Don’t Hire the Next Dilbert – Interviewing Early Career Professionals

RJ Morris Good HR, Hiring Managers, Interviewing, RJ Morris

You’ve been there before—you’re interviewing a candidate with three or so years of experience, and you have no idea what you are hoping to find. None. They aren’t rookies, but they are still early in their career, have been living in a cube and grinding away at entry level work for a few years. It’s hard to tell if they’re a hungry star or just a future Dilbert character. They don’t have a long track record, their network is usually small, and they’re still learning the ropes of being in the professional workforce.

So how do you tell the stars from just another future C player you’re going to performance-manage out in two years? Here’s an FOT approved list of things to look for:

  • Table stakes—technical competence. Jane needs to be good at her job and know the ins and outs. She should be able to talk to me in depth about how she gets results in her current role. Programmer, recruiter, salesperson, widget maker—doesn’t matter—I’m just interested in how her supervisor would evaluate her on the basics.
  • Fixed the Squeaky wheel—process improvement. I want to see how Jim made his or someone’s jobs better. My grandpa would call it “gumption.” Jim should have made a process better, less clunky or generally just made life easier for folks around the water cooler.
  • Crossed cube farms—project management. Susie was able to handle the technical aspects of the role and still have some free time, so she volunteered to lead the “Widget Reimagined” team. This got her outside of her work team and crossed into a few other cube farms. No real power, so she had to get things done through influence and relationship building. Solid.
  • Is a political junkie—knows how to maneuver within the organization. Larry understands the game of resource allocation inside the company. He also knows who in IT hates whom in Payroll… and who can get favors done over in Treasury. He sees what the leadership team perceives as important, how groups interact and why that’s important to how he gets the job done.
  • Has outside-the-walls-knowledge—otherwise known as Business Acumen. Rhonda can talk intelligently about things happening in the market space her company occupies. She knows about her company’s differentiators, the competitors in the space, what’s happening to demand and supply in the market, and why her company is going to make more or less money in the next two years.

Notice any similarities? The stars do more than their job, and they get outside of their work teams. That intellectual curiosity is a great indicator that the person is gonna make things happen at your shop. Give me somebody who has spent their early career years getting this experience, and I’ll hire her pretty quickly. Fair warning—not a lot of candidates have taken that type of initiative or been in an environment that allowed them to work across groups. If you find one, take a good look.