5 Tips for Hiring A Star Team

[image credit – Unix-Girl.com]

In Bill Taylor’s post on A Geek's Guide to Great Service he talks with Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad. I’ve already mentioned on this blog why I think Geek Squad is a great idea and I hope they do well here in the UK. Their blend of quirkiness, attention to detail and genuine customer focus should serve them and their customers well.

It’s another area of the interview with Stephens that piqued my interest that – that of hiring. I’m no expert at hiring but I have been involved in my fair share of it at Microsoft and thought it may be useful to share some things I learnt that seemed to work well. These are not things I miraculously concluded myself but things I picked up – most often from folks I consider mentors like Neil, Karl, Terry and others.

I hired for teams inside of Microsoft and though this post started out as a post about Hiring Geeks (hence the photo) I thought it was a good way to think about hiring a STAR team. Inside The Borg, I wanted to build a dream team of the right individuals but I would take the exact same approach externally. So here goes – 5 tips for hiring a Star Team.

  1. Hire for diversity, not consistency – I wanted people in our team as diverse as I could. Having twenty brilliant but unmanageable tech wizards in the team doesn’t work. Balancing out the wizards with the delivery guys worked out well.

  2. Hire Delivery Guys (and girls) – I don’t mean postal workers. I mean make sure you have folks who simply deliver – again and again, on time and with minimum fuss. When the chips are down, they come to the fore and your wizards take a back seat. As a side note, figure out what makes these people happy and reward them well. They’re gold.

  3. Hire Wizards – in my experience everyone great team has one (ore more) who are just brilliant minds. They’re the creative ideas people who differentiate you from the average team. They’re often a nightmare to manage but they’re worth it. How do you know a wizard? They’re curious

  4. Hire Curious People – by this I mean people who have natural curiosity. Stephen’s mentions this in his interview with Bill Taylor and it struck a chord with me. These are the people who ask questions. Constantly. They may not ask questions out loud but they will questions things and often go away and explore to find the answer for themselves. They may never need the information or us it – but one day they may. Trust me this is a very valuable skill. These people become information hubs and you hear their names again and again in the company as they’re “go to” people. I learnt some of this from my Granddad…but that’s a story for another day.

  5. Hire Passionate Readers – this doesn’t mean hire people who read Mills and Boon. It’s similar to curious people but worth calling out separately. A friend (who is a wizard and curious) taught me this interview question when I joined Microsoft. Ask someone what magazine they regularly read. Lets say they answer with WIRED. Then ask them how many back issues they have in their loft. It’s not a deal breaker question but my guess is if you’re reading this you know what I mean. People who are passionate about stuff read about it. A LOT. Okay so they may read online now and this question may be dated but try it anyway. They may say "ah I just auctioned off my 8 year collection of National Geographic on eBay”. That’s a hire.

This isn’t rocket science and there are people who are way more qualified than I am to comment on this stuff. I hope some of them chime in here with their views but this approach has worked for me so hopefully there is something in there for you.

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Comments (10)

  1. Ahmad A.L says:

    #include <stdio.h>

    void main


    int amazing[] ={544024393,1634560065,1495280740,1679848815,









    Hmmm I did the same thing around 6 months back to gain an Interview at Microsoft. After hell lot of effor I did get an interview .(Hell lot of effort bcos I’m a dropout with no formal degree). I dint make it thru though but ya that interview made me get my current job as a Virus Analyst/ Software Engineer at a prominen Anti Virus company. Will strike back at Microsoft soon 🙂

  2. Thanks.  Those are some good tips.  I really like how you focus on the reliable achievers who consistently bring value and then add that "wizard" to the mix.  

  3. stevecla01 says:

    good luck with it Ahmad and thanks for decoding the code for me 🙂

  4. stevecla01 says:

    thanks Eric – what would you add to the list?

  5. I would add to hire those who share the company’s values above finding the perfect technical fit.  If a person is found who matches the company’s values but is a bit lacking in skills that is ok.  Skills can be trained but values are rooted deeply into an individual.  The person with your values will be more aligned with company initiatives and will take more ownership of projects and make better decisions.  

  6. stevecla01 says:

    Extremely wise advice Eric – thanks!

  7. Walt Murray says:

    Really good post…experience or no, you pretty much nail it.

    There’s a little more to the equation, of course. For example, I think sometimes it’s worth hiring folks with raw talent that can be trained versus folks who might be already set in their ways like a wizard is. And if you’re using a recruiting site such as Dayak like we do to filter resumes for you all of this stuff will have to come out in interviews from recruiter filters. Such is the way of the staffing industry.

    But I like this post because it shows that you are so tuned in to your niche and to the needs of a company such as "geek squad" that you know exactly who you’re looking for, and describing to people how that equation breaks down (ie getting Wizards vs. hard workers vs. whatever) is often a pain in the neck.

    You know, your last numerical, about reading, also works the opposite way, and I know exactly what you mean. A few years ago I worked in an office of about 45, really great company. We all came from different backgrounds, but in a casual office-wide poll, our interests were remarkably consistent. Pretty much everyone read the New Yorker. Most listened to "This American Life". A good number of us owned the latest Loudon Wainwright album. A lot of us cited "Raising Arizona" as either our favorite movie or near the top of the list. How we all found each other is beyond me.

  8. stevecla01 says:

    thanks Walt – glad to know you found it useful 🙂

    I found myself looking around the train (tube) this morning ont the way in to London this morning and 99% of people who were reading had the local free paper or another broadsheet paper. I was reading BusinessWeek and getting a few odd looks. Made me think I’d hire people on the train who were reading something different to everyone else. Not that there is anything wrong with the paper but made me think…

  9. Bruce Lynn says:

    Totally love the final comment to ‘Hire Passionate Readers’ which in my mind is also highly correlated with ‘Wizards’ and ‘Curious People’.  We say at Microsoft that we hire for two essential qualities – Intelllectual Horsepower (Wizards, Curious People, Readers) and Passion (Delivery, Change the World).  Whenever I’m not quite so convinced about the horsepower of a job candidate, one of my favourite questions is ‘what is the most recent book you read?’  A bad answer is the person who tries to ‘impress’ me by having read ‘Windows Server 2008 Reference Manual’ (unless I am convinced that they really did and really enjoyed it).  The best answers are those esoteric ‘guilty pleasures’ of reading (eg.  ‘I hate to admit it but I love romance novels and read one every week’).  It doesnt’ matter so much what you read, as long as you read.  In my experience, it is a very strong indicator of a highly active mind.

  10. stevecla01 says:

    thanks Bruce – another great tip to add to the list.

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