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Tod Hilton's Living in the Real World

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Jul 14, 2006 9:19:00 AM

For this week's Recruiting.com Blogswap I am pleased to introduce you toTod Hilton, a developer at Microsoft. Tod says he's neither a recruiter or hiring manager, but that's beside the point because recruiting is the one function in a company in which every person can play an important role. So without further ado, here's Tod:

I was reviewing Colin's previous posts while preparing to write this one. I have to say that he has some interesting opinions and I enjoyed what I read, but this post in particular, Put Your Kids to Work Day, really rung true for me. 

I was reviewing Colin's previous posts while preparing to write this one. I have to say that he has some interesting opinions and I enjoyed what I read, but this post in particular, Put Your Kids to Work Day, really rung true for me. 

A little history for ya: I grew up in a solid middle class family and we never went without. I was an only child until I turned 11 which means that I got pretty much anything I wanted, within reason of course [no ponies in the backyard for me :-)]. Although they made a good living, my parents still recognized the value of teaching me about responsibility and hard work. I always had chores. I was washing dishes from the time I was old enough to reach the sink, mowing the yard since I was old enough to use the mower, feeding the dogs, cleaning my room, etc. I was lucky enough to receive an allowance when I was younger, but regardless of the money I was simply expected to contribute. 

When I reached my teenage years I would spend the summers working for my dad in the furniture moving industry. Let me tell you, the guys and gals that lug furniture around for a living are tried and true blue collar Americans. Good, decent folks who work hard for 8-12 hours and then just want to relax and have a beer at the local pub afterward. During the school year I worked at a restaurant, Kroger's grocery and a few other odd jobs for spending money and to pay for my truck. Shortly after graduating from high school and starting college, I decided to move out on my own which forced me to work full time while following the "7-year program" versus the standard four. During those years I worked full time at Builder's Square (a Home Depot knock-off owned by Kmart at the time), JC Penny and Guaranty Federal Bank (a Texas based bank).

Is there a point to this? Well, yes, there actually is. :-) Although I have a college degree and work for Microsoft now, my work experience from a young age is firmly based in the work-your-butt-off-for-low-wages blue collar world. I think there is a lot to be said for those experiences that carries forward and is applicable today:10, 15 and even 25 years later. Colin talks about how we're training our children to "work smart," but asks a valid follow-up question:are we also teaching them to work hard? With regard to the recruiting environment, he goes on to ask if recruiters are giving "real world" experience the weight it deserves?

That is an excellent question! One that I think more recruiters and interviewers should ask themselves before discounting someone without the industry-specific experience or education that we typically look for. I'll use myself as an example here: I have a bachelors degree in Accounting, but I now work in the IT field. The fact that I have a degree at all holds weight with some managers, but others might immediately dismiss me because its not a Computer Science degree. Will future hiring managers penalize me because I don't have a formal education in the C.S. field? Sure, that's very possible, even likely with some managers. Here is my approach to that position as an interviewer, of course, I'm probably a bit biased. ;-) I don't look at the area of focus as much as I look at the time they spent in college, did they graduate, talk with them about the college experience and what they gained from it. If they didn't graduate then I'd ask them why. I know plenty of extremely successful people who never graduated from college...Bill Gates for instance. :-) Whether they graduated isn't the important part of the puzzle, it's what they learned during the experience.

Let's put aside the topic of college and talk about real world experience now. Once again, I'll use myself as an example. In March of 2005, I had accumulated five years of experience as a systems engineer with none as a developer. I had done some very basic development stuff in my spare time, but nothing even close to what would be required of a full-time developer. I went to my manager [and his manager] and told them I was seriously thinking about switching my career path towards development, but I honestly didn't know where/how to get started as I had no practical experience. At that point my management made a decision that opened up a whole new world for me. 

Based on my previous work ethic and performance as an SE, they gave me the opportunity to become a developer in our group and learn on the job. I had zero experience as a dev! Zero, zip, nada! My managers took a chance on me and bet that I would succeed as a developer based on my previous unrelated experience as an SE. Honestly, I don't know many managers out there who would do that and I'm very thankful. So what does that have to do with recruiting? Well, I hope that recruiters/interviewers are taking a similar approach with applicants. Did that college applicant work at Home Depot throughout their college years? Don't discount them because they didn't work in the college's computer lab; ask them about the experience and what they learned!

As recruiters and interviewers, I think it's important for us to remember that all experience counts in life. Household chores as a kid, flipping burgers at McDonalds, cleaning office buildings or changing oil at Jiffy Lube; the work/life lessons to be learned in these jobs could be even more valuable than those from Huge Corporation, Inc.

~tod bio.todhilton.com