On Hiring Intangibles

As the company has grown, my role in hiring has changed. No more am I involved in the “can they do it” part of the process (ex: assessing the technical aptitude of engineering candidates or the portfolios of designers). Nor am I the sole gatekeeper of the all-important “culture fit.” Everyone on the team is trained to look for signals to determine whether a candidate would be a fit with our values.

I now only have two roles in the hiring process: getting the candidate excited about working at UserVoice and assessing the intangibles.

The former is pretty straightforward; the latter less so. In fact, I’m not even sure until recently that I knew I was doing it at all.

I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest intangibles I look for is whether someone has been the master of his or her own destiny.

I determine this by asking candidates to tell me their story: the personal and professional journey that has lead them to our meeting. I’m of course interested in what they achieved at each stop along the way, but I’m most interested in the state transitions: the specifics of how they went from one job (or living situation) to another.

Did they simply fall into things or did they exert some control over where they ended up?

I’ve come to see a strong (anecdotal) correlation between the folks who exhibit more of the latter and people who are successful when they come to our team.

That’s not to say I’m looking for people who had a five-year plan, which they executed perfectly. In fact, it’s probably quite the opposite: it’s those people who know how to capitalize on chance whose stories are often littered with serendipitous events that always seems to turn in their favor. Folks without these elements in their story probably didn’t jump on the random chances that laid before them (“chance favors only the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur).

Then again, maybe it’s just that I gravitate towards folks who excel at storytelling, as it’s essential to leadership and communication.


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