Attitude beats experience

The older I get, the quicker the years seem to fly by. As I begin to reflect on a great 2014, one thing is crystal clear again. People are the most important thing to any organization. Having a great team is more important than having a great idea. A good team will figure out how to make something great happen; they'll pivot, evolve and claw their way to success. I see it every day at Acquia, the Drupal Association or the Drupal community. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by so many great people.

By extension, recruiting is serious business. How do you figure out if someone is a great fit for your organization? Books have been written about finding and attracting the right people, but for me the following quote from Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, sums it up perfectly.

"Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind." — Dee Hock, founder of Visa.

Most hiring managers get it wrong and focus primarily on experience. While experience can be important, attitude is much more important. Attitude, not experience, is what creates a strong positive culture and what turns users and customers into raving fans.

Comments

Jake Wilund (not verified):

As I read this blog, I could not help but recall applying for a technical consultant position at Acquia. My initial inquiry was met by an impressed recruiter, who thanked me for my amazing email. I was given a phone interview and had the chance to explain that despite being a young man with only a couple of professional years in the industry, that I had already built 40+ Drupal websites, many of which I architected and built from the ground up myself while working for my employer out of Madison, Wisconsin.

But when the notes from my phone interview were passed along to the hiring team, I was informed that they would be passing on my application due to a lack of experience. I was never given the chance to expound upon my great knowledge of the Drupal platform nor was I tested on my abilities. I was weeded out because my 2 years of building Drupal sites from the ground up for a wide range of companies (both large and small) was not considered "extensive enterprise Drupal implementation experience".

Now don't misunderstand, I don't leave this comment on your blog out of spite, I was able to move on to another opportunity and work as a contract Drupal developer elsewhere, but I just wanted to let you know that if you truly believe experience ranks sixth on the list of importance, it certainly was not the opinion held by your hiring team at Acquia. When it comes to integrity, motivation, capacity, understanding, and and knowledge, I hold myself to be exemplary and have always been willing and able to prove it when given the opportunity.

I believe I would have been, and still would be, an incredible asset to Acquia or any other Drupal firm looking to support their clients in architecting and consulting during the development of their Drupal projects. If for any reason you read this comment and feel compelled to talk to me, you have my email from this webform.

Best Regards,
Jake Wilund

Dries:

Jake,

Thank you for your professional comment. Very pleased to hear you think highly of Acquia despite the fact we didn't offer you a job.

First, there is no doubt we have learning to do. Hiring is difficult and we certainly haven't perfected it at Acquia. While the advice to hire for attitude first is not that complicated, it's human nature to hire for skills first. It's simply much easier to assess people's technical skills than it is to assess their attitude. We're constantly educating our hiring managers and we're constantly trying to figure out how to improve our hiring process.

Second, I didn't say experience isn't important. For certain roles, having the right experience is critical. However, without a solid foundation (integrity, motivation, capacity, ...) that experience is irrelevant. A subtle but important difference.

Last but not least, don't be afraid to apply again and to keep trying. Not only have you gained experience, but Acquia has undoubtedly changed too. As we scale the company, our hiring skills improve, we have a larger variety of positions available, it is easier to hire people in different geographies, and more. It's not unusual that we hire someone a few years after he/she was first rejected.

Jake Wilund (not verified):

Just wanted to say that this response means a lot to me, and that I absolutely do hold Acquia in the highest regards. Thank you for reading what I had to say objectively, I have no doubt you and your team will continue to improve with that kind of approach.

I certainly did not mean to imply experience was irrelevant. If I did so, I apologize, undoubtedly it is still a very important thing, and I would even go as far to say that depending on the particular position/context, it might actually rank higher than some of those other characteristics.

Happy Holidays!

Michael Brown (not verified):

Hi Jake,

Really sorry for the experience you originally had and how it has stuck with you over time. I'd like to second Dries' response to you. Please reapply!!! Since we last heard from you, Acquia has made significant advances and investments to bettering our recruiting practices, systems, as well as staff. We would love to consider you again and are aggressively hiring across the company. Let us prove to you that we have indeed changed and are working to become a world class hiring organization.

Drop me a note and let me know when would be a good time to chat. You can reach me at michael.brown(at)acquia.com.

Thanks,
Mike Brown
Director, Resource Planning and Staffing

Dominique (not verified):

Interesting approach.

Suppose you give a score from 1 to 5 for each criteria for a candidate. 30 being the highest score, what would be the minimum score under which you would not hire? Personally, I would say 21... (integrity = 5, motivation = 5, capacity = 4, understanding = 3, knowledge = 2, experience =2)

Does it sound realistic?

Harley Lovegrove (not verified):

Thanks for this excellent reminder Dries.

When I was building Eonic Systems Inc., Integrity and motivation were my two strongest points too, Dee Hock has it just right. A little trick we used was to leave our candidate in the reception area a little longer than might be expected and to see how he, or she, interacted with the receptionist and passers by. It was amazing how sometimes our receptionist would ask me (after an interview) "you're not going to hire that person are you"? She often saw a side of the candidate in the waiting area that the professional interviewers never saw in the interview room!

Happy holidays to you and your team
Harley

Joaquin Lippincott (not verified):

Hi Dries,

I totally with the heart of this: character is more important than specific skills. That said, I think folks - especially young folks - are quick to discount experience in the broad sense of the word. Some people do not draw wisdom from their experiences, but those that do, years on the planet are incredibly important. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I have learned a tremendous amount from other likeminded individuals who have more time in the saddle than I do.

Joaquin

Dave Winer (not verified):

Dries, this is not good. I imagine you'll look back on this essay some day the same way Brendan Eich looks back on his decision to give to a cause that worked to prevent gay marriage in California.

Tech is the only profession I'm aware of that so openly discriminates based on age. Not only is this bad business, but it's also unfair, and although I'm not a lawyer, it seems to me that it's illegal as well.

There are plenty of people who are just beginning to grow into their maturity as developers, but if you staff a company with all young people, you can't tap into that, if you believe that only a lack of experience will keep harmony in your shop.

Think creatively, how can you make something good happen here. That's what I encourage you to do. There are a lot of good people out there that want to be in the game, including me btw, that can't because the presumption is that our work is not relevant.

I'd be happy to compare my current work to anything any of your younger folk produce.