IT Employment

Ensure "fit" in the hiring process

When hiring a new staffer, never underestimate how he or she will fit into your organization. Here's one CIO's story.

As a CIO, I've been in the market for a database administrator for a couple of months and, to be certain, this is definitely the most challenging task I've had when it comes to filling a vacancy. Well-qualified database administrators can be hard to find. After a couple of ads in newspapers and various industry web sites and some strategic listserv postings, I ended up with a total of two qualified candidates. Both candidates came in for interviews and, as both were qualified for the position, both underwent cursory background checks.

The first candidate's background check came back with major issues that disqualified him from further consideration. The second candidate's check was clean.However, we didn't end up hiring the second candidate. Actually, he passed us up, which worked out for the best for both of us, I think. I'm a big believer in the fact that new hires have to "fit" the organization's culture and management style... to a point, at least. In our initial telephone conversations, I was really excited about what this candidate could bring to the table. He had excellent experience that was a great match for what we needed and our early conversations were really good. We chatted on the phone quite a bit due to his distance from our location. In order to take our open position, the candidate would have to take a significant cut in pay. He would be coming to us from the Chicago area; we're more rural and my company's pay scale isn't at the top of the industry. The pay isn't low for this position, but our candidate makes significantly more in his metropolitan position. That was our first hurdle and, I think, played a big role in his decision to stay put.

Second, the person was looking for some benefits that we don't formally offer at our organization yet. To offer these benefits simply to hire this person could set a precedent that HR wasn't sure we wanted to do at this point. That said, we probably would have made the exception had it became necessary.

Where things fell down, though, was in the "fit" department. The entire onsite interview was very awkward--for both of us. The candidate was looking for a position at which he could narrow and focus his scope of responsibility and improve his quality of life. Both are laudable goals and ones that I completely understand. His eventual goal is to be a CIO for a relatively large company. I'd love nothing more than to fill this position with someone who can eventually replace me when I move on. The person who left the position was being groomed for just that until the opportunity of a lifetime came along for him. Where I became uncomfortable was trying to figure out if our candidate would actually wait until I was planning to move on before making a move for my chair. Again, I want someone on board with aspirations for my job but I would prefer that they wait until I leave!

Why did I begin to have these questions? One, during the interview, the candidate indicated a desire to rewrite, himself, one of our primary commercial applications. Although this application leaves a lot to be desired in many ways, rewriting it is, by far, not at the top of my priority list. More on this later. Second, our open position has a significant support element to it, meaning that the work is not all new project work. Although the candidate indicated that he would be willing to do any support necessary, his first goal was new project work. While there is plenty of new project work to be done, the fact is that we need to support what we have, too. I would hate to bring someone into a position doing work that really doesn't interest him... that's not good for either us or him.

The candidate and I had a very deep conversation regarding my management style. Because I'm the IT manager for a small group, I tend to be relatively involved in our operations and most decisions. I am not a micromanager, but I need to be involved. In fact, after this interview, I had an "off the record" meeting with my staff and asked them directly if my management style was "working" for them. During my time, as issues have come up, my staff and I discuss them. A couple of months ago, I was starting to push one of my staff to do an upgrade on an enterprise application. For a number of reasons, she was very uncomfortable with this path and came into my office with concrete reasons about why the timing for this upgrade was off and should be rescheduled. She presented a great case, so we pushed off the upgrade. All of the people in the room indicated that they are happy with my style and that, over time and as these folks have assimilated, I've "backed off" more and more while still maintaining reasonable oversight.

Why do I bring this up? I truly struggled with trying to figure out the reasons behind my discomfort with the candidate. Was I fearful for my job? Did I feel that he would try to undermine me in an effort to discredit me? You know the saying: "I'm not paranoid... sometimes they truly are out to get me." Or, was it something else? Do I want to surround myself with "yes" people? This was one reason I gathered my staff to get their thoughts on my style. Was I afraid of constant challenges on every decision? The candidate indicated to me that, if a decision came down to "my way" or "his way" on an issue in his domain, that "his way" should win out unless I present a very compelling argument to the contrary.

While I understand his desire for complete autonomy, I wouldn't make that commitment. If one of my folks comes to me with a solution and it doesn't quite fit what I had in mind, as long as it makes sense, I'll almost always go with them. I told my candidate that I would generally follow a recommendation but that I also reserve the right to veto anything that comes across my desk.

