The Hiring Manager Interviews: David Price Knows Exactly What He Wants and Needs from Candidates for His IT Department

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's EVP of internal operations looks for personable individuals with good communication skills, energy, curiosity and experience managing large-scale systems.

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That said, the biggest mistake I made involved promoting an internal candidate. When I first approached them about the position, they were reluctant and stayed reluctant through most of the search. The search dragged on for a few months when suddenly this person became extremely interested in the position. Needless to say, I hired them and they were not successful. When this individual was reluctant for so long, they were sending me a message that this position really was not right for them. I should have listened to that message. By ignoring this nonverbal message, I put this person in a position where they were unable to be successful regardless of how well I thought they were going to do.

What was the worst interview you ever conducted?

I was interviewing for new hires at Andersen and was talking to a candidate about their summer job, which involved testing different types of highway paint. I tried to get the candidate to explain the testing process to me and the role they played. I got nowhere. All I remember from the interview was the person saying, "I tested yellow paint and I tested white paint." For whatever reason, I couldn't get anything substantive from this person.

If I'm interviewing someone and it's not going well, I'll end it early out of respect for their time and let them know I don't think it's a good fit, but that doesn't happen very often. I'll also give them the opportunity to continue the interview if they believe that I'm missing something.

What do you consider a successful hire?

It is a two way street. The candidate has to produce for the company, and the company has to produce for the candidate. I imagine there are a lot of ways to measure this, but I consider someone a successful hire if, after five years, they are still with the organization, their performance is clearly recognized as solid to excellent and the employee feels that their time with the organization has helped them progress toward meeting their life goals.

Have you ever interviewed somebody based on a letter, résumé or phone call they sent directly to you?

I don't receive too many "cold" inquiries via mail, e-mail or telephone. If I do receive them, I generally tell them the truth about our hiring situation and refer them to HR. I love receiving "warm" inquiries. These are inquiries from people I know or people recommended by people I know. I will take the time to talk to these people or schedule a lunch with them to get to know them better.

If a candidate knows me or is referred to me by an associate, I want them to contact me. If they are coming in cold, they really are better served going through HR. I speak almost daily with our EVP of HR, and if a good candidate comes across her desk, I know I will hear about it.

LinkedIn is going to be a significant hiring source for me. I am still working on getting my LinkedIn network up to critical mass. However, it won't be too long before I get it where I want it to be. Referrals through LinkedIn jump to the top of the queue.

What should candidates wear to an interview?

In general, it is always better to overdress for an interview than to under dress. You almost can't go wrong if you follow that advice. However, if a candidate has purple hair and wears a nose screw and they undo all of that for an interview and get the job, it can end poorly for everyone. The candidate might find themselves miserable since they had to change themselves so much to get the job and cannot be themselves at work. I would rather a candidate present themselves to me during the interview the way they would present themselves to me on a typical work day. During our interview process, the candidate will interview with enough people to see how people dress on a typical work day. As I said before, hiring is a two-way street: I have to be comfortable that the candidate is going to be a good fit in our organization, and the candidate needs to feel comfortable in our organization. So I would rather have someone dress as themselves for an interview than dress as the person they think they need to be. If they are the right person for the job, it will come out during the interview.

What advice can you offer candidates about their résumés, thank-you notes and cover letters?

You can never use the words "please" and "thank you" enough. It does make a difference, particularly over the long-term.

What interview questions do you always ask?

How does this position fit into you major life goals?

Please tell me about your biggest failure and please don't share with me one of those failures that is really a success. If a candidate hasn't failed (botched project, whatever) and learned, then they probably aren't right for the position I am hiring for.

What three things do you require from me to be successful?

Give me an example of when you have told your boss, to their face, that they are about to make a stupid decision.

What advice would you give someone interviewing for a CIO position?

Do whatever you have to do to learn the truth about what you are getting yourself into. If an organization is interviewing for a CIO, it is probably not because everything is going great. In fact, quite the opposite is probably true.

If the old CIO left, and management was happy with how that CIO was doing, they probably will hire from within. The most likely scenario is that management is extremely unhappy with the current situation, and you are walking into a functional and political minefield. As a candidate, you need to find out as much as you can about what you are walking into. What is the real status of their major projects? Why did the previous CIO really leave? What does the CIO's peers think needs to be done? Is the management team structured so that you will have any real influence? You almost need to do a mini-strategic systems plan during the interview process. You should talk to as many people as possible and interview the company as much as they are interviewing you. Talk to key vendors if you can. Talk to whomever you can about the real situation you might find yourself in. Then, once you understand the situation you can make a rational decision about what to do.

Jane Howze is managing director and founder of The Alexander Group, an executive search firm based in Houston, Texas.

Did you enjoy this interview? Do you have questions you'd like Jane Howze to ask hiring managers in future interviews? Share your feedback below.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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