January 31, 2009


Filed under: Learning — Freek Leemhuis @ 9:06 pm

As a consultant, it’s sometimes difficult to find a new job that is a good match with your skills. We preferably want to learn on the job, but the person doing the hiring wants to find someone who already knows all the stuff that is required to do a good job.I think it was Noel Tichy who developed the model of concentric learning zones that can be used to illustrate the point.
If you want to learn, you need to get out of your comfort zone, but just enough to stay in the learning zone. If you cross over to the panic zone you’ll be thrashing rather than learning. So if I’m looking for a new assignment, I want to use skills that I do not yet fully master. Most people that are looking to hire a consultant however seem hell bent on finding someone that has demonstrated a mastery of the required skills, preferably for a number of years. They want to make sure the person they hire can do the job, and previous experience is what they perceive as the ultimate proof that the person is a good match. If the person can perform the skills required within their comfort zone, there’s no risk of them straying into the panic zone.

Requiring X number of years of experience for a language, platform of framework is not effective. Experience does not equate level of skill, and as David says, as long as applicants have 6 months to a year of experience, consider it a moot point for comparison.

There’s some strange job postings that I’ve browsed through the last month or so.

4 years of experience with c# 3.0? Who are they hoping to attract, Anders bloody Hejlsberg?

And how about this one: looking for unit testers. Wat are they? People who only write unit tests all day, and they are not allowed to actually write code?

Some of these job postings contain clues on how ignorant the company is on the matter. Someone really needs to tell them what they are looking for is a good software engineer, and rather then matching precise experience they would be better of looking at different attributes that point to good candidates. 

I like Jeff Atwood’s approach on finding the right candidate:

Have the candidate give a 20 minute presentation to your team on their area of expertise. I think this is a far better indicator of success than a traditional interview, because you’ll quickly ascertain..

  • Is this person passionate about what they are doing?
  • Can they communicate effectively to a small group?
  • Do they have a good handle on their area of expertise?
  • Would your team enjoy working with this person?

Please note that acquisition in response to this blog post might not be appreciated


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