BreakingNews: Hapless recruiter searching for LAMP developer; hires electrician

All joking aside, the current state of the recruitment industry is no laughing matter. It is a world lacking any form of entry barrier and as bizarre as something directed by David Lynch himself!

It’s not only the candidates who are getting fed up. Also HR departments are fending off hordes of thick skinned recruiter-goblins. And according to the folk in R&D, all recruiters waste the time of the productive and hard working.

Think I’m exaggerating? OK then try this technique, which is used in variations by all recruiters in the world:

  1. Cold call some HR professional of your choice …
  2. … tell them you’ve just studied one of their highly interesting job-descriptions online, and would like to discuss the position …
  3. … move on to ask whether they also work with external recruiting firms because you’re actually calling on behalf of agency-XYZ and …
  4. … “by coincidence” you happen to have a candidate which matches this role just fantastically.

My bet is they’ll go from total Zen to “Rage Guy” before you can say “Framework Agreement”!

Sure we could now go into the many ways of improving cold-calling techniques for fun+profit. But whatever variety you use, HR hears such lines every day. And they’re understandingly sick of it!

Once a recruiter has finally managed to get through to someone in a firm (often by using VoIP software to automate the finding of valid internal extensions), s/he won’t easily be told off. They’ll use every chance to emphasize their competence in your industry and that they’re heaps better than all others who have already called today 🙂

What most candidates fail to understand is that:

“In the eye of the recruiter everybody wants a new job! And what they offer you is always better than your current position (even if it pays 30% less or is on the other side of the country).”

But before whining further, … can we improve it!

Start of 2012 I’ve decided to get into technical recruiting. Until then my portfolio only consisted of technical consulting for ICT. Most of my friends and colleagues in R&D were sure I’d finally gone completely bonkers.
TBH, I had no idea where to start! From my technical background I understood how to plug things together. Writing code as solutions to problems is easy. So I set out to do what most engineers would. Looked for engineering solutions to support the business processes behind it:

  • set-up a website, blog, social networks, email, twitter, facebook, google+, Xing, LinkedIn, Viadeo, blogs  and …
  • connected everything with my applicant-tracking system,  in the cloud.
  • easy-peasy-japanesy I looked deeper at the LinkedIn API and Xing platform and wrote some scripts and dirty hacks to find out what the limits were on these platforms. In the process I discovered several bugs (some smaller security issues but also bigger logical flaws especially in LinkedIn).
  • automate, automate, automate, then simplify & repeat

Only it wasn’t “just” an engineering problem which you could solve by throwing new software or tools at. It was an “old economy” industry. To do business here you need solutions for tech, legal, social media, sales (including cold calls), marketing (yes indeed every “job-ad” is a micro “marketing campaign” that needs to be planned, budgeted, executed, tracked, improved …).

With an eye on future international growth (top-talent is geographically mobile) our start-up would also need an intelligent corporate/legal structure (e.g. cloud & business-process consolidated into a management-holding & several ops-companies doing the actual work).

The biggest hurdle though was coming up with ways of how to approach potential talent “cold” but in a “non-pushy” and respectful manner. Not that I don’t know how to be respectful. But to my surprise I suddenly was no longer seen as an engineer by new people I approached!

If you call yourself recruiter people will “put you in a box” and treat you according to their own previous experiences. “Once bitten, twice shy” – many won’t be kind to you, so better leave that big ego at the door! In fact if you look at a recruiters official job-title it often says something different to give a more positive first impression. “Recruiter”/”Recruiting” have become filthy words.

I made the mistake to think that people would welcome my idea because I understood the programming. Instead as soon as I donned my “recruiter-hat” I’d often become invisible to engineers.

My enthusiasm about bringing a fresh angle to this game didn’t help either. Intros like “Hey guys I’m an engineer like you. and so I fully understand your background and what you look for in a new job …” … or … “Hey Mr/s. client, I’m a technical recruiter who has previously worked in your industry as an engineer, so I fully understand your requirements …” … had no effect. Most people (at least the decision makers who maintained a public profile somewhere online) have heard it all.

