Even the best IT teams sometimes undergo change as people move on to greener pastures, and, for the lucky CIO, the team expands with new hiring. Personnel changes, regardless of reason, present significant opportunity for an IT department to reshape itself, but these changes also pose a major risk since it's pretty easy to make a mistake that can severely affect the future of the department.
In many ways, the interview process is inherently flawed, but, for many, it's the best we've got. As hard as we try to discover a person's true personality, intentions, and skills, whether it's through interviews, assessments, or some other tool, the fact is that the wrong people are sometimes hired. Personally, I have made one atrocious hiring decision in my career based on the interview — a team interview — and references. Once I finally let the person go, one of the original references contacted me and apologized for lying to me about the person.
Although there are any number of traits that might be considered problematic, here are five that I believe are particularly egregious.
Having respect for yourself and having self-confidence are excellent traits. However, when these move into the realm of arrogance, everyone suffers. The truly arrogant individual believes that he or she is better than other members of the team, but not in a healthy way. Obviously, there are some true superstars on many teams, but even if they do have exceptional skill sets, lording it over the rest of the team serves only to undermine team dynamics. An arrogant person often can't learn from others and cannot learn from his own mistakes, because he never makes any.
A dose of humility every once in a while never hurt anyone!
If you have a really arrogant team member, you need to fix it before he damages the team. This is a trait that should stand out during a job interview. I've seen it firsthand. During a search I performed a number of years ago, one gentleman came to the interview and, while extremely technically proficient, made absolutely certain that everyone knew that he would be calling the shots "when" he got the job because his skill set was superior to everyone else's — mine included. I don't like to play the "who has the bigger skill set" game because everyone brings different strengths to the table and it's as a team that we make things happen. And, frankly, my people should have better technical skill sets than I do in their area of expertise, but a superior attitude can ruin any interview.
There are so many ways by which an individual can turn out to be a poor fit for a job. Incompetence — in any one of many forms — is one such pathway to failure and is often the hardest one to detect during an interview. I've been in situations in which interviewees knew just what to say, but when push came to shove, they couldn't find their way out of a paper bag. There are all kinds of tests that can be administered during an interview to help weed out the good talkers from the truly skilled. If you don't want to administer tests, make sure you have people in the interview who can help to make sure that provided answers make sense.
If you make the unfortunate mistake of accidentally hiring someone who ends up not having the right skills, you'll need to do one of the following:
- If the person out and out lied about his skills, fire him immediately.
- If the person's skills aren't quite what you'd hope for, but she didn't "lie," determine if the person's skills can be brought to expectations with reasonable training and, if so, provide the training. Use your company's probationary period to your benefit and fire the individual if you don't believe the situation is resolvable in a way that makes sense.
Bear in mind that the longer the person remains in a position for which he or she isn't suited, the rest of your team suffers and they will notice what is going on.
You're not likely to see this directly in an interview, but if you do, it's an obvious sign to move on. If you're lucky enough to get honest feedback from references or previous supervisors, you might be able to determine just how motivated the person is... or isn't. Ask questions about things like willingness to complete projects on time or to learn new skills and see what kind of feedback you get. Ask for specific examples, too. In the world of IT, gaining new skills is a required part of every job, and if someone has been in the business for any length of time, there should be at least some evidence of growth.
If you allow a lazy person to join your team, it's almost as bad as getting someone who doesn't have the right skills... maybe worse. The rest of the team will eventually resent the new hire and will come to resent you if you don't resolve the issue.
Anger... when not appropriate
First of all, I don't believe that people should be cold, emotionless automatons. In fact, no matter the relationship in life, there will sometimes be strife, and this strife might result in an occasional shouting match or an angry outburst. You know what? That's OK... as long as the parties are able to come back together and figure things out in a constructive way. And, it sometimes helps to clear the air when something is pent up. The important thing is that the parties are able to eventually resolve a dispute in an amicable way.
But, in an interview situation, you shouldn't see a whole lot of anger from the interviewee. If you do, run. The interview is the time during which the person is supposed to be putting his or her best foot forward, and if reasonable questions result in some kind of really negative emotion or reaction, how will that person interact with the real live human beings he or she is supposed to be supporting?
Inability to communicate
Poor communications skills are a huge pet peeve of mine. I believe in tailoring communication to the audience. If I'm sending out a note to the campus about some server work, I'm not going to say, "On Friday, we'll be bringing down SPOCK to replace the 4Gbps FC adapter with an 8Gbps adapter and connecting it to the new EMC SAN." To most people, that means nothing and, frankly, smacks of arrogance. Instead, I'd say something like "On Friday, we'll be taking the file server (SPOCK) out of service so that we can move it to a new storage device on which your files are stored. The new storage device is faster and has more space, so you'll be able to store more files." The first message is the one I might send out to the IT staff. It's all about the audience. Remember, "communication" happens only when the receiving party understands the message.
In an interview, the interviewee should always attempt to gauge the audience to determine the appropriate level of communication. If the person is unable to do so, working with a wide variety of users will be extremely difficult.
Making a bad hire is not the end of the world, but it sure does make life unpleasant for a while. So, do everything you can to make the right choice the first time, and if you do blow it, fix it fast!
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 with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.