How to Not Hire Jerks

Because MSPs run very lean every headcount has to fit like a cog in a well-oiled machine.

May 9, 2017

8 Min Read
How to Not Hire Jerks

By Derek Handova

With so many MSPs in competition for a limited talent supply they are sometimes tempted to overlook hints about a job candidate’s personality fit. These otherwise fully qualified people are what some call jerks—or even worse. 

In any event, you cannot define one, but what should management look for to avoid these flies in the ointment? How can you get them to reveal themselves before an offer is made? Behavioral scientists and technology pragmatists offer some insights.

Telltale Signs of Jerkiness

Whether in the job interviewing process, workplace or somewhere in everyday life, jerks tend to make the whole situation about themselves. Their self-absorbed mindset will showcase their achievements without giving credit to anyone else, according to mental health professionals.

“Jerks tend to make it all about their accomplishments,” says Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor and owner, The Popular Man, a website dedicated to helping men succeed at work and socially. “They like to hog the glory and embellish their success, usually to the exclusion of others. So, if a team completed a project, but one person excessively brags about his contributions while minimizing or dismissing the contributions of others, that person is likely a jerk.”

With that narcissistic amber alert serving as the siren call of jerks, other telltale signs employers and potential co-workers need to look out for include lack of empathy and manipulative behavior. If the applicant cannot relate to the plight of others or always seeks to take maximum advantage of a situation, to Bennett those also indicate jerky fingerprints, virtually speaking.

“On a regular basis, especially in a team setting, jerk behavior can wear thin and is a net negative for any company,” Bennett says. “When looking at resumes, talking to references, researching a person’s past and in the interview, look for these tendencies. Usually, jerks aren’t shy about revealing their true selves.”

Look for People who Share your Company Values

If no central, guiding principles have been defined, a company in SaaS sprawls awkwardly without direction in search of personnel. So before an MSP can know who it wants to hire it must know its own corporate culture, according to leadership consultants.

“A company should screen on the front end for people who demonstrate its core values—such as collaboration, integrity, innovation or whatever else these might be,” says Rebecca Zucker, executive coach and partner, Next Step Partners, a leadership development firm. “And ask behavioral questions that require the candidate to provide specific examples of times when he has demonstrated these things. So, for example, if you don’t want to hire a jerk, look for humility.”

Or if your company values agility and ingenuity in quickly changing scenarios, you might concoct a hypothetical problem and see how the candidate responds. That’s the altered state of the cloud some SaaS infrastructure suppliers lead their applicants into, such as varying test conditions several times, forcing the subject to make a choice among flawed options and seeing how they handle the pressure.

For example, Ashwin Krishnan, senior vice president, product management and strategy, HyTrust, a provider of workload security products for multi-cloud infrastructure, likes to understand the modus operandi of the interviewee in a specific conundrum. For his dilemma, the interviewee’s friend is CEO of a company that just lost the vice president of products. The CEO can hire the candidate as a consultant for a day to sort four quarters of sequential revenue decline.

“How would you go about your day?” asks Krishnan. “And then just before the candidate responds I throw two curveballs.”

In that contrivance, the candidate only has an hour—not a day—and the marketing and product management team are offsite. The interviewee has no access to them, but all other functions and records are at her disposal, according to Krishnan.

“How she then spends that hour—diving deep into data, talking only to executives or speaking to customers in a time crunch—shines a light on whether the ‘jerk’ factor raises its head,” Krishnan says.

Put Wannabe Hires to Work Where Rubber Meets Road

Between the management and the line functions at a tech company a schism naturally exists—or at any company of sufficient size above SMBs. Therefore, to keep it real and ensure executives understand the day-to-day business they want to run, enlightened operators will send everyone down into the salt mine, the tire factory or so on. For example, Weebly, a web hosting company, hired a product designer for a week to see how he’d fare after the traditional interviews. Others see if the high and mighty can take it.

“We have had first-hand experience dealing with the issue of oversize egos,” says Augustin Kennady, media relations director, ShipMonk, a tech-based 3PL logistics firm. “That means there is an inherent divide between the warehouse and the front office. The first litmus test we use is that all candidates—regardless of their ultimate titles—work in the warehouse the first week. This way, we can see if candidates are going to be condescending or think they are above the core function of our company.”

And before anyone decides present procedures at ShipMonk need attention she better put in enough time to be able to make that call. 

“One immediate red flag that we notice is somebody who wants to change the fundamentals of the business from day one,” Kennady says. “That person likely does not actually understand the core operations.”

Failure Says More About a Job-seeker than Success

MSPs are full of graduate degree engineers and the best innovation workers. These people generally experience success instead of failure. But how they function under the agony of defeat tells employers more about them than any thrill of victory, according to some tech CEOs.

“We realized to get people to show their true colors, you need to see how they fail,” says André Gauci, CEO and co-founder, Fusioo, an online database software solution. “Our aha moment came when we were looking for great software engineers to join our team. We set up a lengthy, insanely difficult development test. What took us by surprise was what happened next.”

According to Gauci, the first candidate took three hours to finish the test. Afterward, he was furious and said the test was unrealistically hard and that Fusioo had no idea how the real world works.

“After hosting more candidates, we realized that most people snapped when tested to their limits,” Gauci says. “We found there’s a high correlation between losing composure and being a jerk. We purposely used the test to see how candidates react in a hopeless situation.”

Gauci estimates about 5 percent of these technical candidates turn out to be jerks, faulting the testing setup or something else but never admitting they are overmatched. And as poet Alexander Pope noted “to err is human.” So the real test will be coming to grips with that fact.

“Virtually every boss understands and has dealt with employee mistakes in the past,” says Timothy Wiedman, retired associate professor of management and human resources, Doane University. “During the interview, ask applicants how they handled a mistake in the past. Did they admit it—immediately—and after taking responsibility, ask for help in making things right? Or did they try to fix the problem themselves before anybody noticed—which often makes things worse?”

Doing, Delegating and Entitlement

At Silicon Valley startups, emphasis gets placed on getting stuff done. Often, no time exists for delegating and the manager needs to be a doer. 

“At our company, we want people who can execute, not delegate,” says Steven Benson, founder and CEO, Badger Maps, a maker of sales route planning apps. “Even if you’re hiring for a leadership position, they should seem really good at taking action, because you need to know how to do something to teach and lead others. It’s important to hire people who can lead from the front, and the only way to do that is to get your hands dirty.”

Also, those who look for three flavors of coconut water do not usually work out, according to Benson. He sees that as a stereotypical entitlement of coming out of certain “high-flying” startups.

What Would So-and-so do?

One of the ultimate and time-tested methods of bringing the latent jerk into active mode has to be putting her in the interview situation without even knowing it. An old saying says that a job interview starts the moment you walk in the front door. Or it could be the moment you get in a limo that picks you up at the airport to take you to the work site. How a candidate treats a perceived subservient person like a driver or a receptionist tells many interviewers a lot about the personality makeup of the potential employee. Some take the idea further and bring the applicant to a social scene, such as an eatery, for maximum guard lowering.

“Do an interview at a restaurant,” says Dan Mannion, vice president of partners and alliances, Armor, a cloud-based managed security solutions company. “The key is to observe how the person treats the hostess, wait staff, etc. When you get people out of the office, they let their guard down and you get to see their natural state. Do they have manners like waiting until everyone gets their food before starting to eat, are they conscientious, do they make eye contact or get distracted by others? All these are clues you need to pay attention to and address with your team.”

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