On Hiring

As a people manager for the last several years I’ve spoken with well over a thousand candidates. Taking in to account my job openings as well as those held by other hiring managers (a lot of the early employees at Zerto act as “trusted advisers” to each other as well as “culture checks” to newer hiring managers), it could be in the thousands. One thing has become so clear that I find myself saying it to nearly everyone I screen or interview.

First, a little background

It was spring of 2012 that I and millions of others got wind of Valve Corporation’s “Valve Handbook for New Employees” (PDF). I read through the same handbook dozens of times and always kept pausing on the quote found on page 43, figure 5-1, “Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe. Everything else in our world is subordinate to finding great people and keeping the bar high.”

One of the first things I did when moving to a management position was to give myself the task of building a hiring strategy (those who know me are aware I built an on-boarding strategy as well, a story for another post). Recalling my fascination with their plan, I quickly turned to Valve’s handbook, yet something didn’t feel quite right. Did I want people who were “T-shaped”, with great depth in one area and broad generalist skills, or did I want something else?

“Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe. Everything else in our world is subordinate to finding great people and keeping the bar high.” – Valve Corporation

I have always been drawn to those persons with two or more areas of expertise from the 60,000ft view all the way down to the bolts who can also cross those mental chasms to deliver a sum of excellent work greater than the parts. With respect to Valve and their hiring practices, the idea of a T-shaped person – same handbook, page 46 – simply didn’t fit my needs. Whether looking for my own Sales Engineers or screening Product Managers, Marketing Developers, Technical Support Engineers, or other roles I have always felt better (the hiring “gut check”) and had better success with another sort of professional.

Enter the H-shaped person

Think of a person with an expertise similar to yours but who also absolutely crushes it at communicating or developing strategy in that skill (or both). An example to the Information Technology readers might be someone who not only knows VMware vSphere virtualization down to its depths but also writes (internally or externally) on it regularly, or is called on by colleagues to write integration plans or competitive documents as other examples. Perhaps they on-board or even develop relevant employees in this area of expertise. Perhaps only they can?

I have always been drawn to those persons with two or more areas of expertise from the 60,000ft view all the way down to the bolts who can also cross those mental chasms…

While the T-shaped person has expertise in one area (the vertical bar of the “T”) and is a generalist across a few other areas (the horizontal bar of the “T”), the H-shaped person goes well beyond this. The H-shaped person has two vertical bars indicating domains of expertise, similar to the T, yet those bars go above the horizontal. Each area of expertise isn’t just deep but runs past the rooftops as well. They excel at communication or strategy development (and in practice I’ve found often both are true) in the same discipline that they can get down to the muck in.

And then they do this again in another domain. 

And then they make great leaps between the two fields, often taking approaches others may not see, or providing solutions before other singular-expertise folks can put pen to paper.

A brilliant example of this is Justin Paul. I met Justin in 2013 when working to sign his employer up as a Zerto reseller and quickly saw not only his deep expertise in VMware vSphere , but in a variety of backup solutions and storage technologies as well. More importantly, he held (and still holds!) the ability to communicate and, plainly, think at any level we could throw at him. Justin was instrumental in pushing our solution out across his team and his customers and, when his employer at the time was acquired, he again used his broad and deep skills across multiple disciplines to not only educate his new colleagues and increase time to value, but to stand up a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) solution in a matter of days. This is something that typically takes 3-4 people in a variety of technical backgrounds.

…they make great leaps between the two fields, often taking approaches others may not see…

Later on when the opportunity presented itself to hire a Sales Engineer in his area, I moved fast to hire Justin and get him on my team. He’s now been with us for over a year and a half and he is killing it!

Hire for height, depth, and breadth all in one

Particularly when hiring senior staff such as Sales Engineers, Account Executives, Product Managers, Enterprise Architects or people managers at any level (as for all managers, directors and above, “hiring” is itself an area of expertise!), you need to go broad and deep across at least two domains. This will ensure you bring on the people who can hit problems from multiple angles, see answers where others won’t, and contribute to that culture of excellence so highly demanded in business today.

A little more on hiring.

Take an objective, rational approach in your job requisitions and initial interviews. When building a requisition, be sure to identify either internally or externally the two truly critical requirements to this job. Instruct other interviewers to ask a variety of questions that attack these requirements at both a high level and to get in the weeds – this can often require two interviewers with differing skill sets! Ultimately you’re looking for candidates who hit the two critical requirements and then cover the rest of the job requirements at a “good enough” level. Let’s face it, going so high and deep in two fields means it stands to reason they can come up to speed quickly on those other “needs”.

Leave a Reply