I’ve had the great pleasure and good fortune to work with some truly gifted people and amazing engineers. In management positions I’ve watched them progress from interview to position and probation to full time and respected engineers. Then again I’ve seen a great deal more that didn’t make the cut. For many years I’ve been thinking about the problem of assessing competence and I’ve written about it before, but this time I wanted to explore the aspects, briefly for once, that I’ve come to look for in prospective employees.
Some people interview well and some don’t. The sad truth is that people get nervous, they feel financial or parental or peer pressures to get a specific job (or a job at all), they wake up in a bad mood. They say that first impressions are the most important but if that’s true it’s only true for those that don’t know any better. In my experience, first impressions are the most misleading. Treat them with caution because most of the time, you’ll get the wrong impression.
Passion is more important than a degree. There is a prevailing wisdom it seems that more educated people make better employees. It’s bullshit. The very best of people I have worked with and who have taught me the most valuable, enduring lessons in engineering weren’t engineers. There are two exceptions but notable insofar as they obtained their degree part-time or by correspondence after they were already working in the field of engineering. These people were passionate about what they did - they loved it. And whenever I see a junior engineer that is so keen to work on a job they look like they’re going to explode I always give them a chance. Most of the time, they turn out to be a diamond in the rough. Passionate people challenge what they learn, they seek out the information and don’t wait for it to come to them and they work harder trying to get it right - sometimes even on their own time. They care. They want to be successful. They enjoy what they’re doing. These are the people you want working with you.
Probation is the only way to know if someone is capable. However most probationary periods are for only 3 months, though occasionally I’ve seen 6 months. That’s fine but in the end they must be targeted probation such that the new employee is working on the very things that they will inevitably be doing and were employed to do. If you waste this time by giving a drafter for example some filing to do then you’re not only hurting the new employee but you’re hurting yourself too. It’s not fair and it’s a waste of time.
Give everyone unrestricted Internet access. Yes you will get some bad eggs that live on Facebook or Twitter. If they’re not getting through their work you should know this by other means. If you don’t then you need to work on your progress reporting. The internet has become the always available mentor to whom any question may be asked. It’s an invaluable resource and saves an immeasurable amount of time in looking up information.
In the end don’t expect miracles from anyone - we’re all human and nobody’s perfect. In the matter of trying to assess someones suitability however, their passion about the subject they’re being hired for far outweighs any academic proof they may have.