I have spent a lot of time lately interviewing candidates in person and over the phone, mostly college students, for positions within our company, Innovative Systems, LLC. Our company, fortunately, has a tradition where all potential software developers are interviewed by our software developers – no HR people in the process until they are hired. Which is a great idea for both sides – I like to think some of our software developers can sniff out passionate developers – developers who will be advancing the cause. And for the candidates, they can ask anything about our company – our culture, the environment, the tools, the pace, you name it and get the answers directly from the people who know it best and whom they will be working with so no reason to decorate the truth at all.
Last year I had blogged about this very topic but with a focus on those students who are completely unprepared for life after college by never having had or kept a job – that post was here. Honestly, that trend seemed to have improved this year so this post won’t mention that this year.
I always warn people at the start of the interview that I am not a HR-person so it won’t be the most polished interview experience – in fact, I’ll jump around wherever the questions take me – I start with a script but as my wife knows – a script for me is a launching pad and then after that – who knows where I will end up. But I always let them know that any question is fair game….I want everyone who is thinking of working here to have the best unvarnished truth of our company so that if it is not the best fit for them, they can discover that before moving, uprooting families, etc. Sometimes I’ll spend as much time explaining the many benefits of our company, our industry leadership, and why so many of us are so committed to its success as I do playing devil’s advocate with them.
(Sidebar – if you have never understood the term “devil’s advocate” – check out this article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_advocate) – it is an interesting phrase as it describes the person (usually a non-Catholic) who would selected by the Catholic Church to present the opposing case against a proposed sainthood for someone – someone to propose the skeptics case as to why things were not truly divinely inspired miracles but rather the possible work of the devil meant to deceive humans. As the article mentions, even the case for making Mother Teresa a saint had to go thru this process – I think I’d make a good devil’s advocate …probably because I still believe Phil Donahue was and always will be TV’s greatest talk show host – he could stir up meaningful discussions on even the most lopsided arguments)
You see, once I have shared all of the things I believe make our company the clear choice for most people, I will spend time with them asking about their feelings about living in a small town (Mitchell, SD has less than 15,000 people), 4 hours away from ski slopes, South Dakota winters, our nearly 100% commitment to Microsoft tools, and working in a team dynamic – because that’s our reality – no sense in starting here if those will affect your future career happiness – our turnover is extremely low because people don’t typically leave because of the work but if they do, it is mostly due to geography and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Some prospective candidates have even taken me up on my offer to come back and visit us again at a later date after interviews and get another view of the company during a regular day – just walk around, take a break with us – get a feel for the vibe around here – so Rajiv’s recent post on this topic seemed very timely to me.
I have had the incredible luck to work at many good places but at one former place of employment, I had finally figured out the secret of successful companies and so I knew when it was appropriate to leave when I saw those signs that the policies of a new owner were starting to take those advantages away that had taken decades to build. The secret has been and always will be working with passionate leaders and coworkers. Rob Walling wrote a short essay on this awhile back that I think about occasionally – his title was dead-on correct – Passion is a Competitive Advantage. Companies can survive without a core group of passionate employees but they can’t thrive. At that company, I knew which coworkers that I felt like we needed for our core team to have long-term success and once we lost 2 of them – I knew it was time for me to find my exit strategy which fortunately worked out in the best way possible. Steve McConnell in one of my favorite books, Rapid Development, spends much of his book discussing what can be accomplished by a motivated, focused team. Advantages of having teams like ours is what allows us to thrive, expand and improve greatly even during times of economic recession while other less advantaged companies hunker down during the storm and just go into hibernation.
I am thankful for that and for the passionate people I work with. At one previous company, when the corporate mojo changed from “employees are our greatest asset”….to “employees are the largest expense to the bottom line” – the change in air was palpable. Some would argue that its just semantics…I mean, yes, of course labor costs are usually the greatest expense but when that becomes the message, and employees are viewed First as an Expense – that is when your companies trajectory has changed and probably not in a good direction and probably means a bean counter is in charge and good luck becoming a place of innovation with that as your corporate strategy…….it’s hard to think of any tech-centered companies where the bulk of the companies value is not squarely based on the quality and drive of its employees.
That’s all for now – Happy Halloween guys