Editor's Note (02/14/07): When I'm Wrong, I'm Really Really Wrong

Technology Staff Editor
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This week's debate topic: The value of career networking at conferences and industry events. With some big shows coming up, including Interop, the SD West 2007 event and the 2007 Embedded Systems Conference, it's time to discuss how important career networking at such events really is. Some experts say it's invaluable-an opportunity you shouldn't miss but one you have to prepare for. Others don't see the value in cold introductions and making the rounds to talk with different companies as these companies aren't attending with the intent to hire. My take is this: If you're already attending for work purposes, then get the double benefit and do some career networking. Make it a goal to meet and make contact with as many colleagues, company leaders, and vendor reps as possible. You'll definitely come away with a circle of new contacts that could come in pretty handy when it's time to send the resume out, or when you're dealing with a specific IT issue and looking for advice or guidance. But, then again, as recent events have proved, I could be off my rocker. Clearly I was with last week's editorial topic on why I think likeability shouldn't surpass tech expertise as a hiring factor. The feedback was fast, furious and all contradictory to my viewpoint. Here's just a little of the feedback I got from readers: Karen, IS Director: I read your comments on hiring for "likeability" and actually, as a hiring manager, I do have a thought to share on this from the hiring manager's perspective. First some background. I manage an IT department with very few headcount (resources) even though we support an environment just as complex technically as larger scale departments. Everyone on staff must be technically competent. BUT, they must also work as a team so that we are not wasting precious cycles rethinking or undoing the work of others. In our small Midwestern city, I can find many competent technicians. Technical competency is no longer the domain of a selected priesthood as it once was. In fact, job scarcity has ensured that even competent technicians are sometimes unemployed. What I don't want is the crusty, moody, know-it-all but keep it all to myself prima donna technician of yesterday. What I do want are techs who communicate without ego about projects, ideas and solutions and who work daily to improve the overall knowledge base of the team. Likeability, approachability, or whatever you want to call it is a factor in hiring selection because of this. I no longer hire the introverted eggheads. If they can't work together in harmony on a team I don't want them. Jennifer, Financial Systems Admin: I work at a large law firm, so my environment is very political to say the least. Likeability is a huge asset in every area here, not just IT. What I find is even within my own IT department, likeability is HUGE and with good reason. Our network manager is what I would call an "uber-geek." Not a social animal. Very intelligent, knowledgeable about most things and extremely arrogant to boot. This makes him so difficult to work with that I'd rather have a less knowledgeable person who will work with me constructively. I have to walk on eggshells around him, constantly stroking his ever- inflating ego and when I need something done, I have to do all the homework and just hand him something ready for him to flip a switch on. He is constantly resistant, like pulling teeth. Now while that is exaggerated, it really isn't far from the truth. We have a help desk manager here as well who is hard to work with. She has very good ideas but is not good with people. She micromanages and comes across very abrasive to the point that more than 1/2 her staff left the firm within 3 months of her acquiring her position and nearly all the gents in the department despise her and won't work with her because in some way or another she has alienated them. They give her the very bare minimum of work that they are required to. So, I'm on the side that likeability is relevant and probably should be a requirement. Moody and cranky I can handle but if not checked, it gets out of control and you get our situation. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Catherine: While skill set is important, we can't forget likeability. I have worked with highly-skilled and very cranky tech workers that no one would ask a question or put off asking for things precisely because they were so difficult. More time and more time was being spent trying to figure out ways around these people or talking about the latest blow-up, that productivity was suffering. We also had an increase in turnover because other highly skilled people just didn't need the aggravation. Give me a reasonably intelligent employee that is able to learn and already knows how to play well with others over the highly-skilled, crabby guy any day. Skills I can teach, personality transplants are not yet available. That being said, I don't want a person that plays well with others, but isn't trainable either. Juju_man: I read with some interest your article. I am a software development manager and just recently someone in my group has decided to move onto another job. I could not be happier. Although this person is technically superior then anyone else on the team, he has no concept of the word team. He has to be stroked in every assignment and feel like he is the VIP. After many years of managing him I am glad to see him go. Over the last several years no one who has left my team has said anything positive about this person. I think somehow we will be better off without him. So give me someone willing to learn and has his ego in check and is willing to work with others any day. But I did have one compadre who did agree with my assessment: Rob: This trend of putting "likeability" ahead of competence seems to be a reaction to greater business competition, which is shocking in itself because American business has gone through this "likable" stage during low competitive pressures (1960's and 1970's). I don't think this "likable" trend applies to contractors or consultants as much because they are hired to solve specific problems, and that probably explains why hiring personnel and executives can get away with discounting competence. Like all fads, this fad will end...badly! People will get tired of employees that can't seem to do their work and executives and hiring managers will moderate their "likeability" preferences and give more credit toward competence, just like their competition does. Those companies that don't will go bankrupt or end up paying way too much to their Congress-critters in "campaign contributions." Imagine how much a competitor can do with hundreds of millions of dollars on excess capital when it has totally competent employees, justly paid executives, and gives little to politicians. Some company like that could take over an entire market! So what's your take on career networking at events? Write me and I'll share your feedback next issue. --Judy Mottl


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