by Beth Ehrgott

IT Hiring: How Thomson Reuters’ CIO Identifies Cultural Fit

Nov 10, 2009
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

Kelli Crane, senior vice president and CIO of Thomson Reuters, shares her hiring practices and interviewing techniques in this final Q&A in's series, The Hiring Manager Interviews.

Kelli Crane’s philosophy on hiring is simple: “Find the most talented individual who has the best fit with the organization,” says the senior vice president and CIO of Thomson Reuters.

Crane’s straightforward hiring mantra belies the effort she puts into finding the right IT professionals for her organization. In listening to Crane discuss her hiring practices, you quickly get the sense that she takes talent acquisition very seriously, that she’s conscientious about choosing the right IT candidates for Thomson Reuters, and that she’s worked diligently to improve her interviewing skills and to learn lessons from her hiring mistakes.

When Crane hires, she’s not just aiming to fill an immediate need. “When I hire, … I’m looking to bring a talented individual into the organization so he or she can make a significant difference in the company long term,” she says.

One of her techniques for identifying individuals who will fit with her organization is to think of Thomson Reuters’ corporate values when she’s interviewing a candidate for a position.

“At Thomson Reuters, culture is defined by our core values, which are: customers are the heart of everything; performance matters; people make the difference; and business is global,” she says. “I keep these values top of mind when I’m hiring because the extent a candidate fits with these values often translates into the level of success he or she will have here.”

In this final Q&A for the series The Hiring Manager Interviews, Crane makes the complicated process of hiring look easy. She explains how she finds and vets candidates for jobs in her IT department, and she offers tips for IT job seekers on ways to improve their cover letters, résumés, and chances of acing the job interview.

[ Read more Hiring Manager Interviews ]

Beth Ehrgott: What types of people do you interview for positions inside your IT function?

Kelli Crane: I typically interview mid- to senior-level positions. However, depending on the need and role, I might interview someone for a more junior position. I love college recruiting, although I do not have the opportunity to regularly do so. I actively recruit for current and future roles. If I meet a person at a networking event or even on an airplane, I assess if that individual would be a good fit for a potential role here. I often remember people who have impressed me during these conversations when new opportunities arise.

I also frequently interview candidates for senior leadership positions in other functions, especially those who will be working regularly with the CIO group or IT in general.

What is your process for interviewing candidates for jobs inside your IT organization?

We use a wide-variety of interviewing styles, including panel, behavioral and one-on-one approaches. These interviews are generally formal. We also conduct informal informational interviews, especially with internal candidates.

Informational interviews are important to career development and something that we do very well at Thomson Reuters. They give the candidate the opportunity to learn more about the position before officially submitting a résumé, and they give leadership a chance to learn more about employees in the organization.

In many of the roles for which I hire, I ask individuals in other parts of the company to interview candidates for positions in the CIO group. Candidates who will work with groups outside of IT are generally required to interview with the employees with whom they will have regular interaction and with whom they will need to collaborate. For example, the candidates for the head of SAP Finance development position interviewed with several members of the finance organization since it was critical that the person in the SAP position would work well with these employees. Making sure that potential employees work well with your stakeholders is often critical to their success, so it helps to see what those relationships might be like before you hire anyone.

How do you determine whether a candidate has the needed skills and will be a good fit with your IT group and with Thomson Reuters as a whole?

It is a two-step process. The first step comes through more formal channels, such as the cover letter and résumé, which help me determine if the person meets the basic skill requirements for the position. I then meet with the candidate to learn more about their previous job experiences as well as to better understand how they have used the skills needed in the role. This dialogue allows me to assess their cultural fit through questions about difficult situations and lessons learned. I also often ask candidates to meet with team members or key stakeholders to get additional opinions on how well individuals would fit in with the organization.

[ Job Seekers: Find out if a potential employer’s corporate culture is the right fit for you. ]

What three interview questions do you always ask and why?

Although I do not ask three set questions in every interview, I generally ask questions around the following three themes:

1) Share a time in which a project you worked on failed and describe what you learned from this experience. I have found that most people struggle with this question. However, I recall when a junior manager answered this question with incredible foresight and business maturity. I was highly impressed.

2) What do you do in your time away from work? I believe that one’s profession is just one part of an individual and I look to hire well-balanced individuals with interests other than just work.

3) What type of environment do you like to work in? I hire individuals who support the sharing of ideas and collaboration to propel the business.

