Today I thought I’d share an experience I had a few years back and hope to impart some lessons on humility and start a discussion about experience vs qualification and interview techniques. Sounds like a lot but I’ll try to be brief.
Don’t get the title wrong, I’m not advocating that you should not study further, it would be quite hypocritical of me as I’m currently furthering my studies. Neither am I saying that interviews are the wrong way to hire people. I just think that there is a flaw in this process.
On to my story. A few years ago I was working on a client site commissioning a project that I had developed when I noticed that my client was having issues with a bit of automation equipment that I was familiar with. Well, it was none of my business but I’m always willing to lend a hand (or be nosey) and was given an overview of what the issue was. The service representatives from the vendor were present and trying to fix the issue without success (for a few days now) so I stepped in and started asking a few questions trying my best to help inspire a solution.
At some point in the discussions it became obvious to me what the cause was and what the solution would be, but to my amazement the service ‘specialist’ would hear none of it, and being me, I challenged him a little through what I would call a micro debate. I would never forget his response. He said ‘People have learned not to challenge me. You should know that I have two masters degrees’. I was very honestly…SPEECHLESS. I was really at a loss for words and didn’t have a snappy comeback to counter that statement. Followed by a little sickening feeling. I said okay and walked away. I really thought I may have been wrong, After all, he was the specialist with not one but two masters degrees!
The next day I found out that this guy placed an official complaint against me with my client for being abusive and a list of other things that I’d rather not go into. My client (who I was on really good terms with) approached me to find out what went down and I explained. He then informed me that the issue I identified was in fact the fault which was amazingly ‘discovered’ by the service tech soon after our interaction. This was my clients response to the complaint, which was freakin awesome! They responded to the vendor very simply saying, ‘Please don’t send Mr Two Degrees here again without a supervisor present’.
I think that in this situation there were a combination of issues.
- The individual was not humble enough to take advice (even though I didn’t criticise him) from a junior (younger) individual (me).
- He was not honest enough to share what really happened.
- He was under the misconception that qualification = good at what you do.
- There are probably a few others but I won’t go into them for now.
Humble and Confident
There are very few instances in life that I have ever had to mention that I had a qualification. I’ve not even talked about it at job interviews to be honest, nor was I asked about it. I think further education is great as it sets you up with a wealth of knowledge and foundation skills. But what you do with that knowledge is a totally different thing. So don’t use it as a primary means to back you up. Your experience and acquired knowledge, or your willingness to learn and adapt should count too.
Confidence is great and you should always be confident and have a confident attitude. But at the same time, you can also be humble, open to new ideas and methods, and accept that you are not an expert in everything, and sometimes you will be wrong. I think that if you adopt this kind of attitude, it opens up your mind, it expands your thought processes, ultimately making you even better at what you do. You will get noticed, and if you are not, then you may not be working with the right kind of people anyways.
When working with someone, I don’t really focus on how many qualifications they may have. I’ve found that it does not always translate to being good in that area in a practical sense. I do care about what you actually bring to the table. And that is the difficult part of selecting people to work with you. A lot of people similar to Mr Two Degrees make their way into companies and they hamper growth simply because they are not willing to accept the ideas of, or learn from those around them.
Interviews are flawed
I think that most interview processes are inherently flawed, psychometric tests are a waste of time and people have the misconception that degree=experience. Even NASA gets it wrong. I know all you degree holders out there will probably disagree with me, but this is just my opinion based on experience with the many companies and people that I have worked with.
I recall reading a really nice article (which I can’t seem to find right now) about a failed startup that discusses the relationship between interview confidence and performance on the job and how in their experience, it was somehow inversely related. Of course it varied by job type but this was the kind of trend they observed. They attributed this failure to poor interview techniques, expectations and assessment methods. In an ideal world, the final stage in the interview process should last a few days and should be a paid trial run. The first company I worked for had a very practical interview process that lasted a week. This was great as it allowed me to ensure I was happy working with the team and it allowed the company to assess my skills in a practical setting using real life projects. I was out of work and it was my first job so it was easy for me to take on the trial run. But I understand that if you are in employment, it can be a bit tricky. It can be a bit costly for companies to employ this sort of process but I think that long term benefits outweigh the costs.
Do I have a solution. Not really. And I don’t think any of the large companies with huge HR departments have one either. It is the reason why companies like Yahoo buy failed startups. Or why Google or Microsoft buy companies that are not turning a huge profit. They are buying their workforce. This is because a failed startup does not necessarily mean that the quality of the staff is low. There can be a number of reasons as to why they fail.
I know I’ve bounced around different topics here but if I could summarise what I’d like you to take away from this article it would be the following:
- As a holder of any qualification – Don’t let it go to your head. It is not an indication of your experience or ability.
- As a business – review your interview and assessment processes.
- As a contractor – be humble, confident and accept constructive criticism
- To all – there is always someone out there that is better than you at something, so try to learn from them to help you grow.
I’d love to hear if you had similar experiences in the work place or had been through interesting interviews, so drop me a note below if you have a moment to spare.