Offshore Interviews: Personality Aspect

There are several common misconceptions about interviewing for “personality” with the offshore resources:

  • It’s irrelevant. These are not employees I am hiring, why would I care about their personality?
  • It’s the same as with local resources: what’s good for the home team is good for the offshore.
  • I let my gut decide or I am good at reading people and I do not need any help here.

Let me start with debunking those myths:

The first one is the easiest. Of course it’s relevant; just think about how much damage a QA engineer without attention to details can do, or how much “value” a Project Manager with no appreciation for authority and processes would bring to a project.

Why isn’t it the same in that case? In some aspects it is, for example for your staff QA engineer you would be interested in someone who has great attention to details, eye for imperfections, appreciates structure and processes, doesn’t mind repetitive work, etc. All these personality traits would be great assets for your offshore QA engineer as well. The difference comes with dynamics of the employment arrangement.

Generally you can not count on keeping offshore resources on your project over two years, after that they are likely to move on; as a matter of fact for the purposes of personality casting you would be looking for just one year in offshore case; hopefully you have a better longevity with local resources, let’s say 3 years. Over that period of time some personality traits will play a role that are not as important when it comes to one year. For example you are looking at résumé of someone who changed his job once a year; that might be a showstopper for staff position but could OK for offshore resources. What about their ambitions, desire to learn new technologies, track record of continuing education, etc. Many aspects of personality become irrelevant when you are looking for offshore resources or turn to opposite.

Another important aspect of personality interviews is the team diversity. I am not talking about race, religion, etc. instead it’s a diversity of the team. I believe in diversity of personality and when building local teams I prefer to have a well balanced but diverse team. For example you need people with “big picture” view as well as “detail” view; you need process fanatics and “break all the rules” mentality. When properly cast and well balanced diverse teams perform much better than homogeneous organizations. Of course casting is a key here, e.g. you do not need a social butterfly to work nightshift processing firewall logs. When it comes to offshore team diversity could mean unnecessary complexity and unpredictability.

One more important consideration in that regard is the fact that careers of offshore resources are not in your hands. In that light again many aspects of personality become irrelevant when you are looking for offshore resources or turn to opposite.

Now, on “I let my gut decide” topic. That’s a common approach to personality interviewing not only in offshore but for staff position all across the industry. I know that some managers are just darn good at reading people and even they make mistakes. I consider myself above average in that skill, mainly because I invested great deal of effort and education in it, and yet I make mistakes, sometimes serious ones. If your gut (intuition) can pinpoint attention to details, ability to strive under pressure, appreciation for processes, impeccable integrity… or an another side dishonesty, habitual irresponsibility, lack of work ethics… well, you probably are working as FBI profiler or psychic reader :) Intuition is important and you should listen to it, no doubts about it. You just should not rely on it or just only on it when selecting members of the team, especially when working remotely, over a phone, and across the cultural differences.

Now, a really hard question: how to define personality match while interviewing offshore developers? Personality interviews are tough to begin with, offshore exacerbate the complexity of the task. The approach I typically use includes several steps:

  • Simplify an ideal personality profile. For example for Black Box Tester I’d be looking only for several personality traits absence of which would be a show stopper: attention to detail, ability to handle stress, and respect for the structure / process.
  • Communicate the desired profile to my vendor with a hope that the screening catches at least obvious mismatch cases.
  • Prepare a few open-ended questions that cater to discovery of those specific traits. For example, “Based on your prior experience please describe a situation when you ability to handle stress helped deliver on engagement objectives”.
  • Take the answers for the face value. If the candidate can fake the answer hopefully they can fake the personality trait till the time the move on to a different project.
  • I usually have a few questions ready but do not necessary ask them all. Sometimes the candidate would fail a few ones just because those are unusual questions, not something they have been condition to hear. But if they can’t learn the drill after I’ve asked them a few questions, it’s not the person I’m interest in hiring anyway.

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