[ For more interview questions IT hiring managers like to ask, see IT Job Seekers: Can You Answer an Interviewer’s 12 Gotcha Questions? ]

Thomson Reuters is well known for diversity. How does the company create a diverse workforce?

The global nature of Thomson Reuters requires a culture that is sensitive to and appreciative of cultural differences. It also requires that we have deep knowledge of a broad set of customers so we can develop solutions that meet both their local and global needs.

Creating an environment where there is diversity of thought is an important foundation of our talent management philosophy. Diversity encourages global thinking and fosters innovation. Recent partnerships with the Anita Borg Institute and Women in Technology International are just one way in which we are promoting diversity in our IT function. We have also started talent and diversity programs in some of our businesses, which offer reverse mentoring and flexible work arrangements. In addition to reverse mentoring, we have peer mentoring teams and feedback sessions, all put in place to help individuals see through the eyes of someone else, perhaps from another functional area, business region or level within the organization. These programs encourage problem sharing and collaboration to solve complex business challenges in technology.

Our Women in Technology special interest group has also become an important avenue for IT employees to interact with and learn from others at all levels of the organization. Before Thomson merged with Reuters, I led a Women Executives Leadership program at one of the Thomson companies. It was successful within the specific business but not pervasive throughout the organization. After the merger with Reuters, I found that Reuters had stronger women in leadership programs and stepped up to co-chair a global “Women in Technology” initiative that is making great strides. Thomson Reuters is highly ranked as an employer of choice for women and actively evaluates where there may be gaps for women in technology roles.

[ Related: Staffing for Diversity: The Business Case for an Inclusive IT Workforce. ]

Who was the first person you ever hired?

The first person I hired was a software developer for a position working on a mini-computer. This person was a very solid performer and stayed with the organization for a number of years. I was working for Thomson Reuters’ legal business at the time.

Did you receive training on how to hire?

Yes. I partnered with human resources and read many books on interview techniques to sharpen my interviewing skills so I could better understand what types of questions to ask, how to analyze a candidate’s responses, and how to probe for more information.

In addition, I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors in my career at Thomson Reuters. Through these experiences, I have learned a great deal about how to bring top talent into the organization and how to help these individuals grow and advance. These mentoring opportunities have also taught me that each person you hire should increase the overall skills of your entire team—including those outside of IT.

What did you base your hiring decisions on when you first started hiring and how does that compare to how you make hiring decisions today?

The fundamentals of what I consider a good candidate have not drastically changed since I started hiring people. My decisions are based on the candidate’s skills, previous job experience, ability to deliver results, and fit with the team’s and organization’s culture. A candidate’s ability to clearly and effectively articulate why he or she would be the right addition to the company is also a defining factor in my hiring decisions.

As the roles I hire for have become more senior, I have found that cultural fit has become increasingly important since many of the candidates’ skills and previous performance are generally comparable. At Thomson Reuters, culture is defined by our core values, which are: customers are the heart of everything; performance matters; people make the difference; and business is global. I keep these values top of mind when I’m hiring someone because the extent a candidate fits with these values often translates into the level of success he or she will have here.

Is hiring instinctive, or can you teach people how to make good hires? Do you believe that you are an instinctive hiring manager, or that you’ve gotten better over the years through experience and training?

I would say it is a little bit of both: It is truly an art and a science. It’s instinctive in the sense that sometimes you just connect with people, and you know within the first couple of minutes that this person will fit in with the organization. However, you can teach people how to ask more probing questions during interviews or how to better read body language.

Although hiring is generally instinctive to me, I’ve become a better hiring manager by working with human resources to fine tune my interviewing skills so I can better pull out experiences and on-the-job performance results. This helps me understand how a candidate might react in real-life situations in the position for which I’m hiring.

What do you consider a successful hire?

A successful hire is when there is a cultural fit and the person builds strong relationships throughout the organization, across functions and businesses. A successful career can be defined as moving either vertically into increasingly more senior leadership roles within the same function or horizontally across functions and businesses. When I hire, I’m not looking only to fill that specific position. I’m looking to bring a talented individual into the organization so he or she can make a significant difference in the company long-term.

What is the biggest hiring mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?

I hired an individual who worked for one of my direct reports for a fairly senior role after a lengthy interview process. This person had good experience; the interview went very well; and the individual seemed to be a great fit for the role and the company. However, after a few months in the position, it became clear that the employee was not behaving in the same manner as was demonstrated in the interview. While the role needed flexibility, the employee was very set in the process and structure. The role also needed a mix of strategic thinking and execution, and the employee was a big-picture thinker only.

