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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.

Speaking of bad situations, what are some of the worst interviews you can remember?

When I was at Cisco, I was the head of networking, which wasn't a bad job to have. This one guy, I'll never forget this, comes into my office and at the start of interview goes: "You know, Mr. Etterman, I am so honored to be here. I can't believe I'm sitting here with the Babe Ruth of networking." And I'm like, I don't even know where to go from there! I mean A) I'm not the Babe Ruth of networking, and B) I realize this guy is going to tell me whatever he thinks I want to hear as opposed to what I need to hear.

You know, the guy was really smart, but I knew immediately that he was out. He was not going to answer me honestly. He was going to tell me whatever he thought I wanted to hear to get the job.

Another time, recently, I had agreed to do an interview for another hiring manager. The candidate came into my office and I launched into a very long explanation of my thoughts about the role and what we were looking for, and the candidate goes, "Thanks, but I'm actually here to talk to you about a different position." It was a little embarrassing.

So did you flip gears pretty quickly with him?

Here's what happened. It was not a hire for me, but for someone else. I had the candidate's résumé and that was kind of it. The résumé lined up to a position in the organization we were hiring for, but he was interviewing for an entirely different position. It was Monday morning. I must have forgotten over the weekend. But the experience prompted me to remember that when people ask me to be on their interview teams that I need to understand what position I am actually assessing and what they want me to look for.

You mentioned that you strive for ten interviews with a candidate as part of the hiring process. Do you need unanimity in the hiring decision?

I don't believe unanimity is a requirement. I hire executives and managers to take the responsibility for building the team that they want. So when I or someone else tells them who they can and can't hire, all of a sudden everything that doesn't work is no longer their responsibility. Hiring managers are paid to hire. I expect them to do that, and it's their job to do that.

What somebody else needs may not be what I need. All I have is a viewpoint. I could say, "I saw this about this person" or "Do you think you can overcome that experience gap through bolstering with other team members?" Everybody may have a vote, but the hiring manager has the ultimate vote.


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