We look for the best and brightest when hiring for Requirements Analysts and Product Managers. It’s a long and difficult process with many people applying; only a fraction get through the first interview and even less are able to hang in the process as it continues. This has brought great strain to our company: as we expand we simply aren’t able to hire as very few are able to get through our arduous interview process.
Recently, we went to the University of Texas at Austin looking for interns and entry level Requirements Analysts. They asked many questions, mostly along the lines of “what does Seilevel do?”, “what would a typical day look like for me as an RA?”, “what’s the mentoring program like?”, and “what qualities do you look for in a potential new hire?”. I would like to address the last question now, to give the potential candidates out there an idea of what kind of person we look for.
Most importantly, we look for those in whom we see great potential. Can we teach and train this person? Will she be receptive? Is she able to adapt and change to the ambiguous and sometimes difficult environment? Is she smart enough to resolve tasks on her own when others are too busy to hand-hold? To get an outstanding “Yes” on all these questions is the first test to pass. When we talk to people, we want to address these questions indirectly with candidates. This means that we most likely won’t ask these questions in the form as written above, but we probe to elicit answers which give clarity to the aforementioned questions.
People are smart. Sometimes, we want to give a solution to a problem so badly that we neglect to listen to the entire problem. We look for candidates that are patient enough to listen to a whole problem before recommending a solution. As consultants, our clients look to us to solve their problems, so it’s very important that we all know how to listen. Good listening skills include maintaining good eye contact, maintaining attentive posture, and being able to summarize the problem with different words to show you understand what the issue at hand is which also uncovers underlying assumptions.
Gathering requirements includes many hours of asking probing questions to the business in order to gain a clear understanding of what the product needs to do. We want people who instinctively ask the right questions. This is a hard item to teach, so we are looking for those who have the critical thinking skills which enables them to have these types of constructive dialogues.
We want someone who works well under pressure. From school, you’re hopefully used to completing projects or papers with strict deadlines and occasionally working long hours to ensure you get that paper or project perfected. Oftentimes on a client site you will encounter strict deadlines, as each man hour over a deadline is quite costly. We’re looking for those Type-A personalities who know what it takes to get the job done well.
Many people who are Type-A and direct communicators can be considered abrasive. What’s the difference between being a direct communicator and being abrasive? We look for those who can communicate with all kinds of people without offending them, which entails being able to change how you say things to suit the recipient. In the US, if a topic is misunderstood or lost in communication, it’s the speaker’s fault, not the listener’s. We look for candidates who grasp this concept. These people can explain the same topic using different words or methods, which better suits the listener.
Prioritization is a must have. When you have a paper for English, a SWOT analysis for marketing, a business review for accounting, and a program for comp sci all due in the same month, what do you do? How do you prioritize? What comes first and why? We always have several hands pulling at our limbs, asking for time in meetings, reviews, documentation, etc. Getting it all done and ensuring client happiness is a delicate art.
My last tip for the day is to ooze confidence! Can you present in front of a room of 20 executives and the CEO? Probably not. (And it may not be a worry here, either!) However, you should be able to speak your intelligent and prepared opinion in a meeting with stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to speak up, with a caveat: as long as you know what you’re talking about. (However, you can always talk it over with another consultant if you are nervous!) As consultants, clients look towards us for answers. We need to study the issue and propose a solution, often on topics in which we may not have formal training, but our logic can trump that issue.
Many of these skills are difficult to teach someone, which is why we look for the candidate who is the right “fit”, meaning that they already possess these baseline soft skills which we can then build upon with requirements knowledge. When preparing to interview, be sure to have prepared situations that you have personally experienced which would demonstrate your capacity to fill these characteristics we look for. Look for Part II of this post next month where we will discuss critical thinking skills necessary to become part of our team.