What Does Your Hobby Have to Do with IT?
Have you ever applied for a job and been asked if you like to play with Barbie Dolls?
Or Silly Putty?
Or if you like to hunt antelope, or collect stamps, or if you have your HAM radio operator’s license?
Chances are these questions seem to you, well, ludicrous. So when she was applying for a help-desk job at an MSP, why did Ashley Rawlings* get asked if she likes to play video games? More specifically, why was she asked, “Are you a gamer?”
She wasn’t interviewing for a video game design job, or even for a video game production company. Yet, the five men interviewing her for her first IT job thought it would be good if they ascertained her interest in a hobby they themselves hold dear.
Call it chit-chat, or shooting the breeze. A way to get to know a job candidate, to see if she’ll “fit in with the culture.”
And we wonder why there aren’t more women in the IT field.
Switch the roles for a minute. Five women are interviewing a guy for a job in publishing (typically a female-dominated industry). They ask Joe if he likes drinking wine and playing Bunko (this is what a lot of all-women groups do where I live in NC – I’m not sure if it’s something the New York publisher set does, but it will do for my illustration).
“Well, no, actually,” says Joe. “But it does sound like fun.” A cloud descends on the group. “That’s okay,” Renee says, “It’s not a prerequisite for working here or anything.” But later, when comparing job candidates, it’s hard to deny that Joe scored a little low in the culture test. Marjorie might be a better fit.
These culture questions have little place in a job interview. They have nothing to do with how well someone works in a team. (Unless the team is a World of Warcraft team, I suppose.)
Think about the folks you’ve worked with in the past. Do you necessarily share their hobbies, interests, favorite colors, skin color, gender, or choice of birthday dessert? The qualities that make a great teammate have little to do with the things they will push-pin in their cubicle.
Great teammate qualities include empathy, humility, cooperation, willingness to share information, good communication skills, professional tact, and a sense of competition when it comes to making the team succeed.
Information Technology is already a male-dominated field, with three-fourths of all workers sporting a Y gene. Why pound that point home with interview questions that seem to say, “You’re clearly not like us.”
Ashley endured that interview, received an offer, and — despite some strong misgivings — decided to give the company a go. She ended up loving the job and the team she worked with. And they appreciated her, despite the fact she wasn’t a gamer. There was a happy ending in this case, but it easily could have gone the other way.
If friendships develop among staff that are based on common interests, that’s great. But what is even more exciting is tight work relationships that arise when people identify with the success of their organization. To find out if someone is a fit for that, you need to get to the core of what drives a person and how they have gotten along with colleagues in the past.
It’s not a game: It’s all about the work. No more, and no less.
* Not her real name.