- Nancy Wang has been a hiring manager at both Google and Amazon, two companies that get their pick of the best and brightest candidates in tech.
- She says the most desirable candidates — and the ones who ultimately make the cut — are naturally curious people who like solving problems and can learn as they go.
- Wang has also figured out how to quickly identify candidates who probably won't work out: They're know-it-alls who can't admit when they're wrong and what they don't know.
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So who ultimately makes the cut?
Ask that question to Nancy Wang, who's been a hiring manager for both companies. She used to be a product manager for Google Fiber. Currently, she's a senior manager for Amazon Web Services. Wang is also the founder and CEO of Advancing Women in Product, a non-profit organization that aims to empower more women and under-represented groups to become tech leaders.
What makes successful candidates stand out from so-so ones
"The most successful candidates I've seen are naturally curious," she wrote on Quora. "What is most important is their ability to pick things up quick and their 'can do' attitude." Just like Steve Jobs, Wang looks for problem solvers and who can learn as they go.
Wang says expertise is only one part of the hiring puzzle. It's not related to how smart a candidate is, what degrees she has, or which top-tier university he did or didn't go to. Wang believes there's only so much knowledge one person can have. And in an interview, it's not fair to assume the candidate is an expert on everything. Being able to dive in and let your curiosity lead you to finding answers will help a new hire be successful at any job.
Candidates with one red-flag trait are less likely to get hired
In her experience hiring for Amazon and Google, Wang has figured out how to quickly identify candidates who probably won't work out. Know-it-alls tend not to do well at either company.
"What worries me during interviews is when candidates purport to know something and then when I dig deeper, the whole house of cards start falling apart," Wang writes.
No matter what their level, employees need to be leaders. And leaders need to be able to be comfortable asking questions if they don't know something. They also need to admit when they're wrong.
The strategic interview question that weeds out the know-it-alls
The personality trait that worries Wang in interviews is one that Boxed CEO Chieh Huang also avoids. He wants to hire people who are comfortable being honest about what they don't know. Those people tend to be better collaborators and more pleasant to work with.
Huang even has an interview question that gets to the heart of overconfidence: He asks people to rate their knowledge of technology trends on a scale of 1 to 10. He doesn't believe anyone who answers with a 9 or a 10, because no one can know everything.
"The reality is, the whole industry is shifting and no one knows what's going to happen in the next 10 years — no one," explains Huang.
This article was originally republished by Business Insider in April 2019.