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Define the essential and desirable qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills for a successful fit.

The second part of your job analysis is to look at the qualities, preferences, and skills that will help a candidate succeed in the position and fit into your organization’s culture.

Different companies can have different cultures. Take, for example, two organizations that are making high-performance commercial products. The first organization, SpeedyOne, is a typical entrepreneurial organization in which self-starting, responsibility-taking, and the ability to do three things at once are highly valued. Risk-takers are especially successful at SpeedyOne.

SpeedyTwo is an older organization whose emergence from start-up to established company was rocky, a factor that led to a significant aversion to risk in senior management. SpeedyTwo values employees with a passion for learning, the ability to make decisions by consensus, and the focus to finish projects. To an outsider, it would appear that both companies require similar technical skills. However, people at SpeedyOne prefer to work by taking initiative and forcing products to market quickly. The technical staff at SpeedyTwo uses consensus to make decisions, and uses technical practices such as peer reviews and walkthroughs to move their products to market. Each company looks successful and meets time-to-market needs, but the cultures differ dramatically.

There’s nothing predominately right or wrong with how business is conducted at either company. The point to be made is that hiring managers must differentiate between the types of people who’ll be successful in vastly different cultures.

Sometimes, the main reason a hiring manager doesn’t hire a candidate is that he or she has a gut feeling that the person just won’t fit well with the culture. But a “gut feeling” is not a good reason not to hire someone, so train yourself to articulate culture-fit differences. If you can’t articulate why a person won’t fit, you run the significant chance of hiring someone else with similar problems. Or worse, you hire people and then are vaguely dissatisfied with their performance, having expected “more at this level.” If you have trouble articulating why candidates are not quite appropriate, then defining the qualities, preferences and skills prior to hiring will help. If you’re dissatisfied with some of your recent hires, take the time now to define the essential qualities, preferences, and skills that will fit your culture.6

Think also about diversity with respect to culture-fit issues. Sometimes, your group can be too homogeneous, so you want people who don’t currently fit.

Essential qualities, preferences, and skills

A well-chosen employee who is successful in performing the job for which he or she was hired almost always will fit into the team and the larger organization. In addition, he or she will meet the technical challenge as well as fit the culture.

No matter what size a company is, culture can vary dramatically across the organization. You need to define the cultural needs as well as the technical needs for your immediate area, regardless of whether it sits within a corporation that is large or one that is small. Sometimes, a candidate who would be a great fit for one manager or in one organization would be a disaster for another simply because different managers and different organizations have their own unique styles. Review your group’s culture to see which qualities are present in successful employees in your group, and compare how well candidates for the position match up.

Start your search for technical and cultural compatibility by assessing each candidate’s qualities, such as initiative, flexibility, and technical leadership:

  • Initiative: Do you need someone who looks for problems and fixes them? Do you want someone who is intellectually curious? Do you need someone who can follow directions. Do you need someone you can train to do more and different work? Define the amount and type of initiative you and your organization require from an employee.
  • Flexibility: Do you want someone who is completely flexible? Do you want someone who will develop rules of operation for you? Do you want more flexibility in a senior-level help-desk representative than you would require in a junior-level software developer? Define the flexibility or adaptability required in the position.
  • Technical leadership: How much leadership do you want the new hire to take on? Do you want someone who is capable of creating new ideas, someone capable of sifting through ideas to discover the most appropriate solution, someone who will catalyze people to generate new ideas or decide on an idea, or someone who can follow through with the details so that an idea comes to fruition in a product? Define the kinds of technical leadership you need from the candidate, keeping in mind that technical leadership does not necessarily correlate with years of experience and that not every employee needs to be a leader.

After you have considered necessary qualities, consider a person’s preferences for how he or she likes to work, and match them to your own preferences for how the job is to be done:

