When hiring a technical candidate for a software company, how can you find an Intelligence Asset?

Ok, so we all want the intelligent employee who picks up on things quickly, has a high IQ, and becomes an expert at his job sooner than anyone else who has ever had the position. This type of employee becomes an Intelligence Asset. They can answer any question, solve any problem and help brain storm through any problem.

Imagine you are hiring someone for a Level III technical support position or a as a Technical Sales Engineer or as a Developer for you software or for a your systems administrator or help desk team. You probably don’t just want an employee, you want an Intelligence Asset, someone who can be an expert, solve any problem, be a resource for others and help in ways that cannot even be imagined.

What steps do you take to find the “intelligent employee who picks up on things quickly, has a high IQ, and becomes an expert at his job sooner than anyone else who has ever had the position”. How do you find someone like that.

Well, while it is nice to have someone with experience, experience doesn’t make someone like that. It is also nice to have someone with great social skills, but social skills doesn’t make some one like that either. It is nice to get someone with a degree, but a degree doesn’t necessarily make someone like that either. Maybe they even have a degree in some other field, I do.

However, there are some traits that are common to people who have the ability to become an Intelligence Asset. In over a decade of working in the Networking, Technical Support, Systems Administration, Development, and IT field, I have met a number of Intelligence Assets and I will try to describe the traits that are common among these people.

  1. They enjoy learning, especially learning technology.
  2. They enjoy sharing what they learn.
  3. They can read a lot.
  4. They can read fast.
  5. They retain what they read.
  6. They only have to be shown how to do something once.
  7. They have analytical minds, and analyze everything.
  8. They solve problems faster and more efficiently than others.
  9. They are interested in the field in which they are working.
  10. They are hard workers and have strong work ethics.
  11. They always have to be right and hate being wrong.
  12. They assume other people care about the knowledge they have.
  13. They are not gamers.

So instead of spending time trying to make sure an candidate is going to already know your product or has experience with your product or whether they can be the perfect social talker, instead make sure they can be an Intelligence Asset.

Make sure they have the qualities above and you don’t have to worry about them. So what questions can they ask? Well, lets target some questions at each of the above subjects.

They enjoy learning.
If a candidate enjoys learning, then they are going to spend time learning outside of work. The following questions will show that a candidate enjoys learning.

  • What technology topics are you learning at home on your own?
  • How much time do you spend learning technology away from work?
  • Are you a member of a technical community where you donate your time?

They enjoy sharing what they learn.
These people often participate in online forums/communities where they help others and answer questions, often for free. They may have blogs where they contribute their ideas. Knowledge Retention is an important factor for any company. Knowledge lost can cost a company thousands or more.

  • You just stumbled on the best new software application. Who do you share it with? How do you share it?
  • You had a tough issue with a piece of software, and it took you days. At the end you realize there was really only a dozen simple steps, but there was not documentation so you had to realize it the hard way. Now that you have the solution, what would you do with it?
  • Are you a member of an online forum in your field of work?

Intelligence Assets consume knowledge by reading. They are reading everywhere. The internet, manuals, white papers, or pretty much anywhere they can get their hands on knowledge. There are simple questions that can let you know how much people read. Reading is part of every job whether you think it is or not.

  1. They can read a lot.
    What types of reading do you do?
    What reading do you do to keep up on your skills?
    What websites do you frequent?

  2. They can read fast.
    This is simple. There are websites you can send them to an check this. Do a simple google search for this term: determine reading speed
    I bet you found dozens of sites that will evaluate a candidates reading speed. One thing to note is that faster readers also usually have greater retention, which is the opposite of what some believe.

  3. They retain what they read.
    Hey, this one is hard to evaluate. During an interview nerves can get in the way of really evaluating this, so I would recommend not trying. If you have determined that they read a lot and that they read fast, retention often comes along for the ride.

They only have to be shown how to do something once.
Have a simple demonstration test prepared. Show the user how to do something either on a computer or even with a gadget or a mind game. Then have them try to repeat it. Make sure it is complex enough that almost no one can repeat it and you can be wowed when someone does.

They have analytical minds, and analyze everything.
How do you find that employee that can look at something and analyze it and understand, and do it quickly. Well, people who are analytical have to think about things. However, be careful, if you throw out a question, just because someone responds with a quick answer doesn’t mean they won’t take time to analyze. Some will give an initial response and then continue to think about it, so speed of response is not a true indicator. Give them something they can analyze and have them describe how it works. Again, it can be a computer program, a mind game and see what things they can analyze about it in a few minutes. If your focus is software, you can give someone an application and thirty minutes to discuss everything they can about this application. For a mechanical engineer, provide a piece of hardware or some schematics and ask the candidate to analyze it.

They solve problems faster and more efficiently than others.
So there are lot of problem solving tests that are common.

“I am thinking of an object in this room, you can ask any question except for, “What is it?”

“You have a a bag of grain, a chicken, and a fox and you need to take them all across a river in a boat. However, there is only a room in the boat for you and one other. You can’t leave the fox and the chicken together and you can’t leave the chicken and the grain together. How do you get them across?”

There are many more problem solving questions and you can find them online or maybe even make some up if you can.

They are interested in the field in which they are working.
Many of the other questions above should be giving you a feel for this by now. However, if you are looking for someone to be an Intelligence Asset for a software company, you should understand that there are often multiple hierarchies in a software company. A technical hierarchy and a management hierarchy are the obvious ones you see. For example, in tech support there is often Level 1, Level II, Level III, or technical leads and then there are managers and directors who may or may not be technical. But most companies have sales teams and other departments as well, so there can be quite a few different hierarchies in a software company.