So I tried several techniques on how to break the ice with new potential candidates/clients:

  1. start every email with a technical insider-industry joke (that got old quickly)
  2. wrote lengthy intros in emails pre-emptively explaining that I was an engineer and my company was first an engineering firm – and my heart was that of an engineer, etc. (most stopped reading as soon as they noticed I was a recruiter, … anyway who reads emails with more than 5 sentences? And even if they would read that much it kind of looked desperate, …)
  3. played around with different texts and measured which got most positive responses, this essentially brought my strategy back to keeping it short and avoid email altogether. Also I made sure to be as personal as possible when communicating with people via email. (this worked a little better)
  4. brought in an external recruitment consultant for 6 months to complement my pure technical side and to get the opinion from an experienced recruiter.

She helped me a great deal understanding how this (usually secretive) industry went about getting clients or find suitable candidates. But there was nothing new and it all boiled down to spamming candidates with automated mails, using tools like Monster (which firms don’t need recruiters for) or hassling HR departments.

It implied that in order to grow we’d have to create boring positions for people who do nothing but cold-call all morning and spend the afternoon with data-entry. I’d spend all my time trying to motivate them for something that was boring+mundane and that they could get a fat bonus, if they only did enough calls. Some recruitment companies even have a policy for employees to email 10 CV’s to clients every day regardless if they have open positions or not (-> imagine the stupidity!?) I disliked everything about this approach and felt it was a dead end.

As a start-up, our process was highly “creative”. E.g. we disagreed a lot mainly because we came from different professional universes. We eventually managed to combine a technical + sales driven perspective and derived some fresh ideas.

So below is what we concluded should be a “basic” set of values in technical recruiting, or any type of recruiting for that matter! (Simply substitute the word “engineering” with “law” or some other domain if you’re operating in some other field.)

§1 No automated job offers! Everyone hates SPAM! So why close doors by emailing your contacts when 99% of recipients would mark it as junk? It only takes 1 email catching them in the wrong mood and your (maybe relevant future messages) never see the light of their Inbox again. This rule is not as strict for contracting engineers and freelance consultants who have a new project every 3 months. These are used to staying in contact with head-hunters on a more regular basis. (so apply common sense)

§2 No newsletters! This may have worked in the late 90ies but not any more. The constant drivel of companies announcing how good they are and what they have achieved over the last year is again just SPAM.

§3 Recruiters should have an industry background in the world they are recruiting into! When it comes to matching the applicants skills to clients requirements, only recruiters who know both -the job AND the applicant- should pass judgement in regard to technical suitability! Sounds like common sense, but reality is that most recruiters have no idea what’s the difference between C and C++ or the difference between agile or waterfall. So this results in a world where industry-outsiders peddle CV’s to HR professionals (who at least in tech-recruiting lack any understanding of their employers core business). Overwhelmed HR is looking to the software industry for help to address this. And our sad solution is only more automation via better key-word matching & file format parsing. But this gets us nowhere because people started putting every key-word on the planet on their CV, just to make it pass the automatic key-word matching algorithm from the Applicant-Tracking-System (ATS). The resulting quality of the CV is a sterile document which tells virtually nothing about the individual behind that paper. Kafkaesque! There is no technology in the world which can solve this unless we look at the actual cause of the problem: Recruiters must have an industry background (and we assume HR will work closely together with their internal specialists).

§4 So before jumping into the magic world of recruiting, any young warlock should first spend a couple of years walking in the sandals of those which they place. Wait, …. what? How do I get an engineer to work in recruiting? Obviously turning engineers into capable recruiters is wizardry in itself, … But there are many capable engineers -who now in their 50ies- are looking for work! Many of them are told that they’re too old and wrinkly to be part of a fast paced agile software team. So would it be completely outrageous to suggest that some of them might make very good recruiters simply because they have “walked the walk”?

