Add talents, not skills, to your team

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Add Talents, Not Skills, To Your Team

Richard Sheridan Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

I used to hire the way everyone in our industry hired: skills, skills, skills. One day an interview candidate threw cold water in my face, figuratively, and it changed me.

I was looking to add a new hero to my team, someone with years of Microsoft experience. Looking over Bill's resume, I could tell he was perfect for the position. He had over six years of experience in all the relevant skills. If I could hit the right price point, this was going to be easy.

Bill came in for the interview. We talked and I described the projects we had on tap, and what a perfect fit Bill was for this position. I was sure this was going well. Suddenly, I realized I wasn't going to get him. I stopped the interview in mid-stream and asked Bill what had happened. I told him he was perfect for the position, but that I sensed he wasn't coming.

His response was, "Rich, if I wanted to do what I've been doing the last six years, I'd stay where I am. I heard you had some cool, new Java projects coming up and I wanted to work here because I saw it as a chance to learn and grow".

That's when it dawned on me. Hiring by running a resume vs. skills match is the stupidest way a manager could ever build a team.

You see, my partners and I got into the high-tech industry because we wanted to be at the leading edge of technology. None of us hoped to spend a career re-cycling the same skills we learned in college for the rest of our careers. We got into this game because it would always be about new frontiers and learning new techniques and technologies.

But somewhere along the way, things went horribly wrong. I realized we had stopped investing in our employee’s growth. We weren't looking for fresh, new talent. We were looking for very specific, already refined, skills. Now, I tell people that if they see an employer hiring for an exact skill match, what that employer is really saying is, "We don't plan to invest in you.".

My advice to anyone seeking to build a strong team is hire for talents, not for skills. What talents do I look for when hiring technologists for my agile development teams? Good kindergarten skills.

• Does the candidate get along well with others?

• Do they play nice?

• Do they put their things away when they have finished playing?

• Are they excited about new things?

• Do they like learning?

I can teach skills. In fact, in our agile team environment, learning technology is fast and easy. However, it is nearly impossible teach an adult how to play nice.

Hiring for talents, not for skills, is a radically different way to build a team. However, I want to work with those who are poised to move enthusiastically beside me into exciting, new future technology.

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