Hiring for Curious

If you would have to make a hiring decision for an engineer based on just one attribute, what would it be?

This is a question that was asked to me by a candidate during our recruitment process. That was a first.

I’m involved, generally, in two steps in our interviewing process: the “people manager” round (where we try to get a sense of “soft skill” behavior, collaboration with others, previous company experience, growth potential) and the “management interview” round (for engineering management positions). I enjoy both, because while they do take a lot of energy, a good interview always gives me a lot in return. During a good interview, I always learn something new.

I try to leave about 10-15 minutes at the end of either of these interviews for questions from the candidate. After all, this is a two-way street, candidates should get the opportunity to understand our company to see if there’s a match. If they’re worth hiring, they will have options as well.

However, there’s more potential value to this 10-15 minutes at the end for questions. And that potential value is exactly my answer to the question we started out with: the purpose is to gauge an important thing: curiosity. Do they want to know more about our company? If I sprinkle some hints as to how we work in our company, if I hint at some challenges we have, do they ask to learn more?

If you don’t know the technologies we use, you can learn them. If you haven’t used the processes we use, you can learn them. If you haven’t worked in the same team setup that we use, you can learn to.

...if you are curious enough.

For me it’s quite hard to fathom, but not everybody is curious. Some work on their own thing, without any desire to understand where it fits in. Why that thing matters, if it matters, if there are any alternatives. These are the people that are Java developers because they learned Java in university and that’s enough for them. Nothing against Java developers of course. *cough*. Just kidding. Really.

So, if I’d have to select a single attribute for an engineer, but likely any other role, it’d be curiosity.

As I gave the candidate this answer, he started to laugh and enthusiastically clap his hands (and this was a German, you don’t see that every day). Curious... As it turns out, that’s exactly the answer he was hoping for. Phew, I passed my interview.

He’s hired.

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