Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ask a simple question, get a revelation

CED Member Post by Allison Wood, Founder and CEO of LCMS+

A few days ago, I interviewed a prospective developer for our early-stage software company. In case you haven't heard, good IT talent is hard to find these days. And when you do find them, they tend to be fielding several offers. So my hopes always start off pretty modest.

However, this person and our tech co-founder came from very similar situations: they both built an enterprise-level application in an academic environment. I knew we must have gone through many of the same challenges and hit many of the same walls, and I wanted to learn more about how this person handled those kinds of obstacles. So early in our conversation, I just put it out there: “What was your biggest challenge in trying to do that job?”

It was a bit of a interviewer's fishing question - but part of me just wanted to commiserate on all the difficulties we had encountered in a similar setting, and I really led this guy with the way I set up the question. It would have been so easy for him to follow my lead, to fall in line and say, “Yeah, that was the pits, wasn't it? The worst part was....” I knew there was plenty to complain about.

Instead, his response blew me away.

He was silent for several seconds. Then he said: “Well, I can't really think of a great obstacle or challenge – but I'd say the biggest benefit was the ability to talk with the faculty every day and learn what they needed.”

Right then I knew we had to hire this guy. Here's why:

1)   He's obviously someone who focuses on the positive. I asked about a challenge, he talked about a benefit. The world needs more people who think that way, and it's the way entrepreneurs have to think every day if we want to keep moving forward.
2)   He showed me that he has a customer focus on a par with our own. The first thought that came to his mind was how his work was affecting and helping his clients – in this case, the faculty at his school. That's terribly important, but not at all what I expected to get out of this selfish question of mine.
3)   He didn't fall into that interview trap of “she asked me this question, so I have to give her this answer.” He didn't let himself feel pressured or trapped into a line of thinking that was artificial or based on guessing what he thought I wanted to hear. He took the time to provide a thoughtful answer that actually gave me way more insight about him than a “safer” answer ever could.
This was just the first of many conversations I'll have with this potential employee, but I gotta say – the position is his to lose now. All because he took a moment to answer one question honestly and authentically. I'll take a little credit for being able to recognize the value of his answer, but it's entirely to his credit that he said what he did. My guess (and my hope) is there's more where that came from.

Allison Wood is building a team piece by piece for LCMS+, an early-stage educational technology company based in Chapel Hill. LCMS+ is a CED VMS company.

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