  • Procedural preferences: Is it important that specific procedures be always followed to the letter on the job? Do you need people who take exceptional pride in following procedures? Can you tolerate mavericks who live to break the rules? Define what procedural tolerance level you need.
  • Tasking preferences: Do you need a multitasker who likes to work on multiple tasks at one time, juggling, say, six tasks in various stages of “done-ness,” or do you want someone who likes to handle only one at a time? Do you want someone who works to complete tasks, or a person who is happiest when required to context-switch between multiple projects or tasks? Do you want someone who can handle uncertainty, or a person who needs well-defined limits and schedules? Define your tasking needs, but keep in mind that when looking for a multitasker, you want someone who can let you know when he or she can’t take on additional work.
  • Goal-oriented preferences: Do you want someone who can set and reach his or her own goals without much input from you or others? Can you deal with people who want to set their own goals rather than look to you to set the goals? If you prefer not to be a hands-on manager and choose to let goals evolve, can you manage someone who needs specific and detailed goals? Define the goal orientation you require in an employee.
  • Problem-solving preferences: To what degree do you want people to own and solve their problems before they bring them to you? Do you want someone who will ask you to help establish task priority when confronted with conflicting tasks or schedules? Decide how much independence is appropriate for the job and for your group.
  • Learning preferences: How much initiative do you want someone to take to stay current in his or her field? Does staying current matter for the particular job? Determine whether the employee needs to have a yearning to stay up-to-date in all areas of technology or whether current skills are sufficient.
  • Collaboration preferences: Do you need a person who prefers to work alone or one who thrives when working with a group of people? Do you need a catalyst for a team? Are you looking for someone to complement the team? Does the position involve a significant amount of group work or very little work with teammates? Define the amount of collaboration you require in the position.

Finally, consider the non-technical skills that might make a person successful in your group:

  • Communications skills: Do you need someone with excellent speaking or writing skills, or both? Do you want someone you can put in front of customers, a person who will be quick-thinking, good at fielding off-the-cuff questions, and the like? Do you require excellent phone skills for the job? Determine your non-technical needs in the context of the specific job the person is being interviewed for—be cautioned, of course, about the legal ramifications of seeming to discriminate against someone who lacks specific non-technical skills when such skills are not required for the job.
  • Performance-versatility skills: Do you need someone who is strictly tactical and operational, or someone who can think strategically and plan what has to happen? Do you need a person who can handle projects of varying scope or a person who wants to focus on one kind of work? Determine whether this person needs a variety of problem-solving skills, or a narrow range of skills focused in one product area or one kind of project.
  • Negotiation skills: Does the person need to be able to work with people inside and outside the group (or the company)? Is there management by authority, by influence, or both? Does this person need to manage choices between competing designs? Do you need someone who can negotiate with potential customers or different groups within the company when defining requirements? Determine what level of skill your new hire will need as a negotiator.
  • Problem-solving skills: Will the new hire need to think about problems in a variety of ways? Can you use someone who takes the first solution that presents itself? How much creativity do you need in this role? Determine what problem-solving skills are needed for the position.

Not all the cultural qualities, preferences, and skills mentioned here will have the same degree of importance to you as they do to someone else. You may decide to select other qualities, preferences, and skills that your technical staff needs in order to succeed. Think about the successful people currently working in your organization and identify the qualities, preferences, and skills you find most valuable.

Each corporate culture is different, so define your essential qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills for your open position. You may realize that you have a particular type of person you choose to work with.

Following is a sample worksheet that can be used as you define the qualities, preferences, and skills required in a particular job. Add other characteristics required or desired for the job, using the Notes column to describe how those qualities, preferences, and skills fit the requirements of the job.6

Worksheet 2-1: Matching Qualities, Preferences, and Skills with Job Openings.

Quality, Preference, or Skill



Notes (Cite any required quality, preference, or skill specific to the job.)

Quality: Initiative

Quality: Flexibility

This project manager needs to manage projects that require different lifecycles.

Quality: Technical leadership

Quality: Responsibility and independence

Preference: Ability to work on multiple projects at one time

The tester needs to be able to juggle planning for one project while developing tests for another project.

Preference: Goal orientation

Preference: Passion for learning

We need someone who wants to keep up with the literature as new things are happening in the field all the time.

Preference: Teamwork

Skill: Communications skills

Skill: Ability to handle projects of varying scope

Skill: Influence and negotiation skills

Skill: Problem-solving skills

Add your qualities, preferences, and skills here.

Add your notes here.

Desirable qualities, preferences, and skills

For many open positions, some of these qualities, preferences, and skills are not essential, just desirable. As you analyze the job, decide whether any of these factors would make you reconsider a candidate’s pay, level of experience, or cultural fit in terms of the position for which you’re hiring.

For example, technical leadership might be an essential quality in candidates you’re recruiting for a position. The ability to help you develop and present project or program status to management would be desirable, and you’d be willing to pay at the high end of your salary range to get it.

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