I was going through a stock photo website the other day and came across a “formula” that was supposed to equal the “perfect job candidate”. I chuckled a little out loud. The person sitting next to me looked over at what was on my laptop screen. Paused. Then asked me what I look for when I’m interviewing someone. What is my “perfect job candidate?”
I found the question a hard one to answer with words. I don’t think I’ve tried to put it into words before.
What do I look for when I’m interviewing someone? What is my “perfect job candidate?” The answer, really is that it depends. What is the job/role I’m interviewing the candidate for? What are the needs of the position and of the team?
As a team lead, my “ideal candidate”… my “nerdvana” would be someone who ends up being an all around win/win/win. A win for them, a win for their future co-workers and the team as a whole, and a win for the customers.
Of course first and foremost the candidate has to be a great fit for the job itself before anything else. For that I’d say my approach is similar to what Ethan Bank’s says in his last paragraph in his 2012 post: Four Interview Questions I Have Asked Network Engineering Candidates
“To sum up my approach, I want to get inside the candidate’s head as much as possible. I don’t need the candidate to know everything, but I do need to be confident that their thinking process is sound, that they are motivated to discover new things, and that they have the capacity to learn.”
Ethan Banks, 4 Must-Ask Interview Questions for Network Engineers
Just like Ethan, I too, “want to get inside the candidate’s head as much as possible”. Admittedly, for the majority of the job interviewing I’ve done, I’m looking for a few different things than Ethan is.
I am looking to see if the candidate is a team player… and I am also looking for them to be okay with asking for help.
Sorry if you are new to getting interviewed and about to go on a job interview and reading this and getting one thing from Ethan and another from me. Fair warning… if you read other blogs or books on the subject you will find the more you read… the more varied the answers are going to be. But that is the nature of going on an interview. I mean… after all… it is going to be people that are going to interview you. The life and career experiences of the people interviewing you are going to color their views and perceptions of you. They will also influence what we each are looking for in an our ideal “future co-worker”.
What job experiences have colored mine? In my 30 years of working in IT the majority of jobs that I have been in have had 3 things in common:
- very “time sensitive“
- small team
- “customer facing“
How does one go about trying to interview a candidate for that hard to find “Nerdvana win/win/win?” I can only tell you what it looks like if you are being interviewed by me for a job that has the 3 above characteristics?
Win for the Candidate
If the job is a “win” for the candidate this makes for a much more enjoyable work environment for everyone. Or what I like to refer to as “Nerdvana win/win/win”.
For the Candidate: As Ethan mentions in his blog… there is no perfect job. There are going to be things that you don’t particularly love doing in the job. Hopefully the interview is one where the interviewers ask the candidate at the end “do you have any questions for us?” The simplest and probably the safest questions a candidate can ask are
- What do you like most about the work?
- What do you like least about the work?
As a candidate being interviewed I like to ask the “what do you like most about the work” to all the people at the same time. I’m looking to see if they are searching hard for an answer or if the answers come quickly. I’m looking for nods or smiles of agreement from the other interviewers (or lack there of). I’m also looking for the body language and the eye contact the interviewers make with each other. Next comes the “what do you like least about the work” question. I always ask this one 2nd. Again looking for the same things. Do they come up with answers quickly? What is the body language and what are the non verbal cues they use with each other? Another thing I look for here as a candidate is common answers to what they like least about the job.
For the Interviewers: What I’m looking for is to “get in their head” to see if they could find themselves happy with the work, the job, the team…. and with the hours that can happen sometimes. Have they researched the job? Do they know what the job is about? Do they know there will be manual labor? Will this be a fit for them… a “win” for them and what they are looking for?
Win for the Team
In 30 years of working you can probably imagine that I have worked with all the varying stereotyped “Dilbert” and “Office Space” types. What might surprise some of you is that I have also been a few of those varying stereotyped work people. Let’s just say that when I was 24 I felt that if IBM was worth their salt at all they would have the intelligence to make me a manager after 1 year and their CEO by the time I was 35.
We have all been on teams and had teammates. So what type of teammate do we want?
I, personally, want someone who helps me feel like we are “in this team together“. Seem like a dream? Trust me… it is a superbly great dream. And it is a dream I have had the pleasure to live for the past few years on the team I’m currently on. No sibling rivalry. No backstabbing. No one thinks their “role” on the team is “more important” than anyone else’s. Everyone on the team plays a role …. everyone on the team carries their weight…. everyone on the team helps each other. This isn’t about just being a team for the sake of being a team. It is why our team’s work is so great.
What happens with a team like this? Naturally everyone wins. Everyone learns. Everyone grows. In a small team… with very time sensitive work…. not being a true team player is a liability.
So what kinds of questions do I ask? Really depends on the person, their resume and type of work they do.
- Have they ever worked on a team that was interdependent and relied on each other for the success of the work? If so I’ll ask for them to tell me a little about that – pros and cons to it from their experiences.
- Do they troubleshoot in their job? I’d like to know what they do after a couple hours. Do they continue on their own or do they pull a 2nd pair of eyes in? The “right answer” for me is to pull a 2nd pair of eyes in. You can imagine that with very time sensitive work it is not efficient to troubleshoot alone. Troubleshooting alone for hours and hours with very time sensitive work also puts at risk the success of the work.
- Do they have examples of conflict resolution at work? I’m going to be very interested if it is a current or prior team mate and I will ask probing questions. Basically I’m looking to see if they are going to talk down about this person or backstab to make themselves look better.
The questions really become specific to the kinds of other answers I’ve gotten from the candidate during the interview. Admittedly it also gets into whether or not there are “non team player warning flags” with the candidate that I think I perceive.
Win for the Customer
We are all customers in some area of our lives. So what do we want when we are the customer? How do we want to be treated?
I want to be treated with respect.
- If you don’t know something… tell me you don’t know. Otherwise, honestly, you are just wasting my time… which doesn’t feel like respect. So… yes… I’m one of those people who will interview you and give you enough rope to hang yourself. Yes… if you have multicast on your resume I have been known to ask you if I had a dense mode network where should I place the Rendezvous Point.
- If you don’t know something and we need to know definitively NOW (time sensitive)…. go ask someone who knows. Again… otherwise, honestly, you are just wasting my time again… which doesn’t feel like respect.
- It isn’t about You. It’s about me, the customer.
My “nerdvana” perfect job candidate then? I’d love me some win/win/win!
- A win for them,
- A win for their future co-workers and the team as a whole
- A win for the customers.