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Hiring with Passion

After reading a couple Stack Overflow articles about interviewing and hiring, I've been reflecting a lot about what I look for and the process by which I use.  I won't talk about a great deal of specifics of what I ask, as I consider that to be intellectual property, but I will talk about process.

I think that one of the more important things I look for in a hire is passion.  It's futile to sit down at a table with a candidate and ask, "say, it says here that you have C# and .NET experience - are you passionate?"  In this case I fully expect an interviewee to answer 'yes' under all circumstances.  This is a clearly a conflict of interest: it is in the candidates best interest to answer 'yes' in order to play to what they believe the interviewer wants to hear.

So a direct approach is out.  Instead, I have several questions, each of which gives the candidate the opportunity to speak in depth about something they should know well.  You can tell the people who have it and who don't.  All it takes is a little spark to start a three alarm fire under someone who is passionate.

So how do you do that?  In my case, I try to be as broadly educated as possible so that I can ask what are called "essential questions" in education speak.  The essential questions about a subject are those questions which represent fundamental limitations or the core basis of a system, to which there are no simple answers.  These are the types of questions that can simultaneously polarize or unite groups of people.  Has the designated hitter rule damaged the American League?  Dewey, LC, or Cutter?  For any resume, I can find many ways of sneaking in questions to find passion.

Why is passion important?  In design, it is what separates the extraordinary from the pedestrian.  In implementation, it is the desire to have the "right" code instead of simply working code.  In debugging, it is understanding the root cause and searching for more instances of it instead of patching the code in front of you.  It is the ability to excite those around you and bring up the level of the status quo.

I'm passionate about interviewing.  It takes me at a minumum an hour for a good candidate, but I prefer two hours.  I try to make sure that I've haven't missed something in the process and that the candidate gets as much of an opportunity to rake me over the goals as they see fit.  What?  It's true.  I try to allow candidates to do that too.  I've been asked some hard questions or some that just take a lot of time to answer fully.  Interviews shouldn't be one way - I want to hire someone I want to work with.  Similarly, you should want to work with the people who are hiring you.  Maybe you should be selecting for passion too.

Published Wednesday, November 19, 2008 10:22 AM by Steve Hawley


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