How do you hire the very best technical people?
Hiring the best technical people for your team
When I look back at my career, spanning over 27 years now, I can pick out a small handful of people who I believe truly stand out from the crowd. I must have worked with literally thousands of technical people, across a range of technical roles, with varying degrees of seniority, educational backgrounds, etc., but I can highlight a couple of people from each company I have worked at that clearly stood head and shoulders above the rest.
So, what sets this small, elite group apart from the others? What enabled these special few to individually out-perform whole teams of people? More importantly, how do you recruit exceptional performers?
When I compare these few to the masses, I can see obvious similarities in their mindset, their approach, their motivations. In this article I will explain which skills and attributes I believe you should look for if you want to hire the very best talent for your team.
Surely that would be their technical skills?
Well, no. Whilst technical skills are clearly vital to working in the field of technology, having the best technical skills is not a differentiator. I have worked with some developers for example who knew far more than their peers. These developers could do things with programming languages that I could only dream of, but in many cases I would not re-hire them if given the choice. Why? Because they lacked so many other vital skills. Technical skills are important, but they are most definitely not the reason people become exceptional performers.
6 Key Skills & Attributes to look for when hiring high performing technical people:
I believe there are six key skills you should specifically recruit for if you want to hire exceptional talent:
1. A delivery mindset.
Technology departments do not make money, they cost money! They exist to deliver value to the wider business functions, be that new products for your sales team to sell, supporting technology to automate workloads and reduce costs, etc. Every aspect of technology needs to be delivering tangible business value, or else jobs rapidly disappear. Stand out performers will display a delivery focus in abundance. They will have a genuine burning desire to “get stuff done”. Those I have worked with who were visibly frustrated when they could not deliver results and, in many cases, delivering results became an obsession. A few of these people even took annual leave just so that they could focus on finishing projects without having to attend meetings. Many people enjoy finishing projects, but it is the extreme, burning desire that sets exceptional performers apart from the others.
2. Being comfortable with taking risks, making mistakes and accepting failure.
Technology departments can be a ruthless place to work in, and many will be results driven. People make mistakes all the time though, and there are many articles written about how making mistakes and learning from them is a positive experience. Those articles are correct. However, when it comes to exceptional performers, they have enough confidence in their own abilities to learn that they will often take some risks. They most definitely do not enjoy failure, no one does, but they understand and accept that if they are to push the boundaries in order to deliver results, that they will likely fail or make mistakes from time to time. Making mistakes is an accepted way of life for the stand-out performers so long as they learn. Making the same mistake twice isn’t. These people will also recognise exactly when they are taking risks, and when this happens, they will be on a heightened alert and will fail fast if they are going to fail.
3. Analytical skills.
Most software has some level of complexity. Most enterprise systems are complex. Complexity is everywhere in technology. The ability to cut through this complexity and to understand how technical components work, in granular detail, is a rare skill. There are frameworks to help such as modelling languages, but usage of these frameworks is an even rarer occurrence. The very best people in the world of technology have analytical skills on a totally different level to their peers. Being able to analyse a complex problem and quickly and genuinely understand how the technology works can counter any lack of technical knowledge. If you want to ensure that you hire the best technical personnel, then you really need to be hiring for this skill.
4. A proven track record of learning.
When I interview technical people, I always ask if learning is important to them. Every single person answers yes, but the follow up question is the gotcha. When I ask them, “What was the last item you took upon yourself to proactively learn, outside of work?”. Most people cannot give me an example. This is the differentiator. The special few will have a near desperation to constantly learn. It is not just a desire to learn, because as I have just explained, most people have a desire to learn, at least on the surface. It’s more than that – it is following through and actually learning something new every single day. We can all talk a good game, but the exceptional talent follows through with this each and every day.
Curiosity feeds into learning because it is curiosity that creates uncertainty, which in turn feeds the burning desire to learn. I would assert that curiosity and learning go hand in hand. If you want to hire the very best talent, then you should find a way to interview for curiosity. Without curiosity you can of course learn, but the extent to which people will push themselves to learn and develop is mostly governed by their curiosity.
6. Communications skills.
I’ve left this to last as it is arguably the most important skill to hire for. If you believe television or the movies, the stereotypical technical expert hides away in a darkened room for days on end, never getting out to meet people. And when they do they speak, they talk in nothing but technobabble. The vast majority of technical people you meet are very different of course. The exceptional talent are those people who can make complex technical problems sound very simple. They can explain in depth technical problems to totally non-technical people. The exceptional talent are those people that you would happily put in front of your customers, knowing they will build rapport and represent your organization in the best possible light.
Hiring exceptional technical talent
There are many great technical people on the market and in the industry, but there are not many truly exceptional performers. As I sit here, I can think of maybe twenty people I would categorise as exceptional talent out of the thousands I have worked with in my entire career.
These exceptional performers are the people who single handedly make a noticeable difference to your organisation. These are the people you wish you could clone.
Hiring this talent is difficult, but if you look for the right skills and attributes, explained above, then you stand a much better chance of finding them!
Are you ready to embark on the path of continuous growth and realise your true potential by joining a high-performing tech team? Join TAINA, where we are cultivating a high-performance team.