Bloomberg ESG and Head of Credit Risk Engineering: Coaching Capability is Crucial
My journey to understanding how to assess engineering talent for job vacancies has not been easy. Start with a mindset to find the perfect candidate, fail, and ultimately learn to assess for coachability changed the game. I share my personal story and learnings from this experience in the hope that you find it useful.
Many years ago, when I first became a manager, I had the glorious opportunity to build a team from the ground up. This meant hiring a number of people for the team in a short period of time. I was excited about this opportunity and looked forward to bigger and more complex initiatives.
So I started with the first step: writing the perfect job application. I spent hours on it and added all possible skill that could be able be valuable for role qualifications, even if to a lesser extent. I had included skills ranging from elastic search to understanding an Agile pattern, and was even considering adding the ability to sprint to the moon, but luckily realized that might be taking it too far.
For a few months, I reviewed many CVs and spoke with several candidates, but I never found a candidate who perfectly matched the skills I thought I needed. Over time, I started to feel a little frustrated and decided to talk to my manager. Thanks to this conversation, the situation began to unfold. I had made perfection my enemy and I wanted a superhuman who could do anything. My job application was literally an overloaded plate at an Indian wedding buffet. I had mixed too many choices and flavors that I lost track of what I really wanted.
After this realization, I prioritized the skills (like problem solving and communication) that were most relevant to the role and removed the rest (like experience building a research or knowledge of agile methodologies). My job application started to look like a more balanced meal on the plate. It was much more appealing than the first. I saw some success in the number of applicants, as well as those who passed the interviews, but I knew we could still do better.
I went back to the drawing board and tried to do a retrospective on the applicants who were rejected. I realized that we had rejected several candidates for lack of a certain skill. I discussed the results with my recruiting partner and they asked me some very intriguing questions: “Is the candidate coachable? Are you ready to invest the time to coach them on the missing skills? It was a learning moment for me. I had lost great candidates and much-needed diversity by missing that perspective.
So what is it coachability? Simply, coachability is an interest or willingness to learn, ask for help, accept feedback, and adjust course. Coachable people, when faced with tasks they have little or no knowledge of, will take ownership, reach out, and eventually find a way to get the job done, rather than feeling stuck.
It is important to note here that taking action on feedback is key to ensuring that individuals achieve desired results. Keep in mind that some people with critical thinking skills may challenge or dismiss comments that they don’t find useful, but ultimately achieve the end goal. In such circumstances, the ability to reason objectively and encourage further comment may also demonstrate coachability.
Here are some ways to test coachability as a skill in your interviews.
- Look for responses and instances where a candidate admits an area of improvement or a lack of knowledge in a certain area. Does the candidate come across as a know-it-all or are they aware of skills/areas they haven’t mastered yet? Self-awareness and humility are the first steps on the journey to coachability.
- For coding questions, besides the focus on coding fluency and problem solving, observing how they approach the problem can tell us a lot about the candidate. They may not be able to come to a solution immediately, but are they willing to keep trying or are they giving up too quickly? Are they receptive to the advice and feedback you might offer? If they accept the feedback, are they able to act on it and adjust their course or do they ignore it?
- Find opportunities to ask open-ended questions, such as “Tell us about a tough time and how you handled it.” Look for examples where they talk about asking for help, learning and implementing new ideas, changing direction, and an ability to collaborate with partners to solve the challenge.
- Look for ways to spot if a candidate has a learning and growth mindset. A candidate who talks about how he improved a certain skill by leveraging resources or benefited from mentorship are good examples. Readiness, zest and personal motivation to learn, develop skills and achieve mastery are all indications that the candidate is likely to be receptive to coaching.
- For experienced candidates, look for consistent teaching/sharing patterns with others. When they share these experiences, do they sell themselves as champions or do they focus on the people they have worked with? Another insightful question you can ask: “What’s the last thing you recently learned for fun?”
Adopting this mindset takes time. This is especially true in the beginning, when you need to establish what skills in candidates are really needed and are ready to help develop through coaching. Once you’ve done that and you’re starting to see a healthy talent pool, build in ways to test coachability during the process of nurturing and refining as you go will be a continuous learning cycle.
In addition to expanding the pool of candidates and reducing your rejection rate, a major effect of this approach is that it increases diversity in your teams. Hiring candidates with non-traditional career paths and experiences brings new perspectives and ideas to the table. And it’s the merging of ideas from a diverse team that fuels innovation and growth. So get started and propel your teams to greater success!
Parul Jalota holds a dual role leading Bloomberg’s ESG and Credit Risk Engineering teams, a position she held after spending more than 12 years in fintech at Goldman Sachs.