§5 Sex sells! That’s right, but instead of relying on young hot recruiters with photoshop’ed profile pics, while lacking any life or technical job experience, let’s assume “geek is the new chic”, m’kay?!

§6 Those who know me from my rants & raves in social networks might remember that I take every opportunity to leash out at individuals who have fake pictures of young women in their social profiles. And so should you. Because since when is it OK to fish for personal information by lying?  It’s also wrong to learn about somebodies identity (grades, recommendation letters, etc ..) and collect the complete professional documents of an job-seekers life – and then pass it all on without your consent or knowledge. This ties in also with the next point:

§7 Never work for clients who haven’t signed a contract with you! This is more common than you could possibly imagine: Recruiters take your CV then without your knowledge or consent send it to some HR contact in a company you’ve never heard of, in the hope of getting their foot in the door! 0,1% of the time HR then calls back & says they’re interested. Recruiter then informs the candidate about a new opportunity and asks whether they’re interested. 99% of the time it’s a NO from the candidate, so the recruiter sends out a SPAM email to 1 gazillion contacts telling them they have a new fantastic but urgent opportunity that needs to be filled yesterday. And then recruiters wonder why they’re ignored or even hated – go figure 🙂

§8 Only work for clients which you would like to work for yourself. Again this ties in with knowing the actual job. How is a sales-driven recruiter going to judge if client XYZ would be an interesting or fair employer? My personal rule is to actually meet every client on their turf face2face. Visit their office and feel the vibe. Anything fishy? Check why the client needs outside help! Why did Monster, LinkedIn & Co not cut it for them? Are they too cheap to pay proper wages and think a recruiter will be the silver bullet? Please have the guts to walk away from deals if you think the workplace isn’t fantastic! This point should be hard if deciding which clients to work for is out of your hands and your superior doesn’t agree (on the upside, with the help of these few rules you can start searching for a more ethical employer).

How to decide if a certain recruiter fits to your company.

There are plenty of articles outlining the importance of finding the best head-hunter which is right for *you*. But from the perspective of a hiring-manager,

§1 ensure you trust the filtering of applicants to somebody who knows the job and your industry!

§2 Remember that this recruiter will be advertising your business and hence be the first contact and impression a prospective candidate receives from your company!

§3 ensure you agree with their philosophy and test if they really understand your business and requirements! Don’t just assume that they understand your industry, but

§4 interview them as you would interview your applicants! Selecting a recruiter that understands the applicants previous achievements and also comprehends the complex work-flows and processes within your organization can save you and your team a lot of time and money. Failing to do so can cost you more of your reputation than you could possibly imagine!

The question still persists how one gets engineers interested in technical recruiting?

The answer is to make it “technical”. Many seasoned SW architects will not only know how to design or implement systems but have gathered the required soft-skills in order to be successful. Don’t place them in some sales-driven hamster-wheel, telling them that it’s actually a career-ladder. Don’t tell them they need to compete as employee-of-the-month, or compete with their colleagues over the best sales-figures … This won’t work. Here are some points which worked well for us in order to maintain our technical edge and to keep the activity interesting for engineers:

  1. go deep by harvesting, interpreting and correlating info from technical papers, publications & research documents to find talent in a certain field (MIMO, LTE, ConnectedCar, SON, SDN, InfoSec+Privacy, …).
  2. avoid silo thinking such as “our speciality is Telecoms”! Old economy industries (like telecoms, automotive, energy, …) are converging and often inherit the problems and processes of IT. Therefore focus on the lowest common technical denominator. Support this convergence and identify cross-industry opportunities rather than adopting an old-fashioned industry centric approach.
  3. bridge the field of industry+research/academia by collaborating with universities in selected areas of interest. This also strengthens the connections to more junior engineers (who will be the senior guys of tomorrow)
  4. bridge the area of technical consulting & recruiting: instead of offering just head-hunting we also deliver specialists for time-boxed assignments using outsourcing contracts (this only makes sense for firms with a strong background in tech and able to properly assess+manage the associated risks).
  5. bridge the field between research+standardization (IETF, IEEE, ETSI, ITU, W3C, …) by active participation in workshops to stay abreast future developments. Check which proposed changes in Open Standards or changes in existing standards may affect your client industries.
  6. don’t hire people who say they are recruiters or want to be recruiters, because most of it actually isn’t about recruiting! It goes without saying that it takes an extroverted person who is not scared about picking up the phone. E.g. tech consultants who can think on their feet and had a client-facing career are a good choice!
Joachim Bauernberger

