Personality Diversity, Limit Looking for Rockstars

Tue Aug 08, 2017 · 1295 words

I’m in the process of brainstorming and writing some job reqs for a team I’ll possibly start building early next year and it got me thinking about personalities…

There is a common pattern in technical recruiting that I have observed, both as the one being recruited, and as the one doing the recruiting which doesn’t seem to get much attention. This is the habit of whipping up recruiting copy, job ads, and other ‘come-work-for-us’ mediums with a sort of elitist element, one that searches for the “The Rockstar”.

This is a real job-ad example of what I am talking about:

You’re a self-starter, a problem solver, a rockstar coder, have excellent time-management skills and are open and collaborative. Plus you’ve got the following skills: (Source)

At face value there is nothing wrong about the context nor about the intent. After all, why shouldn’t a company aim high and actively seek folks who are highly technical, very Type A, and very soft-skilled?

Let me explain it with a diagram:

A venn diagram showing the intersections of type-A personalities, high technical skills, and high soft skills

In my experience, tech folks generally fall somewhere in the diagram above. Very few fall exactly in the middle, and many “Rockstars” lean closer to one of the primary circles than they do the other two.

Furthermore, I argue that the majority of folks in tech (>50%) do not qualify as rockstars (as defined above) and as such are potentially turned off by efforts that only target that middle region. Overall, I think it’s a mistake to exclusively pursue the middle region.

Let’s go deeper. We’ll discuss the regions but I’ll be limited on how to recruit and manage these types as that will be content for future articles.

Region: Skilled Egomaniac

A name that comes to mind when I think of this region is Linus Torvalds. This is a highly skilled person that for whatever reason demonstrates a lack of soft-skills (maybe intentionally?).

Folks like this are detrimental to a team to the extent that their management is inexperienced in dealing with this type of personality. However, there is hope. Not all who are both skilled and egotistical are lost causes. If your management team is experienced with this personality-type then their on-boarding should be entertained.

It is key to note that this is one of the types that would likely still apply for a “rockstar” centric role. Some things to look out for:

  1. Resume/Linkedin is very “I” oriented. Their accomplishments are described in a very self-centered way with little mention of its impact to the greater team or organization.

  2. During the interview they’re very concerned about the current technical proficiency of the team giving the appearance that they want you to validate your own team in their eyes.

  3. A strong desire to be able to make decisions without approval or getting feedback either through explicit statements or indirectly.

Again, these people are not lost causes, but management needs to be skilled at channeling the character traits appropriately. If you’re a new manager, I’d advise against brining someone like this on to your team early on. For established teams and managers, it’s doable.

Region: All Talk

This personality-type can be challenging to properly identify in the recruiting process. By “All Talk” I’m referring to folks that significantly fluff at least part of their skills (rarely does someone fluff everything, and even then, it’s easy to spot). These are individuals who can sometimes have impressive resumes but poor technical interview performances. Almost always, these types of folks are discarded since there is usually a level of disconnect between what they promote on paper and how they’re able to perform during the hiring process. Even so, I argue that dismissing them outright can be a mistake.

For example, suppose you have 2 open reqs, one for a Sr Engineer and another for a Mid-level Engineer. You receive an application and subsequently interview an applicant for the Senior role. During the interview you realize that the applicant maybe isn’t as good at $LANG or $FRAMEWORK as their application and resume alluded too, certainly not at the senior level. But could they be a strong mid-level resource? Maybe. It is this question that is rarely asked and as a result opportunities are missed. I’ve seen this with folks who have had decent mid-level experience and are sometimes testing the waters to see if they’re able to break into senior ranks, there is nothing wrong with that, but identifying them can prove valuable.

It becomes even more valuable if you explain to the individual that they’re not quite at the level of seniority your team needs but that you’d be willing to nurture them to a point where they would be senior engineering material. If your team as a well established career path and development plan, it may be a good idea to share it with the candidate during the interview process.

Region: Introverts

Some of the best engineers I’ve worked with are introverts. Personally, I think this is one of the largest under-recruited personality types in tech. People who fall anywhere on the introvert spectrum are less likely to consider themselves rockstars and are more likely to suffer imposter syndrome.

I’ve witnessed this during many interviews where a person will have an ‘average’ resume and perhaps a ‘so-so’ phone screening but then is very impressive with their technical skills (and/or portfolio) that they present during the technical screening process

Similar to the egocentric engineers, introverts require some amount of experienced management. While with egocentric types you may need to be careful that they don’t become a toxic element to a team, with introverts you must pay close attention that their voice receives equal attention from you, their manager, as well as from their peers. Failure to do so can create a isolating and sometimes depressive ‘box’ for that engineer, one that they are unlikely to complain about openly and possibly quit over.

Regardless of skill, these types of individuals are the least likely to apply to “rockstar” job ads, but are frequently valuable resources to have on a team.

Pursue Diversity in Personality-Types

Just as racially-diverse teams tend to perform better than more homogenous teams, I strongly believe that same holds true for personality types. I think one of the ways to limit productivity is to have a team of only “rockstars” as there will be many strong opinions that will probably collide at some point and has the potential consequence of disrupting quite a bit of work.

One underlying cause I see in teams and organizations is the lack of open willingness to nurture the individual engineer. It seems that organizations are frequently looking for turn-key resources that they, seemingly, can invest little time in.

For example, is an egocentric person impossible to work with or manage? Nope. It just takes skill, time, and effort to fit that person into your current team in such a way that their personality becomes a benefit and not a poison.

Is someone who is a bit shy incapable of contributing to your team? They shouldn’t be, not if you know how to draw out the best in them; but again, this takes skill, time, and effort.

Even “rockstars” are not truly work-free. You still have to onboard them, you still have to help the establish rapport with the current team(s), you still have to get them to “fit” their ideas and opinions into the ones already set by you and your org.

Building a team and/or organization requires work at a per-individual level. To shortcut the process is to shortcut your capacity for success.

I’ll leave you with a question to ponder about,

“Thinking closely, do you have implicit-biases toward particular personality types in your recruiting efforts? If so, what’s one thing you can do to appeal to others types of individuals?”


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