Below is Debra Jensen’s winning essay for the second Build U. scholarship in April 2014:
The hours had been ticking by and the hiring committee had finally narrowed down the applicant pool for our new software engineer to two applicants. As I poured myself yet another cup of coffee, I listened to the hiring manager outline the strengths of the first candidate.
“He’s had years of experience in the industry that far surpasses what we were asking for, and has worked on projects of all different sizes. All of his references commend him for the quality of his work and his impressive technical knowledge. When we presented him with potential problems in the software, he was able to provide effective solutions quickly.”
“Our next candidate,” he continued, “has had far less experience in the field. Her technical knowledge is more limited and when presented with the same problems, she wasn’t able to complete them as quickly and didn’t get through as many problems as candidate one. However, her answers, while not technically perfect, approached the problem from an unexpected angle and actually extended to cover other potential problems in the program. She has only one reference which praised her originality and her team work.”
We briefly sat contemplating before one of my co-workers spoke up, “I think candidate one is the better option. We need someone who has a stronger experience and a wide field of knowledge. Frankly, he seems overqualified for the job. He could potentially advance quickly in the company.”
There were some general murmurs of agreement as someone else around the table chimed in, “He managed to solve each problem in almost record time. His performance time was incredible.”
Again murmurs, this time stronger, and the Manager asked, “Well, are we all in agreement then?”
“Not quite,” I interjected. “We’re overlooking something very important.”
All eyes turned towards me.
“All we’ve looked at with these two candidates is their levels of experience, and while that’s important, that’s not what our company is built on. Our company is successful because we share a set of values and beliefs. We are unified under a mission that gives our work direction and allows us to expand.”
Looking around at the committee members absentmindedly stirring their coffee, I could tell no one was swayed. “That’s a lovely ideology,” someone began to counter, “But what we really need to focus on are the real results for the company. Someone with more experience has more to offer.”
“Not necessarily,” I began again, this time more determined than ever. “Sharing the same values does lead to real results. It leads to cohesion in the company which has been shown by organizational science to be an incredibly powerful tool in terms of production and employee satisfaction. When people feel that they are working with others who share the same values and have the same goals, then they feel a stronger tie to their company and co-workers. They work together as a team and are willing to work harder to improve their performance, provide each other with motivation and support, and form lasting relationships and bonds. They take pride in their work and are willing to turn just an ordinary job into a lasting career and partnership.”
The room had fallen quiet and now all attention was focused on me. I began again with increasing enthusiasm, “Seeking ingenuity, demonstrating thoroughness, and moving forward together—those are our core values. They are what makes our company stand out from any other and band us together. They impact what we believe, how we act, and who we are as a group. We’re successful because we’re dedicated to maintaining those values and show passion in maintaining our identity. And in order to be successful, we need someone else who can demonstrate those values and take pride in them. That’s the kind of candidate that will fit in best and potentially have a future with our company.”
Again, silence. Then slowly nods of agreement. “Alright then,” said the Manager, “with those values in mind, let’s take a second look at the candidates.”
“Although candidate two took longer to propose solutions and didn’t finish each problem, the answers she did supply were creative and unexpected. She went well beyond the most apparent solution,” said one member.
“And those solutions not only solved the problem at hand but proposed solutions to potential problems within the software that we didn’t even think to include in the prompt. Her answers demonstrated a thorough approach to the problem,” chimed in another.
“She didn’t have a lot of references, but the one she did have commended her cooperation and team work with her co-workers, supervisors, and clients. Her relational skills show that she could work as a member of our team and help us progress as a company.”
“And when I asked her why she wanted a position with our company, she said it was because she feels passionate about our company’s direction and mission and wants to join in. She felt her values aligned with ours, and—as you all pointed out—it’s apparent they were well demonstrated in her interview,” I concluded with a smile.
“Well, I think we may have a decision. Candidate two may have less experience but I can see her fitting in on our team quite well,” our manager looked around the room at all of the excited committee members. “Let’s give her a warm welcome on her first day.”
The next week, Amy pleased everyone by starting with zeal and passion. She quickly became known as an excellent team member who worked well with others and brought out their strengths. She surprised everyone with her clever solutions and attention to detail. Others began to emulate her positive attitude and attention to the company’s mission and values, causing her to advance in the company as a leader.
Not once did anyone mention her lack of experience, and considering she’s been asked to lead the next seminar on promoting the company’s core values, I doubt anyone on the committee regrets their decision.