Imagine a typical job interview situation. Bright young thing (BYT) in the chair opposite you (as the hiring manager) with a resume to die for, 2 open source hackapps in the local market, they’ve survived the pair programming test with your wiliest developer, and you’re secretly very happy with the skills and experience you are about to steal from a rival in a limited pool of technical talent.
So you pop one final question: “tell us why you are thinking of leaving your current employer?”
If they shoot back “well, I’ve really stopped learning there”, the interview is over. Do not hire that person.
Now in the current over-cooked Australian market for tech and product talent, you’d say I was crazy and irresponsible to offer that advice. Let me offer my defense.
People leave their education and take the skills they have gained to their first employer. The mixture of their personal traits (intelligence, customer focus, self-motivation etc), skills gained from academia, and background enable them to slowly master the work at hand with plenty of guidance. Soon enough though, the job gets stressful, repetitive, and money becomes an issue. So they jump. First job syndrome.
At job number 2, the workplace is different. Nobody knows precisely what our new hire doesn’t actually know, and with the likely change in corporate culture, along with expanded duties and responsibilities (to justify that pay rise) they will likely get along meeting expectations on the skills they brought with them. They will spend a lot of energy just fitting in with the new people, and may well apply their limited skills to the new tasks and environment and think they are learning new stuff. But they get tired, are a bit too busy with their social life to read much, and the work starts to feel a bit repetitive.
Soon enough, maybe a year later, maybe two, they jump ship to you for more money and ‘opportunity’ (or whatever you put in that job advert ;-). And they give you the dreaded line “I stopped learning there”, making them sound ambitious and intelligent all in one go.
Now, when did they actually stop learning stuff? Last week? Last job? The one before that? Or at University? For me, ‘I stopped learning’ is a lame-ass excuse and a mealy-mouthed defense to a recruiter. Learning starts with the individual, it is their own responsibility. In this world, it is almost impossible to stop learning give universal access to information. It is cheaper than ever through e-books, blogs, tweets, and ahem web pirates. And if they’re from an agile employer, something is badly wrong – they should be learning every time they have a retro or pair program.
Past behaviour is definitely the best predictor of future behaviour.
I suggest a follow-up question, which gets to the heart of the problem in a tight labour market might be ‘what have you read lately that helped you in your job?’ or ‘what have you found interesting on the web lately in your field?’
No good answer, no hire. Nerf them on the spot.