Hiring Top Talent

30 Nov 2015 . Technology . Comments


Many years ago I was working on a large project and my organization was doing some significant staff augmentation through a number of vendors. During this time I came to the conclusion that an absence of good hiring practices and standards can have a detrimental impact a groups ability to execute its goals.

Every person that an organization on boards carries an investment cost. Contrary to common belief, no two people are interchangeable, and there is always an investment cost when someone joins the organization. I am careful to avoid terms like ‘overhead’ because I believe people are not resources and onboarding them into the organization ought to be considered an investment. This article is about how to maximize the return on that investment.

The aim here is not to provide low level technical questions, but some of the foundational characteristics I look for anytime I am interviewing a candidate. It has been my privilege to interview many people over my career for a variety of roles, all of which have informed these three points.


Does the person have the ability to learn the necessary skills? This does not say does the person possess all of the necessary skills. I have grown weary of lengthy CV/Resumes that have every possible keyword from the last 20 years. We work in an industry that waits for no one, and it is impossible to be a true expert in any more than a handful of technical areas.

It is important to remember that ‘10 years of experience’ could be 1 year repeated 10 times or 10 years of rich engagement into a series of progressive challenges. The best people are the ones always looking to find and solve a more significant problem.

Second to ability, I look for evidence of desire. In the field of IT and specifically software development I am looking for the person that is in the field because they love what they do. These people will always be tinkering with some new idea or technology, even if their day job prevents it.


Attitude picks up where aptitude leaves off. Look for individuals that exhibit the ability to adapt. As someone advances along in their career their decision making process should be informed by all previous experiences, decisions, and most importantly their failures. I am looking for someone who can take calculated risks (including challenging the status quo, questioning authorities, etc) and is not afraid to fail.

Attitude is contextual since every team is different. So, first you must understand the culture and values of your team or organization. You will need to assess whether or not the behaviors and experiences this person has align with that of your team. Be careful not to assume you can change someone after you hire them.

It is not uncommon for those who exhibit these first two traits to lack the desire to be a ‘completer’ because once the complexity level drops things can become mundane. As long as these individuals are great team players the other members of the team can certainly offset any weaknesses in this area.


This is a matter of potential; will this person become a leader inside the organization? Here is that I look for to distinguish leaders from non-leaders:

  • This person will put others ahead of themselves.
  • They will own their mistakes and not assign blame to others. They may even accept the blame when they are not at fault to preserve the unity and strength of their team.
  • They lead by example, yet know how to delegate effectively.
  • They can point to examples of those whom they have mentored, and the mentees they worked under throughout their career.
  • They are able and willing to both give and receive feedback, whether positive or negative.

Everyone can be a leader to some extent, whether its a leader of one or a CEO of a fortune 500 company. Therefore, strongly question anyone who is unwilling to grow into these criteria or doesn’t already exhibit the majority of them.


So in conclusion, ‘hiring top talent’ is a bit of a misnomer. I have heard many people say that in the current IT climate there is a shortage of top talent, and often time the ‘rockstars’ who may be what is often referred to as a ‘10x developer’ may be more productive in terms of code delivered, but they often detract from the team(s) around them. Instead, more and more leaders are opting for the right cultural fit and making the long term investment to grow and equip those who they are finding with the right attitude and strong aptitudes for their goals.

Please consider: A set of excellent interview questions can be completely wasted if you are not able to capture the candidates non-verbal cues while having these conversations. Whenever possible, conduct these questions in person or use video conferencing as a second resort.