For the past several months I have been recruiting intensively at some of the best universities in North America, and regularly I get asked about what qualities make for a “good candidate.” While the answer is naturally different for every individual company and corporate culture, there are some underlying traits that appear to be highly correlated with successful outcomes in our own workplace.
Part of the answer relates to our nature as an expanding organization. Like any growing company, we are continuously hungry for talent; not only because we have specific roles to fill, but also because we look for adaptable generalists who can think critically a number of situations… not just ones they prepared or studied for. So after countless resumes, hours interviewing candidates, and even more hours discussing interviewing techniques with coworkers, I have learned one thing: no one has fully cracked the code to consistently finding the “perfect” talent, but there are a few qualities that we all look for.
Perhaps the biggest misconception amongst recruits is that – as a technology company – we look exclusively for highly technical minds. Although certain positions do require coding abilities and computer science knowledge, the truth is there are other broader qualities that stand out above all else.
I have identified the following 5 qualities as the essential traits that will ensure that a recruit thrives at ZL, and (surprise!) none of them have to do specifically with technology.
Having no experience in software but applying to a position at ZL is a good indication that you might have this quality. It's curiosity that leads us down new paths, and that instigates us to never stop questioning. At ZL, curiosity allows us to have a holistic view of the company, to keep up with market trends in a fast-moving industry, and to ultimately grow both personally and professionally. Many of us did not know what we wanted to dedicate our time to when we joined ZL. Over time, however, and thanks to the learning opportunities that we can jump on, an English major can become a technical project manager. Curiosity uncovers opportunities and keeps us humble, as there is so much left to see, learn, and do.
In an interview, anyone can say they are curious. However, we tend to detect curiosity in a more indirect manner. It’s hard to hide innate curiosity: it has a tendency to bubble through in the way that people discuss their experiences, their knowledge, and their interests.
Drive is a seemingly simple quality that I define as the will to go further than you have to. It’s what gets some people up earlier than they need to be, and what keeps me up later than I ought to stay up. It’s taking the extra effort to put ideas into motion rather than just fulfilling requirements set by others. At ZL, it is fundamental to have it in order to achieve anything, as without it all other qualities matter very little. Any individual may have a world of ideas and plans, but without the drive, the motivation, and the proactivity, it all stops there. At the core, we need people who have the urge to see what is in their minds become reality and who have the tenacity to make it happen.
When trying to practice interview responses, candidates often make the mistake of “perfecting” their answers to the point of eliminating candor. It’s a shame, because honesty is often one of the traits that makes a candidate stand out from the pack. While a certain amount of tact is still required in an interview setting, it’s a big mistake to try to force one’s responses into a template. If you’re answering a question with the response you think the business wants to hear, chances are that you’re also saying exactly what someone before you has already said. It’s not a great way to leave a lasting impression.
In contrast, candidates who are genuine tend to give the most memorable answers. They put a personal spin on the “right” response, threading in past experiences and relevant information, even if it occasionally means admitting to slight imperfections. In the workplace, we need candor because it aids in communication, which is vital due to the importance we place in teamwork. As a team that is incredibly diverse in background, views and personalities, we see candor as the very foundation of a fruitful work relation in which people are open and ideas are shared. We hope that through it, even if someone disagrees with you, they will understand where you are coming from.
Anyone can be comfortable and excel in a field where they feel at home, with familiar faces and familiar tasks. The people we look for, though, are those who can thrive in waters they are not even sure they can swim in. Instead of trembling at the prospect, they welcome the challenge and see it for what it is: an opportunity to learn something new. The way we see it, the faster you adapt, the sooner you perform at your peak potential.
For people applying to work directly from college, this can be a surprisingly difficult trait to distinguish, as most educational institutions impose fairly rigid structure and objectives. The traditional metrics – such as GPA, coursework, and projects – often give little indication of personal adaptability. When it comes to interviews, adaptability often shines through when candidates focus on experiences such as leadership and personal challenges rather than the classroom.
Fearlessness pushes you to take on tasks you originally thought you couldn’t do. A fearless person makes things explode, and when the dust has settled you will either be looking at something remarkable or will be dragging through the debris. The people we look for are those who acknowledge the fine line between fearlessness and recklessness, and are able to see when it is worth it to press the red button and when it is not. In a growing business, occasionally making mistakes is often a sign things are getting done, and fearless individuals are more likely to lead the charge when there’s ambiguity at hand.
If you identify with these qualities, I would encourage you to apply to one of our openings. You may be that diamond in the rough we are looking for.