I was waiting in the airport the other day for my flight to arrive when a CIO from another organization noticed my ID and struck up a conversation with me. I had not met him before but he seemed like an affable person, so we began to converse. I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but we began talking about the hiring of technical support staff. The conversation was pretty ordinary until he made the statement, “I don’t hire gamers.” In fact, he asked whether a person gamed on a console or PC as a standard interview question.

I was flabbergasted, (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and after a moment asked him why he would do such a thing. His reply was that his experience with gamers was that they had short attention spans, needed immediate and constant feedback, had poor people skills, and gave up too easily when confronted with difficult problems. Fortunately, for the both of us, our plane arrived and we boarded.

I say fortunately because, frankly, I had been shocked and angered at his statement for two reasons. The first is very personal. I was and forever will be a gamer. PC gaming is what got me interested in IT in the first place, and it was my main reason for honing my skills in DOS back when it took a major miracle to get your game to operate properly. Tweaking batch files, sys files, and other parameters in order to get your game to run properly was standard fare. So it wasn’t long before I became proficient at the OS. Soon after that came my familiarity with hardware, as I learned to upgrade hardware so my machine stayed current enough to play the latest game. I owe a great deal to gaming in regards to my search for IT knowledge. Even today, I stay current with the nitty gritty details of XP and motherboards, video cards, etc., because I want my games to run as beautifully as possible and as smooth as butter.

But according to this guy, I wasn’t worth hiring because I gamed! Grrrrr. The second reason I was flabbergasted was the plain fact that the person was stereotyping. Whether it is race, sex, religion, or some other criteria, no one, I repeat, no one likes being stereotyped. And if you happen to be doing it based on race, sex or religion—it’s against the law!

More importantly though, is the fundamental concept that stereotyping hurts you as the interviewer/potential employer in that you are ruling out potentially good candidates based on a personal bias. What a poor way to judge job potential!

In the example above, I could have easily countered with my opinion that gamers have the ability to sit in front of a screen for long periods of time, have curiosity, actually are adept at problem solving, and tend to have more empathy for a user having technical problems because they have experienced the same problems for themselves. In either case (his or mine), those are ridiculous things on which to base your hiring decision.
When hiring, you should be striving to ask questions to get at the core of whether the person you are interviewing is capable of performing the essential duties of the position. How the answers to these questions are presented, as well as the completeness of the answers, should be playing a key role in evaluating the interviewee. Combine this with their education, experience, and references, and you have a start at choosing the right employee.

I say a start, because choosing the right person for the job is a difficult process. It is not a matter of whether or not the person has the right skills, but also how she will fit into the work environment of your organization. That’s why many organizations use batteries of psychological tests in order to identify the ideal candidate. And while I won’t dispute that they have some usefulness, hiring a good employee is still more of an art than a science. People obviously (hopefully) are putting their best face forward when being interviewed and trying their best to sell themselves. And try as we might to get the best person through a thorough and fair interview process—sometimes we fail. But the ability to deal with that failure is built into our organizations in the form of probationary periods.

So have no fear when practicing the art of hiring, because in most cases you do have a parachute. But at the same time, do not shoot yourself in the foot by stereotyping individuals and making decisions based on those biases. Not only are you missing out on potentially excellent employees, you will eventually get yourself into trouble.