Passionate about Open Source, GNU/Linux and Security since 1996. I write about future technology and how to make R&D faster. Expatriate, Entrepreneur, Adventurer and Foodie, currently living near Nice, France.

Landing a job in Europe for (Indian) foreigners

My network of foreign contacts in ICT is “considerably” large. The niche-recruitment arm of Valbonne Consulting receives over a hundred non EU based CV’s from qualified engineers each month. We often get asked by applicants how to land a job in Germany/France/Holland, as a foreigner … So I’d like to shed some light here.

Germany is now the hot-spot of the EU job market. There are thousands of qualified applicants from all over the world (especially from those EU economies who are troubled right now).

These people are easier to hire than somebody without a visa because:

  • many are already in the country
  • most have a high quality education, strong work ethics and are familiar with the local culture

Hiring managers hence ask themselves whether an overseas applicant who has never even visited Europe, would actually like living in the country. This is much less of an argument for people from other EU countries.

So competing against “locals” is always tough when trying to apply from overseas. Below are some hints about the most common traps and some “insider” know-how to help improve your odds.

The three biggest filters on any hiring process are: location location location.

So if the hiring manager received your CV from Sweden but there are 5 more CV’s from suitable candidates in Germany, it makes sense to interview these first. (optimize the work-flow and reduce its impeding logistical complexity)

Even your CV is a solid technical match, hiring managers prefer to have interviews in person (at least in later stages of the process). And while a video chat is a good way for a first contact, it simply won’t suffice to base a decision whether to sign a permanent contract with you and pay for your relocation!

The challenge for hiring managers is: Even they’re excited about your CV, and would theoretically want to invite you, they’re still required (usually by law) to cover your expenses to travel to/from the interview. Fair? I think so.

If the applicant is already in Germany it’s easy because costs are predictable. From outside Germany it’s much harder due to additional costs to get you to the site for an interview. This needs clarification from higher management. Agreeing to reimburse travel fees implies a risk of spending more from the budget than normal, but with an uncertain outcome. If the interview does not work out, they might need to explain why they invited you in the first place, or if these shortcomings should have been spotted already in a video-chat. So again the rule of location.

Keyword madness:

I’ve noticed that applications from India are the most difficult to evaluate in terms of whether the person really knows their stuff.

This is not a generalization and has nothing to do with cultural barriers. The issue here is that an Indian CV will often (90% of the time) contain every keyword that exists on the planet, just to get the foot in the door. That makes it very hard for hiring managers to gauge what the applicant knows best and what their real speciality is. Even for a person like me who comes from a technical background with years of SW development I find it often hopeless. Having to invest massive time figuring out the real skills behind a CV will waste the hiring managers time!

Because of this, it becomes very hard to enter the market even for applicants with perfect CV’s. Because 9/10 times CV’s are like this, hiring manager looking at your name/phone number will simply already expect the worst and think “oh dear another one of these jack of all trades”. Often they don’t even continue reading when realizing you’re based overseas. That said it’s refreshing to see CV’s from people who get it right.

Please don’t get me wrong I love people who are “all-rounders”. But listing every one of the 500 tools you have every used in your 3 years of command line usage, along with “project management duties fresh from university” simply begs the question what you really know. Especially people in tech should know that just because they beat the companies keyword logic of their applicant tracking system, doesn’t mean the technical hiring manager will be convinced too!

