Is Your Job Candidate Technical Enough?

"She's not technical enough."

Earlier in my career I worked with a tech company that almost lost a great candidate due to this feedback from the initial interviewer. The candidate had a passion for helping customers, but didn't demonstrate a fascination for a particular technology. She was about to get crossed off the list when I asked, "Does she have any examples of times she learned the ins and outs of a particular tech skill set in order to help customers?" And indeed, she did. We discussed it further, and agreed that just because she was motivated by helping customers , that didn't necessarily mean she wasn't capable of—or motivated to—learn the technical architecture associated with the role. We hired her, and she ended up being a tremendous asset to the team. In addition to learning the technology, she brought a fresh, customer-focused perspective to the work.

Redefining what it means to be "technical"

That wasn't an isolated incident. I've often seen engineering teams lose out on great talent by determining that someone "isn't technical enough." It might be that a candidate doesn't know a specific set of protocols or a particular area of networking that the interviewer deems to be common knowledge for their field. However, it may also be that the interviewer simply isn't seeing the level of pure technical passion the candidate has.

When we start to get into the specifics, we discover that many of these candidates have a deep passion for efficient implementation or for going above and beyond for a customer. It could be that they focus their learning on specifics, rather than learning everything out there simply for the sake of knowing the information.

What Does it mean to be 'technical enough?'

I challenge anyone in a technical recruiting or interviewing role to ask themselves these questions before disqualifying a candidate as not technical enough for a role.

  • What skills and knowledge are essential to someone's success in this role?
  • What seems to motivate this individual? Do their motivations align with the role and knowledge/skills required?
  • What does it really mean to be technical? What specific skills or knowledge were they lacking?
  • Based on their experiences, would we expect that they already know this information?
  • How hard is this information to learn?
  • How long do we think it would take them to learn it? Do we have an expert on staff that can help them quickly get up to speed?
  • Have they demonstrated the ability to quickly learn something similar in the past?
  • What aspect of the role are we concerned they wouldn't be able to execute, and why?
  • What strengths does this person have? Do we see enough to offset the lack of knowledge in a particular area?

Having the right conversation

I have often found that these questions lead to a much richer and deeper conversation about the role, what we saw, and the candidate's strengths. I would encourage any hiring manager and interviewer to question what it means to be "technical" and ensure they are really talking about skills, knowledge, and motivations, so they aren't missing out on great candidates.

Thinking through these questions ahead of time helps us stay focused on specific competencies and skills, which ultimately leads to us hiring the best possible talent.

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