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Alan Etterman shares his sensible hiring practices

Bill Lepiesza | June 8, 2008
Etterman's views on hiring are as straightforward as his description of himself as an IT guy.

A lot of people are inherently comfortable with living in chaos. I've learned that that the people who are great at helping me in a turnaround are the same people who are really successful in a start-up, where there's no structure and where the attitude is, I can outwork it, I know everything, I can live in my cube, I can do things with no money because we don't have any. That describes a startup as well as a turnaround.

What is your typical interview process for bringing in top-level technology talent?

I have a pretty formal process. We strive for ten interviews with a candidate. These are one-on-one interviews, not panels. At the outset, I lay out an entire interview program including who will be on my interview list and what I expect them to hunt for. For example, I'll have one person ask about business metrics and another person talk about modeling. I want to make sure that each person on the interview team will have a specific area of focus so that there's no duplication of effort. I've learned over time that when you don't do that, everybody asks the candidate the same questions, and we forget to ask a number of the important ones. The key is to understand exactly what you're looking for.

Usually, after seeing the first two or three candidates, we will regroup and figure out if we are getting what we asked for. Sometimes we will conclude that we should restructure the job description or tell the recruiter to focus more on a different area.

Do you remember your first hire? Did you receive training on how to interview early in your career?

My first hire came when I was at IBM, after I went through IBM manager school. I'd become a manager and inherited people, but went through IBM's manager school before I actually had to hire somebody. They have a great program. You get a big binder. We had that at Cisco, 3Com and we have that here. We train managers how to interview because most people don't actually know how. At JDSU we have an overall HR employee education curriculum, which includes leadership development programs and training on how to give performance reviews.

What are the critical areas that a technology executive should focus on during the hiring process?

I think the biggest mistake CIOs make is that they hire people with a strong technology background and not necessarily a strong business background. I think that sort of answers the never ending question of why the CIO and the business can't get along.

CIOs lead with technology, and we don't talk the same language as the business guys. Some CIOs get trapped in the mindset of, "Technology is going to save the world!" and that's not right. It's a false premise.


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