Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ruth Simmons on interviewing and hiring

Ruth Simmons, our beloved president here at Brown university, has some advice about interviewing.

I look for people who are supremely self-confident, very secure, but also profoundly interested in other people. [...] How curious are they about other people, and about new things outside their own area of specialization? [...]

I keep going back to this fundamental idea of being able to respect other people, especially if you’re in a senior position. You can get a lot more done if people have a sense that you respect them, and that you listen to them. You would be surprised at the number of interviews I’ve done where the person never stops talking. If I’m interviewing someone and if they never stop talking, I will never hire them, no matter how qualified they are. If you cannot listen, you can’t be the site of welcoming, nurturing, facilitating new ideas, innovation, creativity, because it really is ultimately only about you. So I look for people who listen well and can respect the ideas of others.

I look for people who are strong enough to be critical of things that are not very good. And more than being critical of things that are not very good, they have to have the capacity to tell people that. [...].

(From the NYT)


  1. Right, but if you ask them to talk about a project they've worked on, and they don't stop talking, isn't that a good thing? Doesn't it show that they are passionate about what they do?

  2. Once a friend went for an interview. When he came back I asked: "So, how did you like what the people do there? Do you find it interesting?" He answered: "I don't know. I was the one being interviewed: mostly, they asked me questions about my work. I don't know more about their work than before the interview." - At that moment I knew with certainty that his interview had not gone well. (and indeed, he didn't get the job.)

    No, I don't think it's a good thing if the person being interviewed doesn't stop talking. Although, at the most junior level, it can be ok: it's nice to see enthusiasm.


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