Don’t be afraid to ask the candidate direct questions. However, “Where do you see yourself in five years” is really not focused enough. Show them your different hierarchies in your company and ask the candidate if they were to be promoted every two years, where would they be. If they are a technical asset they are not likely to choose a route outside their field into management or sales. However, if you don’t pay well, you may be skewing these results because money is a strong motivator and if you are unwilling to pay a technical asset what they are worth and it is obvious, they may choose a route that pays well.

Also remember, an Intelligence Asset enjoys learning. Ask them what they are learning about today that will further their career. If you are an electrical engineer and they say 3D animation, that is a key indicator that they are not committed to the field. It is hard for a candidate to be amazing in a field they are not interested in.

They are hard workers and have strong work ethics.
One of the best workers at my company, and one of our greatest intelligence assets is someone you would consider a farm boy. You might find him herding cows on the weekend. He probably works more hours in a day than he should. His work ethic is obvious. I can’t promise that any hard working farm boy is going to end up being an Intelligence Asset for you. However, you can probably generalize that a farm boy at least fills in the hard worker check box (yes despite what the silly political correct ideals would have you believe, you can and you must both generalize and stereotype during the interview process because you only get a few meetings with a candidate).

How many hours do you work at your current job?

What break room distractions did they have at your previous job? Did they have games and if so what was your choice of distraction?

When you had absolutely nothing to do at your previous job, what did you do? For example, you are completely caught up and you don’t have to do anything task or projects and won’t for the last three hours of the day, what do you do?

They always have to be right and hate being wrong.
I’ll be straight up and honest. Not every trait that indicates an Intelligence Asset is a good one. You need to accept the fact that Intelligence Assets may tell you when you are wrong and they may not know to do it in private. And their is a good change that you are wrong because there is a good change they actually do know better than you.

Also, Intelligence Assets are usually likely to argue when they 100% sure they are correct. There are some that don’t but most do. They argue when they know they are right. Yes, I consider myself an Intelligence Asset and once I was talking to another Intelligence Asset and we both had conflicting answers about a DNS feature and yet we were both correct. He was providing the Microsoft Windows answer and I was providing a FreeBSD/Linux answer and yes, their feature sets are different, so we were both right. Ok, I was unaware that Microsoft lacked the feature I was talking about and he was unaware that BSD/Linux had the feature. Anyway, neither of us would give. We were both right and new it for a fact because we learn and test and know.

Assume they argue when you ask the candidate a question. Every candidate is likely to say no if you ask if they argue. Instead ask: “You are in an argument with someone about something and you know 100% that you are right. How do you convince the other person?” If they take time to say something like, “First, I never argue” then maybe they don’t have this trait. And that is not necessarily bad.

By the way, once you hire them, please coach them to not argue. Remember they are very intelligent and they can learn to not argue, though it may take years.

Another approach is to ask them this: “You have given information to someone and you just found out that for whatever reason your are completely wrong. The person calls you on it, what do you do?” If they spend the whole answer saying how they would apologize and try to regain trust with the person, then they really don’t care about their knowledge. If they focus on how they would go research the issue and make sure that they learned the right answer so they wouldn’t be wrong again, then this is an Intelligence Asset. They probably won’t care much about what the other person thinks so much as they care about the fact they had wrong information.

They are not gamers.
Can I just say that as I analyzed the Intelligence Assets I know, none of them that I know are really gamers. Remember they are computer geeks, so yes they have gamed. But gamers are people who play computer games regularly, if not daily. I play games every Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays but rarely any other time. World of Warcraft, or WOW for short, is one of the more popular games these days. However, not a single one of the Intelligence Assets I know are daily gamers. They usually have something else that fills their time so they cannot really find time to be gamers. Often they spend time that gamers spend doing something like learning, reading, working, programming on the side, etc…

Maybe you find out if they are gamers by mentioning that your company only allows LAN parties and gaming after 7pm. See how they respond.

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  1. KW Norris says:

    My wife runs a dental office and solves the problem of finding excellent employees in a way I have yet to try in my business but intend to do so. After the resume, phone interview (always required before the personal interview) and personal interview, candidates who are being considered for a position are invited for a one or two day working interview. They are paid for the working interview. It takes some effort to design a working interview but it is well worth the effort. I believe this is the best model I've seen.

    I have been directly responsible for hiring about 50 people over the course of my career and indirectly responsible for another 50 or so. In addition, I ran a recruiting business for 11 years where we placed several hundred contractors in positions that averaged about 18 months each and about 50 permanent placements. After all the resume work, interviews and reference checking the most effective tool I had for evaluating a candidate was my personal "gut" feeling about how they would work with my team or with my client's team. That approach served me extremely well.

    I was interested in your Intelligent Asset approach and read your entire post. I respectfully disagree. Of your 13 points I fail on 5 and am questionable on 2. Yet I believe I am an Intelligent Asset. Many of the people I remember well enough to evaluate against your score card would also fail about 1/2 of your checklist, though each in different categories.

    People cannot be machine tested to determine if they will be a good employee. The process goes way beyond 13 or 36 or 100 items by which you might qualify a person for successful employment. Much of an employee's success is dependent upon his boss for training, consideration and support. Your approach does not consider that important aspect.

    Thanks for raising the subject and though I disagree, I am glad we can have the discussion and look forward to your and others comments.

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