 days), he said, "You interviewed me at (company x). Obviously, you didn't hire me."

WHAT?!?!?! I interviewed this guy and didn't remember him.

I said, "Oh, God, please tell me I was at least courteous and professional with you about it." (Not that I would be anything but....)

He laughed and said that I had been (Thank *goodness* for that!), and that he had been lacking in scripting skills. There was much joking about the incident for a while (I told him he was lucky, that I had done him a favor, that the company had since gone under.)

Over the next year and a half, I had the opportunity to work closely with Steve. I got to know the way he thought about the world, the way he approached problem solving, the way he thought through everything that he did, and the pride he took in his work. We spent many long hours and late nights working on problems together. We had a blast doing that, of course -- calling in pizza, having fun, coming up with private memes ("red is bad, makes angry grr"). It wasn't long before I realized just how dumb I had been for not hiring him when I had the chance. To this day, I'd sacrifice a lot to convince him to come into testing (he likes this DBA thing), and I'd hire him in heartbeat, without hesitation, any where, any time.

And I didn't hire him because he didn't have enough experience with scripting (something I could have taught him in a few days, likely....).

I realize that it's probably rare that people end up later working with someone they chose not to hire after an interview. Even rarer, I think, is compounding that with learning that they would have been a *fantastic* hire.

To this day, I think very carefully about what skills I choose not to hire over. I talk a lot about looking for the "testing mindset", and I feel that there are very few skills I cannot teach someone in a reasonable period of time. In fact, when I think of the kind of people I look to hire, their inquisitiveness and desire to learn usually mean that they can learn technical skills in a fairly short time (certainly a lot shorter than trying to teach someone with all of the technical skills I need to be inquisitive and have a desire to learn!).
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Florin Botis replied on Tue, 2010/06/08 - 9:52am

     Many times (almost every time) it doesn't matter what technicall skills someone has. It's all about how it is like a person and how passionate he is about the domain within he's working. 

Senthil Balakrishnan replied on Tue, 2010/06/08 - 9:00pm

Interesting article and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Interviews are always a challenge, and could get worst if it's subjective than objective. As you said it's important to know what you need from the candidate for sure and things that can be trained and picked up over the period.

Sen

Developer Dude replied on Tue, 2010/06/08 - 9:35pm

Certainly way too many people are rejected for trivial reasons. During the dot.com crunch it was not unheard of to see people rejected because they did not have experience with a specific version of an application/framework when the differences were very minor. Anything to put a filter on the overwhelming number of resumes flooding in.

This is one reason why I don't like to deal with third party recruiters regardless of which side of the hiring equation I happen to find myself on - if I am going to hire a recruiter then I want one that has at least a vague idea of the technologies involved and how to differentiate them, and one which is halfway skilled at their job (most are not IMO). Regardless of the recruiter type (internal/external), I just want them to do a very cursory first cut so that I get the resumes that I don't automatically reject out of hand (e.g., people who apply for a developer position, but whose only experience is writing Excel macros) - beyond that, I can narrow down the resumes fairly quickly by sorting them into two stacks, and I know better than a recruiter which need some follow up (which the recruiter can do - first phone screen).

Beyond that, yes, there are a lot of orgs out there looking for the perfect match for the position. I see a lot of positions remain posted for months (even a year) and I know there are people applying to these position who may not be a perfect match, but who can get up to speed quickly - certainly faster than they are spending on finding the perfect candidate (who may or may not be perfect after all). This is equivalent to 'analysis paralysis', and these orgs need more of a bias towards action than analysis.

Also, as you mention, interviewers need to categorize the skills they are looking for, know which ones are most important and which ones they can cut some slack on - also be able to recognize the candidates who can quickly get up to speed on those skills. Most people do this job very poorly - they not only don't think about these issues, they don't know how to ask the candidates about their skills.

In short, I have encountered very few orgs/persons who do this important task with any skill at all - most are totally incompetent. Which is sad, because staffing your team with good people is one of the most important things you can do to achieve success.

Developer Art replied on Fri, 2010/06/11 - 3:55am

I think most employers do not have a clue how to choose IT people. They put immediates skills over aptitude and personality, not realizing that those immediate skills get deprecated, it is only a matter of time.

That's why they often land with a bunch of jerks in their team where those great people that on occasion get, choose to get out quite quickly.

Right personality, passsion for the profession, an eye for elegant and quality solutions, willingness to learn and better oneself - these are the qualities that should be looked for. But most employers laugh at those. They only want to see a long resume with big company names and strong references.

So they get what they deserve.

Walter Bogaardt replied on Wed, 2010/06/16 - 12:43am

Interesting, although I do have to say in local markets you'd be surprise how often you run across the same people.

I do agree, after interviewing hundreds of people, that you can miss a few with minor discrepencies. When I go through the process I'm not looking for the veritable "Unicorn" or someone who has 100% of what I'm looking for in that person. The reason is no one has all those skills, and if they do they don't remember all the details.

The key and it goes back to hiring 101, which a lot of IT/tech people fail is it's all about the people and how they would fit in the organization. How quickly would they learn the technology.

 In many ways the DotCom era and silicon valley exceptionalisim made it such that you'd skip over a person if they didn't have certain skills in their bucket. I'm hoping those days are gone, because what drives a company's success is not the skills, but the quality, dedication, and ability to take on new challenges.

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