As for whether I want to surround myself with yes people... no, but with a caveat. I want to surround myself with people that will push back and give me options but that, once a decision has been made, will get on board and implement. In the past, I've had people that, even after a decision was made, would continue to fight--sometimes in very inappropriate settings--and worked to discredit projects with which they didn't agree. That kind of behavior is something that I simply won't tolerate.

Here's how I put it to one of my colleagues:  If I get sick and am away for three months and can't run my department, when I come back in three months, I want to come back to my department. I want my deputy to be someone that, when a decision needs to be made, will ask themselves what I would do and keeps things going on a consistent path. Is this micromanaging or too controlling? I don't think so. If I'm put in charge of someone else's area for an interim period in his or her absence, I'm not going to implement mass change just to meet my own agenda.

Would this candidate act like that? I seriously doubt that he would act maliciously in a conscious way. But, at the end of the day, my significant discomfort with the person was something that I took as an indicator that the fit wasn't there. In my opinion, making no hire is worse than making a bad hire. When I say "bad hire" I don't mean that he is a bad candidate; in fact, he is incredibly talented, but I don't think that my style and his expectations would have meshed. Although I'm willing to change my ways when necessary, I don't want to be pushed into a corner.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

10 comments
MikeGall
MikeGall

The good news is the candidate removed himself, makes decisions easy. I agree somewhat with what others have said. It is hard to take a pay cut to move to a new job. It can take a bit to convince yourself that you'll be better off when the income is less. I recently moved to Germany from Canada. It might be strange but during the few days I was in Germany for my interview I went site seeing, both historical buildings and grocery stores, restaurants etc. I'm not sure if it is the case with your company that you have upward mobility in your current employer. Anyways, I think it was Jack Welsh's biography, anyways I read management advice that makes a lot of sense, if you want to be promoted learn your bosses job and teach yours to one of your reports. Make your boss look great then guess who he'll recommend to take his place when he leaves. Similarly, I'd have a hard time giving more authority to someone that is so afraid of losing his current position that he doesn't want anyone that can do his job around. If you are a good employee you'll either get advancement from within your company or recruited out of your company, either way a good manager shouldn't have to worry much because they are hirable. I was in the canadian army for a while and we had a principle of everyone learning the job of the guy below and above him. Of course, it is easier to convince yourself of the need for that when either of the other guys could get killed, but still in business it is a good idea to. It is all about removing dependencies from the equation so that the organization can survive. My last manager summed it up well, it is "vacation insurance". If you don't train the next guy then you get called when something goes wrong and your away :-)

burguetjf
burguetjf

Mr Sisko Thank you. Your post reinforced my desire to find a senior mentor to work along side with, who, like you, includes in his/her reflections such paramount issues. JF Burguet Milan, Italy

des
des

I am 68 years old and the one bit of wisdom I give to my staff is there is no 'I' in team. I am the majority shareholder in the Company and am the rudder of the team. If any one member of the team does not fit in with the team, it is the team who sorts the misfit out, one way or the other. It is the team who votes the new member in, in the first place. I do not have to worry about someone 'fitting'. The real question should be 'Fitting in where', to you or to the team. If you are employing a new 'rudder' only then does this concept become important. normally 'rudders' are promoted from within and it is therefore transparent from within the team who the new 'rudder' will be. I think you have missed the 'Boat'.

karenb2
karenb2

1. I am hoping that you have made a typo when you have stated "making no hire is worse than making a bad hire" - surely you meant it to say "better than"...otherwise your whole article makes no sense. 2. Have Americans not heard of probation periods? If we are not 100% sold on a candidate who is the only or best fit for a position, they are hired under the strict understanding that both parties have a 'get out' clause lasting 3-6 months, with regular reviews held along the way, giving the employee a chance to demonstrate any qualities we believe have not yet made an appearance. 3. I agree that you are more protective of your position that you care to admit. While we all know we could move on tomorrow, not everyone is comfortable with that thought, and I think you are far more willing to believe you are the only one who can do your job to the standards YOU have set - no-one will stand a chance at your job if you have anything to say about it.

