A couple weeks ago, I was in a lunch conversation about how Mozilla interviewers often expect, or even demand, that candidates act very enthusiastic during interviews. If a candidate doesn’t act enthusiastic, it tends to commented on negatively during the debrief. It’s understandable–we definitely want people who are excited about their work and about the Mozilla project.
But I think it’s also a big mistake that could cause us to lose out on great people. We have hired multiple people who didn’t sparkle with enthusiasm or excitement during interviews, but turned out to be incredibly skillful, dedicated, passionate developers. What appears to be lack of enthusiasm may just be introversion.
Introversion has been all over the blogosphere and in the media lately, probably because of a new book about it. What strikes me most is that contemporary Western culture is said to misunderstand and deprecate introversion, but introversion is especially associated with creativity:
The need for balance is especially important when it comes to creativity and productivity. When psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, they almost always find a serious streak of introversion because solitude is a crucial ingredient for creativity.
Charles Darwin took long walks alone in the woods and emphatically turned down dinner party invitations. Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, dreamed up his creations in a private bell tower in the back of his house in La Jolla. Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer alone in his cubicle at Hewlett Packard.
The worst part of it all to me is that although I am an introvert myself, I have also harbored negative attitudes toward introversion, including my own introversion, and have even on occasion remarked negatively on “lack of enthusiasm” from interview candidates.
So, how about let’s not anymore look for overt “enthusiasm” as a key quality in people to hire? Some people’s enthusiasm just happens not to show in that way. Instead, I suggest looking for people with a passion for what they do, which can be seen sometimes by their words and emotional state, but more reliably by what they’ve done: deep knowledge of a subject, open-source contributions, student research, creative personal projects, or overcoming hard obstacles.