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My Two Keys to Getting Hired

September 2014 - Grand Rapids

Read on if: you’re looking to hire or get hired

First, a confession… I’m not in charge of hiring for my company and I’m not looking for a job. However, when my boss asks me what I’m looking for in a new member of our team, my only two criteria are enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Why tech skills aren’t enough

There may be some coders taking issue with me on this already. “Don’t you want a rock star? Or a ninja? My coding skills are so awesome they make up for any shortcomings in my personality.”

No, no I don’t. Rock stars and ninjas aren’t terribly good at playing well with others and even if their coding skils are exceptional, if the rest of the team (or their boss, or their user base) wants to choke them unconscious on a daily basis, it’s not a net win for the organization.

Don’t try and paint over a sullen and hostile attitude with technical prowess. There are too many social, considerate experts in your field who will gladly take your seat and benefits package, and the web makes them entirely too easy to find. The days of the “irreplaceable loose cannon” are over, if they were ever real to begin with.

Enthusiasm: A How To

When I say enthusiasm, I don’t mean the motivational-speaker style “rah rah rah” or cheerleader “let’s go team!” I mean a willingness to get excited about whatever task you’re allowed to do, whether it’s writing another mind-numbing report app, reading documentation or finding a bug.

On the subject of reading documentation, this is one of enthusiasm’s hidden benefits. Most people that are forced to learn something will do the absolute minimum they think they can get away with and then forge ahead, leaving a string of time-wasting blind alleys and bugs in their wake. A typical manifestation is someone who watches an intro screencast on YouTube for some hot new tech and then tries to rebuild the entire business around it.

Be the exception. Read the docs (horrible as they might be). Read the code, if it’s open source. Not every line of every file, but take a tour and see what is available beyond the demo. Build toy apps before you touch production code. If you want to sound all hacker-ish, call them “spikes” instead of “toy apps”. ;-)

Be quick and be efficient: this is a constant juggling act. But be as prepared as the situation allows.

Attention to Detial

If the typo in that heading makes you crazy, then you’re the sort of person that will be an asset to every team or app you work on. Again, most people settle for “close enough”. Your boss gives vague instructions and expects you to be smart enough to fill in the gaps and make any peripheral decisions they’re too busy (or underinformed) to make themselves. People write emails full of typos and rambling digressions because they know you’ll re-read it 5 times to get the actual meaning out of it.

Computers are not like that. Computers require perfection or they will misbehave (perfectly).

This carries over into your communication skills as well. If someone asks a question, give an accurate answer, so they will have all the information they need to make an accurate decision. If the boss says “how often does it crash?”, a normal person might say “not too often” but a coder will say “I ran it twenty times and it failed twice with a ‘connection refused’ error.” Be the exception.

Enthusiasm + Details = Remarkable

I’ve already said it twice, but I’ll emphasize it this time. The fundamental element of being exceptional (and therefore valuable) is being the exception. Do everything in your power to go the extra mile, cover all of your bases, see what the people around you don’t see because they’re too rushed or tired or burned-out. What important things (good and bad) aren’t being talked about and might help us make a better decision?

This starts with your portfolio, your online presence, your open-source projects, how you dress, speak, email or tweet. Don’t wear a tuxedo or an evening gown to your interview, but give your future employer (or business partner) the best impression of the real you.

Seth Godin’s advice on creating a successful product (in this case, you) is be remarkable. Don’t do the things everyone else does (if your portfolio app is a to-do list, try again). Being remarkable means doing something other people will discuss even when you’re not around because it’s fun or inspiring or just plain impressive.

On your own time, you’re the boss, so tackle the problems no one else seems to be tackling and you will never get lost in the shuffle.