This situation taught me to ask more probing questions to really get at the heart of the job’s complete requirements—both in skill and personality. It also taught me not to fall into the trap of being “sold” during interviews. I often take time after an interview to look for instances in which the candidate describes how he or she would act in a particular situation and measure that against how he or she has acted throughout the interview process.

What was the worst interview you ever conducted?

Interviews in which I just do not click with the candidate are my least favorite. This can be due to a lack of chemistry, or if the candidate is not engaged or prepared. I remember in the very early stages of my career, I interviewed someone who simply could not communicate. All of us who interview can relate to wanting an interview to end in five minutes.

Have you ever had a case where you really liked somebody you interviewed but your team didn’t?

No, this has not happened. I involve my leadership team in the interviewing process and actively seek their feedback in the hiring decision. Since I have a large and diverse team, we sometimes have different views on candidates, and we discuss this openly before I make a decision. This honest environment is healthy, and it’s something I work very hard to cultivate. Ultimately, we make decisions that are in the best interest of the team and rally around this choice to help that new employee succeed.

Do you think it’s good to have some dissention about a candidate ? Do you require unanimity on a hire?

I encourage people to speak their mind and share their opinions. I expect my team members to raise concerns if they do not think the candidate is the right fit for the role or the company. I trust my team and know that any one of them will come to me with “red flags” about a possible candidate. If there is dissention, I work to understand the reasons behind the apprehension. In the end, I make hiring decisions based on who is the best fit for the role and who will be the greatest asset to my team and the company. I expect my staff to do the same.

What should candidates wear to an interview?

Candidates should dress for the culture of the organization for which they are interviewing. This shows that the candidate understands the business. For example, Thomson Reuters has a business casual/formal dress code, so I would expect an external candidate to come to an interview in formal attire. This advice might be different for someone who is interviewing at a less formal organization. As it is with all aspects of the interview process, it’s important to do your homework.

What advice would you give to someone interviewing with a CIO?

I think the advice is the same for someone interviewing with a CIO as it is for someone interviewing at any level in the organization. Your answers should be thoughtful, should share real-life examples, should focus on how you have driven results, and demonstrate the ways you have learned from your experiences. You should practice and come prepared with questions to keep the interview interactive.

What advice would you give someone interviewing to be a CIO?

For someone interviewing to be a CIO, I would give the same guidance. In this case, the questions will most likely be about cultural fit so you should make sure to provide enough information for the interviewee to understand the type of person you are. You should also prepare questions so you understand what the culture is like, the expectations of your boss, and how decisions are made in the company.

Do you have any pet peeves during an interview?

My biggest pet peeve is when someone is not prepared for an interview. A candidate should be familiar with the organization and the role, and be able to ask intelligent questions about both. There is so much information online about companies these days that I expect candidates to research the role and the company before coming for an interview. And through social networking tools, it should be easy for a candidate to learn about a company from actual employees before even applying for a position.

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

I generally try to work through human resources to begin the hiring process, whether it is putting a candidate in touch with our recruiter or forwarding résumés that are sent directly to me. However, when I meet people at conferences or networking events, I am happy to take their résumés and talk to them about potential opportunities at Thomson Reuters. A person might not be the right fit for a position available today, but he or she could be perfect for a position in the future. I’m also very open to informational interviews, especially with current employees.

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

Candidates should absolutely send a thank-you note, either through the mail or via email. I have to admit, however, that I do appreciate a snail mail thank-you note since it is so rare now and often much more personal.

Cover letters are extremely important, and to me, they are critical for getting a foot in the door. If you cannot explain why you are the right fit for a role in a few paragraphs, I will generally end the process. Cover letters are a good gauge of a candidate’s ability to connect with the position. They require that a candidate draw connections between previous experience and the potential role. They also demonstrate an individual’s ability (or lack thereof) to communicate succinctly—a skill that is fundamental to succeeding in business.

For résumés, it depends on the role. For more senior-level positions, leading with a summary of one’s skills and capabilities is very helpful. This summary should be easy to read, jargon-free and grammatically correct.

[ For more tips, see How to Craft the Perfect IT Résumé. ]

If someone is a quality candidate, would they have a better shot contacting you directly or should they go through human resources?

It depends. For external candidates, I prefer that the individual work through human resources. I am a little more flexible with internal candidates, especially if the person has asked for an informational interview before officially beginning the process. Informational interviews are an important part of career advancement opportunities, and I think leaders should be open to them.

Beth Ehrgott is the director of executive search firm The Alexander Group‘s NYC office.