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How To Avoid Hiring the Prima Donnas Who Hate Teamwork

How To Avoid Hiring the Prima Donnas
Who Hate Teamwork


One of those rare resumes passed my desk not long ago. It came from the right person at the right time. The candidate had broad knowledge about an issue I wanted to focus on and had won prestigious prizes for two outstanding pieces. His work was exemplary, showing thoughtfulness, diligence and daring.

He should have been perfect for the job, but when I met him for an interview, my enthusiasm waned. For one thing, he seemed to think he had already been hired by the time he walked into my office. He had brought his wife along to check out the city they would be relocating to. While he talked with me, his wife told my employees how lucky I was to have the chance to work with him.

During our nearly two-hour conversation, the candidate didn’t look me in the eye once. His gaze was fixed on a corner of the wall the right of my chair. I moved my face in an effort to catch his gaze. He moved his focus to the wall on my left.

I wondered whether he was simply shy or remote and inaccessible. My concerns heightened when he failed to say anything positive about anyone he had worked with or for in the past. Many of his ideas were unfocused. “I like to work things out on my own,” he said. “I don’t like to be second-guessed by supervisors.”

When I checked his references, they spoke highly of his intelligence but said he was a loner who not only disliked collaborating with colleagues but resented direction and feedback of any kind. One former boss described him as arrogant and stubborn.

I decided not to hire him, concluding that for all his talent he would have trouble working in a culture that expected considerable teamwork among staff members. A colleague of mine, convinced he could train him, scooped him up. He quit after just six months.

It’s not easy to pass these people up. Talent is hard to find. As a manager, you may need some specific skills on your staff and so focus mainly on the candidate’s resume, overlooking the kind of worker he is. That’s especially true these days as the rapidly expanding Internet economy creates more jobs that there are people to fill them. You may also face pressure from superiors, who want some superstars on their staff and don’t have to live with the consequences.

But looking only at credentials is a mistake. “Teamwork and getting along with others is critical,” says Pat Cook of Cook & Co., am executive recruiting firm in Bronxville, N.Y. “You can’t afford to have a me-only employee who wants to always be first in the boss’s eyes and who alienates the rest of your staff,” she says. Today, rapid decision-making and frenetic deadlines are forcing more collaboration among staff members than ever before.

So how do you spot the arrogant loners and prima donnas during the hiring process before they have a chance to create havoc on your staff?

First and foremost, trust your gut instincts on interviews. No matter how good someone looks on paper or how highly recommended he or she comes, nothing counts more than your own reaction when you are sitting across from a prospective employee.

Ask yourself: Does he engage easily in conversation, responding openly to your questions and asking some of his own? Is she eager to show her strengths but also receptive to suggestions you and your staff might have to offer? Does he ever mention a former boss or colleague who has helped him along the way, or praise someone else’s work?

If the answers are no, take note. Your job candidate may be someone who always has to grab all the credit, and who soon may have you defending your own capabilities as the boss.

Careful reference checking will also help you avoid mistakes. Talk with at least half a dozen people before making up your mind about a candidate. If you get the same feedback about someone over and over again from several people, listen and believe what you’re hearing.

Ms. Cook warns that you need to talk to peers as well as former bosses. Prima donnas, in particular, can be good at dealing with superiors because they feel they are their equals. But they don’t relate well to their colleagues.

Former bosses can tell you how an employee “manages up,” or works with those about him, she says, “but peers tell you how they do on teamwork.”

She asks both peers and former bosses to rate candidates on about 15 qualities, including getting along with others and teamwork. “If I get consistent 10s on those qualities, I figure someone must be a delight to work with, but if I get a lot of sevens I know I have a problem,” she says.

Also, involve others on your staff in the decision-making. Listen to the reactions of others, especially from those who will end up working with the person. Have some of your veteran and trusted staffers chat informally with the candidates. If time permits, they might invite the final candidates to lunch to get to know something of their personality. Or they may just grab a cup of coffee with the candidates.

Respect their observations. I wish I had trusted the impression some members of my staff had of one very intelligent but egotistical employee I hired. He told them outright that he thought he was more intelligent and accomplished than they were. They, of course, resented him and ultimately refused to work with him.

It turns out that he also began to resent me, because I didn’t treat him as special and more privileged than others. He quit about a year after signing on. No one was sorry to see him go.

By: Carol Hymowitz Wall Street Journal

Gary Perman is President of Perman Technical Search Group, a national search firm that specializes in recruiting Executives to Engineers in the technology industry since 1996.
If you have questions about this article, feel free to contact him at [email protected]

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Gary Perman is a certified recruiting professional and owns PermanTech, which specializes in recruiting technology executives, managers and engineers. He hosts an employment-technology blog.

See our Blog for Technology discussions,Interviewing advice, comments relating to IT, Software, Technology issues.