Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Interviewing, post 3

TLDR: brain dump.

This is my internal thoughts, presented for you to look at. (cause I want to remove my internal stigma of having to have perfect / point-filled blogs before I post.)

Little background: I used to interview people at a much larger company, we had a team of roughly 50 testers / SDETs. This allowed me a certain amount of freedom in hiring people that might not perfectly fit any particular profile. Aka they could be higher risk (in my mind) in certain key areas, cause they were offset but a large group of other people. Or we could move them to a team that offset any other risky areas while we saw if they panned out over a 2-3 month period. Or were able to learn what we thought was necessary.
I now work for a company with a 4 person QA team, hiring a final person for this year to make it a team of 5. Personally I think this gives me significantly less leeway on what it is that we can hire. I have less wiggle room for potential issues. I don't have the cycles I would like to, to devote to training someone with only some potential. Basically what I think I'm looking for and what I need to fill are more tightly coupled for this current position.

So, in interviewing people, I look for certain key talents. One of those talents is self-motivation / drive / passion. In an effort to attempt to figure out what I'm looking for in good people to hire, one of my employees asked me to define what I meant by motivation or drive.

Before looking it up in a dictionary:
Motivation: A reason to do a task.
Drive: Internal motivation, requiring little to no outside force(s). This can be synonomous with Self-motivated.
Passion: A strong drive that allows one to singularly focus on a task or set of tasks. Passion can be good and bad. Not allowing oneself to defocus when necessary (OCD).

Dictionary (the definition I thought the most pertinent):
Motivation: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence : incentive
Drive: to press or force into an activity, course, or direction
Passion: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept

What does all this mean to me? I think my ideas of what motivation / drive are…are pretty reasonable (perhaps self-motivated is the more appropriate word). Now the real question comes down to HOW do you find out if someone is self-motivated or driven?
I've been reading Hiring with your Head (1) recently to see how someone regarded as a great interviewer goes about it. Adler likes the idea of past proof of having done it. He asks, "What is your most significant accomplishment related to X?" 
Personally, I'm not sure I want to just ask someone directly, "Are you motived? Prove it." People can make up anything if they know what you are looking for.

Lately I've been saying something to the point of:
One of the key objectives for this position is the ability to write bug reports that are clear, concise, accurate and relevant. At a high level, what do you think about this and how would you go about this? What have you accomplished that's most similar to this?
One of the key objectives for this position is the conversion of component, functional, system and regression tests into automation. At a high level, what do you think about this and how would you go about this? What have you accomplished that's most similar to this?

And then digging into the details of the given answers to get specific details. I have found this seems to give me the data I need to determine "is this person self-motivated". But since I just changed up the interview questions I use to start taking this into account, I'll reserve judgment till later.


(1) Adler, Lou. Hire with Your Head: Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams. 3rd ed. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. Print.


  1. I already somewhat know the answer, but what ways are you controlling for your personal bias to the answers given compared to what you would expect?

    For example, if I for example answered that I didn't like writing bugs but rather talked to the developers, as I sat with my team and we were informal in how we did bugs. That I would be game to try a different approach to bugs, but felt writing was not always the most effective approach.

    Would you take that as a good thing or a bad thing? What do you get from that sort of answer?

  2. I like the before and after dictionary segment; good background setup. I'd be really interested in seeing an exploration of:
    1) What is the relationship between Motivation, Drive, and Passion?
    2) In what different ways do these qualities manifest themselves?
    3) How do you go about uncovering the existence (or lack thereof) of these qualities?
    [Note: 2) and 3) might look similar, but what I'm really saying in #2 is: If you could watch a person 24/7 and read their thoughts, what things would they do/say/think (or not) that would be a result of those qualities (or lack)? and then #3 is more of the … how do you figure it out during an interview.]
    (And I think #2 is really the hardest question to answer.)

    1. 1 - What is the relationship between Motivaiton, Drive and Passon?
      Personally I thought I covered this pretty well. But I'll spell out how I think they link specifically. Motivation is the reason to do that tasks. Drive is the internal piece that makes someone be internally motivated (as opposed to outwardly motivated). Passion is the borderline where Drive can become dangerous. Not that Passion itself is bad, but that it can be a red flag for borderline behavior.

      2 - In what different ways do these qualities manifest themselves?
      I'm going to answer this question differently: I'm looking for a self-motivated / self-driven person, possible passionate, but not approaching zealot-like.
      Self-motivated to me would be someone who sees an issue, task or problem and without an outside force tackles the situation. Possibly solving it, possibly merely suggesting several possible solutions. However doing this once isn't enough for me, I want to see repeated, serial self-motivation. Now I will admit, I've been in organizations where doing this gets you fired, but who really wants to work there anyways?

      3 - How do you go about uncovering the existence, or lack, of these qualities?
      Honestly my preferred method is to work directly with someone for 1-2 months. Which is why given the choice, I'll take a 70% fit from a known good person over a 100% fit from a new person.
      I'm not sure I have some pat simple answer for this. I'm not sure it exists, every great person that I've hired has opened my eyes slightly more to another potential way of finding self-motivated, driven people. But I'm not sure I've gleaned any Yoda like advice that can be doled out without context, specific name mentioning context. I've not been able to distill that knowledge out into some simple "look for X". It's why I keep writing about interviewing and changing up my interview style, trying to do better and better at identifying those exceptional people.