Most companies these days will blaze through a stack of resumes without a second thought. Normally, when we look at job descriptions, we see a bunch of “we need this, we need this, this is a nice-to-have,” we look back at resumes and we calculate between the two. Oh, yes an 80% match. Great. Let's hire this person. That process has 0% what to do with what makes for a great employee. Instead hire for Culture, Capacity (for mastery) and Craft to find the best people.
According to Jordan Ritter, co-founder of Napster and Cloudmark, it’s an interviewer’s job to figure out if this person is a fit for the role. Discover the three C’s - culture is first, capacity for mastery and then craft and skills will shake out after that. What’s most relevant in a resume is the white space between all the text on the paper. An interviewer should try to tease out the narrative arc because they must determine whether or not the story of this person intersects with the arc of our company. Jordan Ritter calls this the “white paper interview.” By the end of the conversation, you gain more of psych profile on the candidate than what a formal interview would provide. Some people may be put off by this, but remember you’re trying to understand this person truthfully.
How do you evaluate a true cultural fit? If we step back and ask that question more broadly, not just about the work environment everyday society, culture is a set of values and principles. It's a general mindset and a collection of what's important, what's not important, what you like and what am I about. That is what makes great relationships in the world.
This easily translates into the workplace. When I'm with someone who shares my value, we both have a great experience and we are far more effective than if it had been matched by some 80% match algorithm.
When you think about your culture, you can break ideas down into three different categories: values, mindset and traits. Values are important in that they’re words people think define us, and we can use in the workplace on a daily basis. Sometimes other words we describe ourselves with are Traits like self-reliance come in...but those aren’t values, that’s a trait. We should separate these out. Values are used to evaluate and assess. Mindset are maxims like “get your hands dirty” or “sooner is better, now is best” that characterize your culture, but you wouldn't use it to evaluate someone. And traits are things you’re looking for but aren’t evaluation tools.
Recruiting is all about looking for skills, but skills shouldn’t be the priority. Capacity for mastery is your ability to learn new things, what Google sometimes calls the Velocity of Learning. This itself is a skill that trumps all others because if you have capacity, you can learn anything.
As such, how do you evaluate someone's’ capacity for mastery independent of whatever’s on their resume on what they’ve put down in writing? Seek out critical thinking skills. A critical thinker can recognize new problems and synthesize a new solution to deal with it. Craft solves problems, and capacity is critical thinking.
Most companies start with craft, saying they need specific skills and work experience. Honestly, it should be the last thing you can look at. In engineering, for example, a concrete skill looks like C++, and you can easily test for those as well as other tech platforms. It’s the most common way of interviewing, the most commonly understood (even tho people do a terrible job) and it does not cover a lot of depth.
People test for skills in plenty of wrong ways. Take a take-home coding test: people are looking at a candidate’s ability, thought process and organizational models. Where coding tests fail, the interviewers are not privy to the process, they’re just asking for the product and if it works, the engineer gets hired. It’s fine, but it misses lots of rich value. People watching over the shoulder during a code test would go a long way towards filtering out those who weren’t a fit for the role. And being party to that process also showcases the candidate’s critical thinking skills!
Applying the methodology
As an interviewer, hopefully someone hands you a resume more than five minutes before the first meeting with a candidate. You speed read through and grab a few interesting bullet points to bring up in the conversation. Sure, that works fine. But just like a take-home coding test, you miss a lot of value in the conversation. You're controlling the opportunity and there’s confirmation bias in the room. The interviewee will just tell you what you want to hear and emotions will get in the way of getting a solid, accurate read on the person sitting across the table.
Ask the candidate, “Who are you in your own words?” It’s a weird question but very revealing. You can sit on an interview with medal-worthy engineers and their top three priorities won’t even mention engineering. They’ll say they’re a father, a tinkerer, a father, etc. This is a question that leads you to valuable answers and gets confirmation bias out of the way -- it’s a different style of interviewing.
You can also ask about shifts between roles at the same company. How did you go from software development to project management? What was going on in your head when you made the switch to that new role? They’ll give you richer answers like where they were in life, and what relationships and new opportunities encouraged them to make a shift. You’re encouraging them to talk about their passions and the valuable relationships that made them tick. And when you start sharing your own shifts and changes with them, you start building a dynamic that gives you an idea of how their values align with your company’s culture.
Get to the truth
We’ve been consciously thinking for 20,000 years, but our guts told us the truth for hundreds of thousands of years. Some people get a little salty with the metaphor “go with your gut” because it's been oversimplified into people making thoughtless emotional decisions. What it means is you take stock of all information you observe. Is the conversation comfortable, is it easy to build rapport? These things aren’t necessarily conscious, but a painful struggle of a conversation will let you know you’re making a bad hire even in the face of the most amazing resume.
You get the truth of a person's culture, capacity for mastery and craft by following the narrative arc of their story. Get to the truth of everything, and then trust your gut as to whether this person’s story matches with the story of your company.
Jordan Ritter is an accomplished entrepreneur and technologist, having co-founded several companies including music company Napster, messaging security platform Cloudmark, labor-as-a-service platform CloudCrowd and most recently, personal digital search engine Atlas Informatics. He also served as the CTO of entertainment company Columbia Music Entertainment, as well as fan interaction platform Zivity. Jordan is also a regular open-source contributor, having authored free software commonly included in modern Linux distributions as well as Windows software licensed by Microsoft. Several of his projects have been featured in well-known publications and books, and incorporated into University-level curricula.
His works have won numerous nominations and awards spanning across Comdex, DEMO, SIIA, PC World, PC Magazine, and WIRED. Jordan speaks at technology conferences around the world on topics ranging across entrepreneurism, startup culture, AI, computer and messaging security, and the music industry.
Rick Girard is the Founder & CEO of Stride Search, an Orange County-based recruiting and consulting firm. Rick brings world-class leadership to firms across the nation to meet highly challenging business and talent acquisition objectives. With expertise in creative sourcing, consultative management and winning placement strategies, Rick Girard plants the hiring seeds for his partners’ success.
While not running a School for Gifted Mutants as Professor X, Rick hosts Hire Power Radio Show, a weekly series on OCTalkRadio.net which serves as an entrepreneur’s resource to solve the most difficult hiring challenges. When not on the air, Rick regularly gives talks and writes valuable content for Hiring Managers and Job Seekers alike. His mission: elevate and sharpen the industry standards of exclusive professional search.