Over 8 years ago, I wrote about how to look at "things you'd hire on" vs. "things you'd fire on" and I still love that as a way to think about the things you'll look for when hiring people to join your team. In my "day job" of cybersecurity, this is a frequent topic of discussion (in fact, I'll be on a panel at the RSA security trade show in a couple of months talking about Closing the Cybersecurity Skills Gap).
Today, I want to share some perspectives from Girish Mathrubootham. Girish is the Founder and CEO of Freshdesk, which is a leading SaaS-based customer support software that seeks to help businesses promise, deliver and wow their customers. Girish has over 15 years of experience in building enterprise products and is on a mission to make the world a happier place for customers everywhere.
Girish has been talking a lot about how to hire long term employees that you will never have to fire, and focuses a lot on non-technical attributes (i.e. "not hard skills") when he hires. It seems to work for him, so I recently did a "5 Questions" interview with him on this subject.
1. Girish, how do you recruit and interview for “passion?” What are your biggest red flags when you evaluate a candidate?
"One of my favorite questions is to ask people to tell me things that they have done and are really proud of, starting from the time they went to school. This gives me an opportunity to identify if they have been passionate about anything at all. If you are passionate about something, with the proper push, you can be made passionate about work too.
"I often come across people who don't have anything significant to share but assure me that given an opportunity, they will perform. If someone hasn't done anything worth sharing their entire life, how can they expect me to believe that claim?"
2. You say you can teach skills, and you don’t use them as primary selection criteria; how do you quickly get people up to speed on the skills they need to be successful?
"Let me explain the difference between talent and skill. The ability to draw well and having a great sense of colour coordination is talent; knowing how to use Photoshop is a skill. Writing good code is talent, knowing Java or Ruby on Rails is a skill. We hire for talent and allow people to pick up skills on the job.
"For example, our core development platform is Ruby on Rails, but until we hit 69 employees, we did not have a single engineer who knew Ruby on Rails when they joined us. We just focused on hiring good programmers and they learned Ruby on Rails in a few weeks.
"Of course, there is some short term loss of time in getting people up to speed. But our talent pool expands like crazy and we end up hiring some awesome people."
3. What are the limits of this approach? In other words, is this approach limited to specific types of industries or specific types of positions?
"You cannot always follow this approach blindly. There are several roles where specific knowledge is crucial. And hiring people who are experts in their trade is great for your company. So we are open to hiring these people as well. But it's not always that simple. Maintaining a high quality team when experts are hard to find, or expensive, is very tricky. So complement your team with talented people who can learn on the job.
"Let's say I need someone to ensure that our Production apps are running at peak performance. My pick would be someone who has the right skills and experience in handling scale and who can tune our MySQL databases. I will hire someone with the right skill rather than someone who can learn these things over 6-8 months."
4. When did you begin using this approach, and how has it benefited Freshdesk?
"We have been doing this right from the beginning. We hired someone who used to handle retail operations (and hated the job) as our marketing content writer. Our Product manager today was earlier with a telecom company, managing their 3G network infrastructure deployment. One of the engineers working on our Search, used to build firmware for Audi cars. We would have missed a lot of such awesome people if we had focused on skill-based hiring. "
5. What advice would you give to employers and rewriters who are considering adopting this approach?
"If you find awesome people with the right skills and talent, then hire them by all means. When good talent is hard to come by (which is usually the case) try relaxing the skills part a bit to see if smart people with the right talent can learn on the job. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised."
I tend to agree with Girish's outlook on this topic, and have often said I try to hire people who have the ability to tackle problems they've never seen before, apply focused effort and learn what they need to know along the way. Of course, I also look for people who can communicate well around complex topics, work well with others, and can aggressively pursue a goal without panicking.
What about you? Have you learned any good techniques to find strong team members that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you.