It would be better to focus on what you really know, what you love and drive home your passion. Don’t add sh!t to your CV you don’t use on a weekly basis. It always backfires when people are willing to sell themselves as “qualified for everything”. It makes your audience also wonder if you just want to go to another country and don’t care about the actual job (you should never look desperate whatever situation you are in). Again I bet that even if you think you got it right you still have too much irrelevant info on your CV.

If you want to highlight the fact that you’re a well-rounded person with a broad sense of interests, then this is great. But then better to add links to these other documents (online) and keep your CV focused/crisp and in line with what you’re really about.

The following is a problem common in applications from all nationalities:

Applicants with only 2 years of development experience often feel they have to include info about their management experience or ambitions to eventually move into PM. This is a double-edged sword because it indicates that the person would rather manage than be an engineer. It is very common when people come from previous jobs where there was no career-path for engineering professionals even in engineering companies (yes you heard that right).

What you wanna be when you grow up?

If the only way to earn more money in engineering is by moving into a mgmt role, then it’s only natural that engineers get fed up and want to reinvent themselves as managers with better salaries. Well managed organization do offer you a career-path in engineering. Unfortunately many big companies who outsource to low-cost countries do it like this: hire the cheapest people they can find (“cheapest” even for local standards, often by overloading their org with 95% fresh graduates and nobody to mentor them). Then have a few selected local managers “drive them” like slaves until the employee had enough and leaves to a competitor next door. That cycle repeats until the engineer had enough “of engineering” and wants to become a middle-manager.

Who wants to hire a middle-manager?

Before you put focus on your “extensive management experience”, better carefully check what the job-spec says: Do they want a worker-bee, a team-leader or a technical-PM? Do you even want to be a manager? Would you have better chances in mgmt or in a senior architect/design role. There is the title of “Distinguished Engineers” in many companies who earn far more as you would probably imagine: and they’re really the best in their field mainly because they stuck with technology.

There are many ways to the top and it doesn’t always have to be via management. Also the top is where your heart feels at home and not where some deluded organogram says you should be (these charts get reshuffled with every merger anyway ;-)).

If management is truly your thing take a look at the business analyst profession (though there are many more routes that lead to Rome).

If you do put focus on management in a job that asks for “worker-bees”, it’ll raise questions whether you actually love your work and still feel passionate about the technical aspect. Who wants to be managed by a manager who doesn’t even like the line of business they’re in?

Companies (and people) prefer when people have a clear idea of where they are in life and which direction they want to go! If an employer is looking for a senior developer they probably won’t risk bringing in an applicant who actually prefers to manage, while knowing nothing about the highly complex internal work-flow/process/politics (which often takes years to develop). This problem becomes stronger as the seniority of the candidate increases. But sadly is also present even in some Junior applicants. So think about what you really want and clearly say so! Want to become a PM? Then don’t apply for a Senior Development role because people will think you are the worst manager ever. And we sure have enough of those around!

Do I have to speak German/Dutch/French:

Yes and no. Many people will love to speak English with you (which sometimes even makes it hard to learn the local language quicker). But in a work environment you would do better when making an effort and learn the lingo at least in the long run. Anglo-Saxon suffer from this most because the rest of Europeans are raised/drilled to improve their English. They were told that English is very important already in primary school. So when they see a chance to speak it, they do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to make an effort. The most successful integration of an English man I’ve ever seen was an ex-colleague of mine: He insisted even in a multicultural work environment to speak German with his German colleagues. He would give anyone an upset look followed by a long pause and reply in German to any English question he received from Germans 🙂 I realized later that only due to this persistence and strong will was he able to speak at that level.

Finally the excuse that “in your 5 years working in the country you were simply “soooo” busy with your job” is a straight fail in the interview. If not for yourself then at least as a form of respect to those co-workers who don’t speak English as good as yourself – learn the language 🙂 !

