Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Recruiting for Potential

Potential. OK I admit it, I left potential out as one of the hard characteristics to probe for. What is potential, anyhow? Well, one definition is that it’s the ability for a candidate to progress to higher levels of contribution within your organization. If hired in as an entry-level test engineer, could the candidate progress to a technical lead? Can she become a test lead, test manager, or even an engineering director?

So how do you gauge this? It’s not as straightforward as measuring, say, technical skills or the ability to tear apart an application into test questions. But there are some guidelines I like to use in my recruiting which might help you.

First of all, I’m looking for a level of maturity about career opportunity. I don’t expect a college candidate to be as realistic or mature about where they want their career to go as I would, say, a five-year veteran. However, I’m still looking for a candidate who wants to progress and who wants to make a difference. I’m looking for a candidate who’s evaluating my opportunity on the basis of where she can go next and what skills she can gain. I’m also looking for a candidate who’s thinking about how they can contribute. A campus hire isn’t necessarily going to change the way my department does everything, but they may well come in with new coding skills or a process improvement they picked up during an internship.

Next thing to think about is what have they demonstrated in the past in the area of improving their abilities? I will ask things like “What technologies have you learned recently?” or “What have you had to come up to speed on in your workplace?” For me, I’m always needing to learn something. After 11 years at Microsoft , I am facing a huge wall of IT skills now that I’m in an Oracle and IBM heavy environment (more on that someday…). So I’m learning all about open source test tools, getting up to speed on Oracle SQL and I’ll probably have to jump into Java programming (sigh). But I do what it takes to keep on top of the technologies behind my projects—I’m a professional.

There’s something next which is really tough to describe, let alone measure in a candidate. Put simply, does the candidate ‘get it’? Do they understand the role of IT in the org they’re interviewing for? Do they understand issues or challenges they may have faced (or that they face) in previous positions? Are they all blame and no responsibility? Are they open and introspective about their failures, or do they continue to point the finger at outside influences? Do they show the mental maturity to make decisions on a team or group-wide level?
As not all candidates want management to be in their future, you also need to probe for deeper technical skills. Do they have any experience in distributed programming environments? Do they understand that their projects have broad impact? Can they see, for example, how an automation framework they worked on in a previous team could have been used across their entire organization?

It’s a challenge to measure a candidate’s ability to grow, but hopefully each candidate is going to be with your group for a very long time, so you want to be sure you’re hiring people who can grow over the long term and won’t just consume oxygen.

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