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

Well, whatever is said about you I do like your prose. Your a very good writer. That being said, why don't you ask your staff to submit their opinion/suggestions in 10 point Arial script on plain paper without any identifying remarks and see if the opinions change. One where they can't be paid back for their words. That might be a better survey than the one you did in case the guy's right and their afraid to have an opposing opinion. Chicagoans are a lot more into the process since it goes on so much more intense in the Big City than in the rural. Get the best deal is definately in their vocabulary and test the waters as much as you can. Don't take the first thing that comes along. Not know why the guy wanted to rewrite a product and/or how much time it would take, it's hard to judge by the information you've provided. But, since your asking these questions, I sort of think that deep down your thinking that you may be these things and don't like what you see. As far as worrying about the job security, who doesn't and the older you get the more you do. I don't think I've ever had anyone ever say I'm hiring you so you can replace me. And your right, people can play some very serious games that you don't know is coming until they are played. Then it's too late. I suspect that both the previous comments stick to some degree.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is I think you emphasised the candidate's fit with you, rather than with the business. Stop self analysing and look at it from his point of view for a minute. If someone offered you that little would you take the job? Are you naturally such a good fellow people take pay cuts to do what you want? Personally I think you both came on a bit too strong from the off and naturally ended up butting heads on the fence line. Don't forget however, it's your fence not his. The other thing you should bear in mind, the guy was relocating and taking a substantial pay-cut. In return for this it sounds like you offered him exactly nothing. It was almost certainly for the best, and I can't think of a single reason why he should have done anything but turn it down. You might want to think about how you would approach selling the job. I've done a lot of support and development, one of the key things for me has always been the amount of scope to develop things that reduce the necessity for support. It's a double whammy, increased up time, robustness, inherrentky better documentation for you, interesting for me. No matter how hard you polish a turd, it still smells, you simply didn't notice because you've become acclimatised to it.

ramnet
ramnet

Firstly I am a bit bemused by the comments. Whilst I understand your points of view I would be uncomfortable working for you because the language you use is 'my staff ' and 'I want' and 'won't tolerate' etc and that tells me a lot about your deep down hidden personality which seems to indicate a desperate need to maintain power and control. I think you would do much better to use your management style talking about the business needs and divorce your personal ideology about , who , what , where and how you want your ideals enforced but rather use your ability to engage people to take ownership of what they are doing at work and act as a teacher , a leader and a mentor rather than a controller. I am sure you think you are doing a great job , but often staff working in environs like this are too afraid to tell the truth and I really suspect a lot of your staff would given a viable alternative be very happy to move elsewhere. I have to say I am not surprised that the prospective candidate declined to join you . It would appear you were exceedingly worried about your own security of tenure (probably because he presented as at least your equal) and you felt very threatened. The reality is none of us have a position or job guarantee and you are no different. The business should always hire the best candidate , where fit is really important is in that person's ability to work with the existing staff and to add value to the business and earn their pay packet. If they cannot do that hiring them is a waste of everyone's time. Your understanding of this and your inflexibility as an organization shows me that getting the best will always be a problem for you. Ken

claire.simonson
claire.simonson

I agree: the 'real question is fitting in WHERE'. It's reasonable for a manager to expect loyality & support from staff, however, if Benny has truly got a good back-n-forth relationship with his existing staff, why not ask for their perspectives too in the interview process? Checks and balances like that make it harder for hidden agendas and insecurities to go undetected, at least in theory. Benny should as manager still have the final hiring decision, but the added angles would probably help clarify the 'uncomfortable' vibe that came out of the interview.

cgoodyer
cgoodyer

Well done Karen - thanks for pointing out that major mistake. Other than that, I thought the author had some good points and, certainly, if you don't feel comfortable, then don't hire. I've made the mistake in the past of ignoring some misgivings and then living to regret it later!

bobp22
bobp22

I have to disagree with your assessment. A team has structure and rules by which it operates. The leader has the accountability for the team's performance and, I believe, must consider "fit" in the hiring process. We shouldn't pass judgement on managerial or leadership qualities based on the information provided. The fact that Benny is seeking feedback speaks volumes. I especially disagree with your "won't tolerate" reference. Benny said that he will not tolerate his decisions being undermined. Any manager that does tolerate such activities shouldn't be a manager (or won't be for long). The performance of a team greatly depends on the interaction of individuals within that team. Every case is different, but "fit" in the organization can approach or exceed the importance of the skills required. "(G)etting the best" based solely on skill set is a recipe for disaster in a team environment. You hire people for the long haul, so you need to make sure they "fit" the organization. To do otherwise will ensure people will be miserable -- the indivdual or those that must work with him/her and (always) the manager. A team made up of miserable people will perform . . . miserably.

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