Not learning the language will put you in a situation where once you change the employer after few years you’ll suddenly have to explain why you couldn’t be asked to make an effort in those years you were already here!

Are German and France extreme? No. Picture landing a job in the UK without English, or in Japan without Japanese? Would be hard right? So better get cracking because the sooner you do, the better your chances in the long run. What will help big time for your application is if you enrol in language classes long before you go. It will also lead to a better salary because you become more competitive on the local market and feel more at home in the country of your choice!

Never apply to several different jobs at the same time in the same company unless they all happen to be really close to your skills. Don’t spread yourself too thin.

Spell check the text before you send and if possible have a friend proof-read it too!! (-> this one goes out especially to my native English-speaking friends who seem to be unable to understand the difference between “its” and “it’s” ;-))

Ensure you include in your contact details at minimum a phone number and an email address. Especially freelancers who deal a lot with recruiting agencies and headhunters often have their own email alias set up to filter out the job related email traffic. That way you don’t “pollute” your inbox and can keep an eye on the market once you have landed the perfect position.

Last but not least, here is a list of documents required by many hiring managers (some of this might look especially strange or over-the-top to UK applicants):

  1. CV
  2. Motivation Letter (cover letter): if you can pull it off write it in the local language. Keep it brief! Find common ground between the job-spec, the skills in your CV, and the company information you have (do your research). Ensure the cover letter is written for this one position. If it could be sent to several jobs it’s not specific enough and will do more harm than good! Avoid common phrases and marketing bla!
  3. University diplomas
  4. University transcripts (showing grades)
  5. Reference from earlier employers (get them before you even think of quitting your job and always get them when your superior changes).
  6. 2 or 3 references (only supply them when requested) who may be contacted.
  7. Links to any interesting projects you did outside work (github, sourceforge, etc … or even your blog)

If you like this article don’t forget to share <B 🙂

Please note Valbonne Consulting does not provide professional coaching or mentoring services to job seekers. However we’d like to hear your story on how you went about your job hunt and successfully landed a job abroad. If you’d like to publish your experience with us as short essays (so that others can learn from it), then please contact me via email: talent [at] valbonne-consulting [dot] com

What follows below are individual short success stories of people who kindly provided feedback on how they experienced the process (thanks guys!!). Hope this provides you with ideas and shows that there are many ways to reach your goal.

“I am an American and I was working as a process engineer at a mid-sized avionics firm in the US. A lot of my time was spent developing DXL customizations for DOORS 9.x and thus I often visited an online forum devoted to DXL. I noticed that one particular user was a rock star in the forum. I thought, “It would be great to work with such a smart person.” I looked up the company in the user’s signature; it was in Germany and had job openings. I had a longstanding dream to live and work in Europe so I rolled the dice and contacted them. After a couple rounds of e-mails and a phone interview with the rock star, they hired me! My presence, participation, and demonstrated knowledge in the forum was key to convincing them I was worth the trouble of sponsoring my work permit and residency.” — $mike


Joachim Bauernberger

Passionate about Open Source, GNU/Linux and Security since 1996. I write about future technology and how to make R&D faster. Expatriate, Entrepreneur, Adventurer and Foodie, currently living near Nice, France.

Lessons from Gordon Ramsay on conducting job interviews

While making Sunday breakfast I remembered this fantastic video from Scottish star chef Gordon Ramsay about cooking the most simple of things: Scrambled eggs! There is an interesting moment when he says: “we always ask new chefs in the interview to cook scrambled eggs. And if they know how to cook the *perfect* scrambled eggs, then you know they can cook properly!”.

Most people will come to interviews mentally prepared for highly complicated tests related to their skills and expect the worst. You can throw them off-guard and see how well they think on their feet by asking them to do something extremely simple. How they handle something as “easy” as cooking eggs can say a lot about whether they are the right person for you. Are they able to put as much love and effort into simple but regular tasks? Or are they only interested on being “rockstars” in everything they do?

