Home > Hiring, Software Engineering > The best predictor of success in a new hire is not industry knowledge

The best predictor of success in a new hire is not industry knowledge

Great recruiters are even more rare than great candidates.

Even before beginning the search for talent, a great recruiter will learn everything about your business:  mission, stage of growth, competition, culture, organization (how it looks today, how it may look tomorrow), and then will spare no effort to find superb talent that will play a critical role in creating the next generation of software products.

I have been fortunate to know a truly great recruiter for a long time.  “J” consistently found senior software engineers, software design engineers in test, product managers, and product marketing managers who proved to be very successful.

Is there a single, best predictor of success in a new hire?  That’s the question “J” asked me last week.

It is not industry domain knowledge, although it’s important in many cases.

It is not experience, although – again – experience provides good insight about candidate’s past performance.

The single, best predictor of future success is a relentless desire to learn.   This desire has to be overwhelming, overflowing – “always on” – and humble enough to share knowledge with others without even thinking about it.

So why is this true?

Some time ago, I was asked to lead a new product development effort and deliver an enterprise software product  …

– which never existed before

– was intended for a new market (in essence – this product was intended to create a market)

One of the immediate goals was to recruit a software engineering team, capable of solving very complex problems while building a software product without known competitive references or prior experience.

First – let’s examine a typical job posting:

“Financial services company is looking for a superstar Java software engineer [technology keywords and acronyms follow].  Superb communication skills are mandatory.  Local candidates only.  Financial services experience is a must”.

The above job posting would not produce even one candidate.  The market is new.  No one else built a similar product.   Every candidate – if hired – will be placed in a difficult and stressful situation:  learn new industry, learn what the customers want, and apply creative energy to solve complex problems in an environment where failure is not an option.

Different recruiting approach had to be used.  “J” and I crafted job postings which – by design – attracted candidates with skills, experience, and – most importantly – that relentless desire to learn.  Without this desire, skills and experience – no matter how deep – would not be of any help.

In summary, great talent does not always come from the same industry domain, just like great talent may not be next door.

For those who are interested in more information:

– The company:  www.mediasolvcorp.com

– The market:  integrated digital evidence management software for law enforcement agencies (secure acquisition, management, and delivery of audio, video, images, and documents)

– Why: as of September 2009, 17 states and District of Columbia require electronic recordings of interrogations

– Market potential:  big – others certainly think so:  read about TASERentering the data business” with EVIDENCE.com

  1. December 12, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Great post Leon, “J” really has the reason. The “relentless desire to learn” is the key for a good professional of this new age where information is everywhere just waiting someone to consume and the most important Interpret it.

  2. December 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Well, It’s sad that we don’t have those kind of recruiters around. All they want to do is fill the positions with anyone and get their cash and that’s it. Mostly they don’t understand what we do. And they don’t bother with people with desire to learn. They want people ready.

    My “relentless desire to learn” led me to give my resignation letter during a financial crisis, because my employer didn’t want me studying a masters. Now he lost me. And I’m glad because I found an much nicer job and I’ll be able to study my masters.

  3. Ross Patterson
    December 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Very true. If I didn’t have your “relentless desire to learn” I’d still be writing resource accounting system code in PL/I for OS/MVT-based timesharing systems. Or at least trying to find some company stuck in the 1970s where I could do so 🙂 Instead I’ve spent 30 years ranging from mainframe (OS and VM) coding (Assembler, PL/I, Rexx, C, etc.) to network-appliances (NetBSD, C, Perl) to client/server systems (C++, C#, Java) with databases (MySQL, SQL Server, several oddballs), to web applications (PHP, MySQL, ASP), yadda, yadda, yadda. Now if I could just find a new place to ply my trade that valued that flexibility!

  4. john wang
    December 23, 2009 at 7:02 am


  5. Steve
    January 9, 2010 at 12:47 am

    While I agree wholeheatedly about a relentless desire to learn. I wonder if the capacity to learn must accompany this. I have seen more than one who had a relentless desire but did not have the capacity.

  6. Mikhail Berman
    January 27, 2010 at 10:58 am


    “Desire to learn” is a good quality. At the same time in the environment you have described I believe another key factor is “focus on result”.

    The point is that seeking for something new (learning) is a PROCESS. At the same time your mission is to create a product, means “get a result”.

    “Too-much-process-oriented” people sometimes cannot bring the result…

    P.S.: Your articles are very interesting – thank your for them. I’m glad that one day you’ve sent me linked-in invitation; sorry, then I was thinking “another net builder” 🙂

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