Nothing can screw up a team faster than hiring a bad employee. The focus is often on certifications, degrees, and experience (CDEs). Softer traits like honesty and adaptation are often ignored. For the most part, it is easier to look at hard stats than to measure these soft qualities.
Below are five specific traits you should look for along with the steps you can take to gauge these attributes. Focusing on these and the CDEs will help you hire the perfect IT employee.
Of the five traits, honesty is the most important. Why? Well, an honest admin is willing to admit a mistake and learn from it. They have no problem not knowing something and can admit that. A dishonest admin will pass blame or cover up mistakes.
Separating these two in an interview involves a bit of game theory. I prefer choosing from one of these two methods.
Method 1: Stump the Chump
This isn’t the most accurate of titles as you don’t actually want to make the applicant look bad. In a nutshell, start with a somewhat basic question for a specific subject that the interviewee should know. Keep moving the difficulty of the question up until you exhaust their level of knowledge. Repeat the process with another subject related to the job. You will pretty quickly see if the person will try to BS or if they are fine admitting something they don’t know. As a side benefit, you can accurately gauge their technical qualifications as well.
Method 2: Worst Mistake
In IT, we have this huge fear when talking about a mess up that we’ve caused. Hearing someone talk about a big technical mistake they’ve made and what they’ve learned provides a lot of insight into their character. Ask about past mistakes and any lessons learned from the mistake.
If you are a regular reader, I would bet that you are a huge believer in the magician style of work. If you want to move away from firefighting (or keep those fires from even starting), hiring other magicians is a sure way to do so. Look for examples of a preventive nature in their resume. Ask questions about big projects. You can often see trends of preventive and reactive natures this way.
Ask questions about past problems at work and solutions that they have come up with. See if this mindset exists outside of IT. Preventiveness tends to run with the person as a whole. One favorite questions is actually three parts.
- Would you describe yourself as primarily reactive or proactive? (note – everyone says proactive)
- Can you give an example of a problem you proactively fixed? (most can).
- Can you give an example of a problem you have reactively fixed?
It is this last one that is so difficult to answer. Though not always true, a proactive person stays bothered by a reactive solution.
Not to argue too much with Al Capone but you actually can get really far with just a kind word. An IT professional who is people oriented understands who they are serving (ex: the students and teachers in a school). People Oriented IT professionals don’t belittle end users for not knowing something. They go out of their way to improve the technical experience and to integrate IT into the organization as a whole.
It is often quicker to find signs that the applicant is not people oriented.
- Do they complain often?
- Are they a the glass is half empty person?
- Do they put down on who they support (or their past employers/coworkers)?
- How do they treat others around them when coming in for an interview?
I should note that an applicant who is people oriented does not have to be a bubbly extroverted person. Introverts have their own set of strengths as well. In both cases, it is important for technology to ultimately help the organization and users.
Excited about Change
Someone who is excited about change is someone who is always ready to learn. Few fields change as rapidly as IT. The very tools you use now may not have existed a few years ago.
Embracing change doesn’t mean buying every new gadget and upgrade though. Instead, an employee who embraces change evaluates new tools effectively because they are willing to try something new. Their skills remain current because technology is still fun for them. Their solutions are innovative because they learn more than is required to keep their job.
Find out how applicants feel about the change in technology as a whole and in the field they are in. What new things are they learning? How do they keep up with change? What trends are they passionate about? These questions will also highlight their ability to adapt to your IT environment.
Doesn’t Need You
This is probably the most controversial attribute in this whole article. It is arguably the most important. It might sound unconventional but an employee that doesn’t need you can make for the best type of employee. These employees might live below their means, have highly valuable skills, or some other important attribute. Either way, they are choosing to work with you.
Think about the worst employee you’ve dealt with. They were likely 100% reliant on staying employed. They might be unwilling to tell you an idea is bad because they are afraid of losing their job. Their technical skills might be so outdated that they couldn’t find employment elsewhere. They might be completely dependent on that high paycheck and are afraid to take a risk or try something new.
You can’t really come out and ask the employee how much they need to work for you. This makes teasing this out hard. These candidates tend to be passionate about the field they are in. They usually have a fairly recent example of furthering their knowledge. They may have a new certification or degree. They may have just completed a large or complex project. They tend to be confident. As a note, do not mistake cockiness for this attribute.
What do you value in a new hire? How do the items above stack up on your list?