How to assess technical talent

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

Assessing technical talent can be real difficult to do. Some people focus on just a few technical skills. Some companies will have many people interview them. Without a good system in place you are leaving a big decision to chance. I recommend organizations look at three areas to determine whether a technical candidate is a good fit for their team. Those three areas are soft skills, technical skills, and culture fit.

Soft skills

I like to start with soft skills because more often than not this tends to cut out a lot of candidates first off. One of the most important skills for people to do is communicate with the rest of the team and throughout the organization. Speaking clearly and the ability to talk with stakeholders is crucial to being a productive team member. Too many technical people can’t do this basic skill. Overlook this at your own peril.

Once we can communicate effectively we must be able to collaborate with teams on various assignments. We can’t have people who demand their way or the highway, they need to be able to have some give and take. Yes, there are going to be times where the business wants to do something that people may get upset over. I have gotten overly excited about the technology not being used correctly. At the end of the day, it is a business and we need to solve problems.

Of course not everyone is going to be a leader but, in everyone’s career they will have to lead. I worked at a company a few years ago where the person who was really the leader was a technical person with no one reporting to him.  When you consider someone for a position think about what their next step or two may be. Can you see them as a team or technical leader? If not that doesn’t mean you can’t hire them but look at the team and see who else can.

Technical Skills

Depending on the position you are hiring for aptitude may be the most important technical skill. In the first few positions, we need to understand the basic aptitude of the candidate as we will probably be teaching them a great deal. Working with interns and recent graduates we ask general questions to understand their education and abilities to learn.

Even in experience candidates it is important to make sure they still have the ability and aptitude to learn. Technical skills have a short shelf life and in technical career paths we must continually learn. Some positions might call for many skills where most candidates will not have all the technical knowledge. Asking about what they read and how the learn can help determine their aptitude.

 If you Google search technical interview questions you will see a ton of results. Knowledge is hard to easily evaluate as people can prepare by memorizing a lot of questions. It is important to ask questions and get specific answers and real-world experience. Then couple that with perhaps some code to troubleshoot or situation to resolve. Most companies will have people write code where some just ask questions. You’re making a big investment in this person so make sure their knowledge is up to par.

Any technical endeavor has many tools to use. I have been in Java development for many years and I have learned a lot of different tools. We want people who can use the right tool for the job and be effective. We want to understand their experience with the tools. They may have used other tools than the company uses and that is okay. It is good to factor in any learning that may need to take place if the tools are very different.

Culture fit

Culture is one of those words that mean a lot of different things to each person. Companies must understand their own culture. How formal is your organization? Some companies have a lot of rules and follow formal policies. We need to make sure this is evident in the interview process. If things are quite informal candidates should understand the normal process or lack thereof. Although there are exceptions but as companies grow they usually need more formal policies and the culture tends to change.

Other things to look for with culture are people’s style. Some people are low key where others are more direct. How will their style work with the team? If you already have some intense people on one team adding another might create some friction for the group. Do they come off as a jerk to some people? Then chances are you don’t want them on your team. Do they sound negative? I used to think no one would come across negative in an interview, then I had a few interview that changed my mind.

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