If you interview an extrovert candidate who seems clearly confident, then why not ask them to tell you a joke. But stay flexible and have several scenarios available for different types of people and choose the most appropriate for a person on the fly. Never leave them gobsmacked or uncomfortable because it will leave a sour image on you as a person and the name of your company.

Using simple strategies can be much more rewarding than grilling them with thousands of technical questions. Drawing your candidate out of his/her shell is essential if you really want to “work with them”in later stages of the interview. Many employers invite candidates more than once. They use the first interview to break the ice and as a general introduction and the second one to go deep into practical applications.

Is your firm thinking about bringing in a new hot-shot, PMPÂŽ certified senior project manager who mentioned “cooking” as one of his “hobbies” in the CV? Then why not take them out of their comfort zone and to your office kitchen where you ask them to cook “a full English breakfast” for 6 people! If they can put the food on the table for everybody at the same time, while still hot and without a microwave, then s/he is your guy! 🙂

Are they heavily into Mountain-Biking? Give them a bike and ask them to change the tube of the tire as quickly as possible. You can do a lot here with the listed hobbies since this is what they really love and should therefore be passionate about.

So unless you are the director of a circus, please always judge by the effort made and not the results when asking to do something they will never actually perform on the job! 😉

What are your favorite interview techniques or what were the questions people asked you in the past? We’d love to hear your comments below!

Written by Joachim Bauernberger. If you liked this post why not connect with him on LinkedIn!?

Joachim Bauernberger

Passionate about Open Source, GNU/Linux and Security since 1996. I write about future technology and how to make R&D faster. Expatriate, Entrepreneur, Adventurer and Foodie, currently living near Nice, France.

I used to be nostalgic in the good old days

Have you ever worked with someone who kept on talking about a particular way things were done in their previous job? I remember one of my former colleagues who would quote “the good old times” over and over like a broken record.

When thrown into an unfamiliar environment our hearts beat quicker. We have to put more effort into our work to achieve the same results. Our thoughts have to adapt if we want to succeed and gain acceptance from peers. When we lack experience our thoughts revolve around previous positive examples which we can draw parallels from, in order to thrive.

But if we lack the proper backing from superiors or don’t yet fully understand “the big picture”, we may feel like a fish out of the water and wish back the good old times.

But actually, a complete and utter ignorance of the the big picture can be a good thing as long as people are aware and positive about it.

A “newbie” will question everything to make sense of the new environment. If done right this person can give you many angles of your product or strategy that nobody else is able to see (especially not the old hands in your team). Most newbies are secret weapons without knowing it.

If you manage a team or happen to work with new people: make it a habit of lifting them into a positive mindset and encourage them to share no matter how stupid they feel that their thought patterns might be! You should emphasize that there is no “wrong” way of thinking. There are no stupid questions. Also you should embrace this type of thinking among other team members and encourage them to have the newcomer question things.

Harnessing a newcomers idea will not only bring you up to speed of how well s/he integrates. More importantly their thought patterns can point out holes in your system nobody in the existing team would have ever questioned (precisely because they know too much of the big picture). Given the right attitude and nurturing environment, newbies can save you lots of money and provide a real competitive advantage.

You can also hire external consulting firms for an outsiders viewpoint. But why not give the same “job” to your fresh employee that is already on your payroll? Nobody will be as keen as them!

So to recap:

  • Never point out that an understanding of “the big picture” is essential since it will put any fresh employee into a situation where he feels “not to think” is OK.  
  • Beware of anyone commenting on “the good old times” since it would indicate a dissatisfaction about the current situation. Try to understand why they thought it was better back then.

Written by Joachim Bauernberger. If you liked this post why not connect with him on LinkedIn!?

Joachim Bauernberger

Passionate about Open Source, GNU/Linux and Security since 1996. I write about future technology and how to make R&D faster. Expatriate, Entrepreneur, Adventurer and Foodie, currently living near Nice, France.