Saturday, June 09, 2007

Interviews again or why they aren't useless

I blogged briefly about my organization looking for contract DBAs and interviewing candidates and recently Eddie Awad spoke about "Why resumes are useless" and reference Andrew Wulf's "The Stupidity of Interviews". Both blog entries received a fair amount of comments from folks who largely concurred with Andrew's assessment. I would agreed that resumes/interviews are not prefect and is a "hit & miss" way of identifying suitable and qualified candidates. I wouldn't classify them to be useless though as the "success" of the resume/interview process actually depends on how it is being handled and managed.

For example, if your organization has a dedicated HR department who vetts resumes and forward those which seems to meet the qualifications listed to the hiring manager basically means that if the candidate do not make an effort to highlight and identify where s/he meets the position qualifications, then s/he can't blame anyone but themselves for not taking the effort to "customize" their resumes. Eddie mentioned this as a negative about resumes being made to order. I would rather see that the candidate has taken the time to do so although if the only "customization" was to prefix the resume name with the hiring organization, then that isn't customization but rather an indicator. I've seen resumes from folks who don't qualify but they sent in their resumes anyway. As an example, I'd seen a resume from someone who has no IT background nor training but they submitted their resume for an IT position. It would be okay if the position indicated that it was a trainee-level and the organization is willing to invest to train the successful candidate BUT not if one of the qualifications are "years of experience in a similar position".

Andrew Wulf wrote "Resumes seem to be mostly useless, virtually no one actually reads them before the interview and they seem mostly not believed. In this way resumes become a kind of worm to dangle in front of the recruiter or HR fish, just enough to hook some interest, but are discarded afterwards. The actual contents are expected to be padded or invented so they may as well just say "DUDE KNOWS CODE".

I do and I actually tried to match up what was summarized in the cover letter or the first page to ensure that we are on the same page as to the candidate's experience. I've seen resumes from OCP candidates who don't have any work experience and resumes from DBAs who have been working in their field for the last 15 years but when you dived into the details of their resume, you quickly realized that 10 of those years were spent on basic operational stuff like create a new database, create users, ensure that backups are done (usually via Export) but no experience in the more advanced stuff like recovering databases due to corruption, cloning, securing databases, etc. I totally agree that it is very difficult to tell from the resume whether the candidate is what they say they are and hence the need for an interview or a series of interviews. Depending on the level of the position, I would say that have 5 interviews for a programmer is probably an overkill but 5 for a senior executive level is not. A friend of mine got interviewed for a senior Excutive position and the whole process took 6 months and a number of interviews. He told me that he ended meeting all the Executives before a decision was rendered.

Andrew also wrote about how he wished that candidates (for programming positions) would bring in something they wrote. I would say that "Yeah, go for it" and ask the candidate to do so when arranging for the interview time. The good candidates comes prepared with samples of deliverables of projects that they have been involved previously keeping in mind to not violate any confidentaility agreements and/or disclosure.

Depending on who does the interviews (and I am assuming that it would be the hiring manager plus at least a co-worker), it is often necessary to structure the interview into two or more sections. There are no particular order but the sections should include (a) section to validate technical skills and knowledge; (b) section to identify required "soft skills" and experience. The technical skills validation is pretty self-explanatory but the other section would include things like communications, teamwork, work habits, approaches and philosophy to type of position. This is not easy to explain in writing but basically you want to ensure that the candidate will be a good/great fit for the organization taking into consideration the corporate culture, the kind of team that needed to be build and the gaps that you have. It's like building a sports team as you might not want to have several prima divas on the team who might fracture the team into various camps but you want a team who can work well together and are committed to achieve common goals. You should and could also include assessment of the candidate's potential too and how you would approach that is totally up to the interviewer.

In a nutshell, the interview/hiring process is a "dating ritual" to see if there is chemistry and fit between the organization and the candidate. In closing, I wish the best of luck to those who are currently seeking employment and for those who are considering moving, ask yourselves whether you are leaving for the right reasons and if so, best of luck in your search. As they say, "The best time to look for employment is when you are employed" as this way, you can evaluate the organization and be prepared to turn them down if the organization does not seems to be a good fit.


Eddie Awad said...

Hi Peter,

I did not say interviews were useless. In fact, interviews are the best indicator of the real skills of a candidate, not resumes.

I agree with you that resumes and interviews are a "hit & miss" way of identifying suitable candidates. What will make it more a miss than a hit is when customizing the resume is so obvious that you can find almost a "copy and paste" from the company's job ad.

Hope you're having a nice and sunny weekend. It's like winter all over again down here in Portland :(

Peter K said...

I know ;) ...and recently Eddie Awad spoke about "Why resumes are useless" and...

Vancouver is okay but wet and soggy. We had a few sunny days but with the rain plus the melting snow cap, a number of areas were on flood alert.

Agreed...if the candidate just "cut and paste" from the job description but not if they tailor their resume to highlight relevant experience for the position.

Hope the family is doing well with the weather.

Dave said...

It used to be good practice for a cover letter and/or resume to be tailored to a position. It meant that that applicant spent time, understood the position instead of sending a generic resume.

We have been reviewing for a contract apps dba position for awhile now. (We've actually given up trying to find someone with apps experience.) My thoughts on resumes are that they will give you an idea of whether or not a person has the skills your looking for. It doesn't mean they know it, thats what the interview is for.

ie. My manager passed me a resume and mention that the person had apps experience. Looking at the resume tho the experience was over 6 years ago, for a period of 1.5 years on a couple major releases below what we have. Easy to rule that person out as a candidate.

Rahul said...


You quoted:

"The best time to look for employment is when you are employed"

How would that be relevant if you are a consultant for a project? I wouldn't want to leave the project as soon as I find greener pastures because I have a moral obligation to see the project to the end (success or failure).