Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wanting to share and explain information

Alan Trefler, founder and chief executive of Pegasystems (a business technology company) discusses hiring:

It's important in interviews to understand boundaries.  I find that people, when they interview, often spend a lot of time on stuff inside the circle of what that person knows and what the interviewer knows.  What I always try to do in interviews is learn something I don't know from the person.  So I'll look at somebody's resume, and I'll find something that they probably know better than I do.  And I'll ask them to explain it.

I've had people explain to me how the engines of a locomotive work, and how they did archaeological research and digs.  Having somebody show they can explain something to me is actually a pretty good indicator of a few things.  One, that they actually know how to explain things, which is a very important part of ultimately being a thought leader.

And a second thing is that you get to tell whether they like teaching.  I believe that really good people in the business context are folks who want to share information and want to explain.  If you see enthusiasm around that, that can be very telling.

I also always try to find some things that are beyond the limit of what the person knows.  So if somebody, for example, is applying for a position in marketing, I'll talk about technology.  I'll go beyond what they actually know about concepts like different types of computer interfaces or different types of technology.

I do it for a couple of reasons.  One, to see what the actual boundaries of their knowledge are, because what people know tells you a lot.  But the other thing that's interesting is how people react to not knowing something.  Are they curious?  Do they respect content, and do they actually like to dig into things?  It's about that inclination.  It's not just whether you have capacity to dig into things.  It's whether you like to dig into things.

I'm also interested in people who build sustaining relationships.  One question I've found to be extremely powerful as a predictor of how well people will do in customer-facing roles is to ask for specific names of people they're worked with, as those people moved between companies or roles, or as the candidate moved between companies and roles.

So is there any evidence that they have built relationships that they sustained beyond a single business interaction?  A lot of people don't have those sorts of relationships.  I find that to be a really useful predictor of whether they are relationship-oriented, which is important not just for dealing with customers - it's important for dealing with people inside the firm as well.

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