Sunday, April 20, 2008

Finding young talent

Even though another birthday is rapidly approaching, I'm still pretty young to be doing what I'm doing. So writing about finding "young" talent might seem odd coming from me. Let me clarify; when I say young, I mean right out of college, never had a job before rockstars. It would be easy to be successful by staffing up with people who are proven rockstars--but very expensive. See, most rockstars actually know that they are good, and valuable, and ask to be compensated appropriately. And you should compensate them appropriately (or they will soon enough be someone else's rockstars). But paying senior people what they are worth cuts into your profitability, increases the prices you need to charge clients, and staffs you with a lot of chiefs but no indians.

You can balance this out by looking for fresh talent. I've been partial to recruiting out of college--I had particular success with this at my last job (shout out: Penn State quad!). I've mentioned previously that I don't really read resumes. I should clarify, though, that in looking for young talent, it helps to actually look for them--its probably not enough to post a job up on Monster. Most people graduating for college are not skilled in job searches and they haven't been sufficiently networked to find them on LinkedIn. I trolled college online career centers and browsed resumes. For hours and hours. Then I contacted the people I was interested in talking to, to see if they were interested in talking to me.

The interview is where things really become clear in the search for the next rockstar. Here's what I look for in someone with no actual work experience:

  • Passion for what they did in school--How excited to they get about talking about their classes? What classes and experiences do they mention? How does that complement what you are looking for?
  • A little ego--Ok, you don't want to hire someone who thinks they know everything already, especially when they probably know nothing about what you do. But they should brag a little. One rockstar that I interviewed for a writing position told me flat out she was a great writer, after she had been modest about the rest of her accomplishments throughout the interview. I loved that she was confident in her abilities and after I hired her, found out she really was a great writer.
  • Modesty and willingness to learn--I'm looking for young talent who knows that they are young and talented, and are looking for a chance to learn and grow. I like confidence, but not false confidence. You are talking to someone who's never had a corporate job before, and he or she should approach the interview as a chance to learn an incredible amount.
  • Who's interviewing who?--I think this is true of any interview, but more impressive in young candidates--the interview should go both ways. Young prospective rockstars should be interviewing you as much as you them to make sure the job is a good fit.
  • Would you want to get a beer (or coffee for you teetotalers) with him/her?--Just like with any candidate, personality is important. You need to be painstaking in building your company's culture. That is NOT to say that everyone should be the same; on the contrary, quirks make life interesting. But you will be spending time with this person, and its important that you like him or her. Try some dinner party conversation in the interview and see how it goes. Ask some only slightly interview-related questions. Among my favorites are favorite movie, favorite book, magazines you subscribe to, and the legendary "what food would you bring to the company picnic?" These should really just be conversation starters, and the answers don't really matter--except they do. Because you can gauge a lot from how people talk to you when they don't feel like they are being interviewed.

I'm on a quest for a few young rockstars. I'm looking forward to finding the next "Corporate Idol."

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