“What are your interests?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Sure, those generic questions are rather commonplace in an interview setting and often draw calculated — and sometimes memorized — responses.
But don’t expect a job interview at Authentify, a provider of out-of-band authentication solutions, to consist of run-of-the-mill dialogue with the sole purpose of furthering the company’s interests.
Candidates who are selected to appear for in-person interviews at the company must be prepared not only to discuss their professional competencies, but also to be candid about their personal and professional interests. Andy Rolfe, executive vice president of development and operations at Authentify, uses this technique to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for the organization.
“In general, I’m a strong believer in trying to find people who are excited about the roles that they [want to be] in,” Rolfe said. “And I think the company’s interests and their interests, goals and aspirations — both personal and technical — is a very important mix.
“When I was a manager in a big business, [we] hired to a role [or] a position, but I try not to do that as much here,” he continued. “I try to hire to the candidate’s strengths. So I will dig pretty deeply and ask them pretty straightforward questions about what their goals are, where they want to be in five years and what their interests are.”
Dissecting IT Functions at Authentify
Authentify Inc. is headquartered in Chicago and has another office in Hong Kong, but boasts a largely global clientele.
The majority of its 25 employees are IT professionals who fall under one of the following four categories:
1. The Network and Operations Team
“We have a great deal of telephony that [people in this job function] have to operate and manage and administrate. So the skills [they require] are typical of Cisco Certified Network Associates [and those who hold other] networking certifications, but also knowledge of telephony and private branch exchanges,” Rolfe said.
Professionals on this team also must have some hardware expertise, Rolfe said, since they will be required to manage telephony hardware.
“We do not use Linux at this time, so it’s mainly a Microsoft-centric operations environment,” he said.
2. The Research and Development Team
Apart from knowing the C++ language, employees in this function must be familiar with specific technologies.
“There are real-time, high-performance components, so we need people who have experience with multithreading, high availability kind of designs [and] high security kind of designs,” Rolfe said.
In addition, there’s a unique niche on the research and development side.
“Since we do security-related applications for using the telephone, one specific technology that we need expertise in is speech and voice biometrics. We actually have experts who know the speech processing techniques and voice biometric skills,” Rolfe said.
3. The Implementations Team
“The implementations team is almost a consulting arm, in the sense that the projects we do for our customers are all customized,” Rolfe said. “So whenever we engage with the customer, implementations gets involved and starts to customize the particular application for that customer’s needs.”
Employees on this team also must serve as project managers.
4. The Quality Assurance Side
Although Rolfe said the company tries as much as possible to automate the quality assurance process, it still needs employees in this department. And these employees must be just as technically inclined as the other IT professionals in the organization.
“Because the products and service that we offer are very technical [and] pretty cutting-edge — especially with voice biometrics — the Quality Assurance team has to be quite knowledgeable [and] can’t [afford to] be ignorant of the details,” Rolfe said.
No Cubicle Farms Here
It isn’t common for IT professionals at Authentify to be confined to their desks for the duration of a workday.
“They’re certainly not in their cubby holes,” Rolfe said. “They’re interacting with a lot of people [while on] the job.”
For instance, those on the implementations team must be able to deal with customers in real time and communicate well. For this reason, candidates seeking employment at Authentify should hone their soft skills, Rolfe said.
“I wouldn’t hire an implementer who’s been a heads-down programmer and hasn’t really interacted with customers much,” he said.
In addition, project management experience certainly comes in handy on the job.
“[Candidates] have to have project management skills because typically they will be juggling three or four or five customers at a time — doing their customizations — and obviously the customers usually have very tight time frames,” Rolfe said.
This, in turn, calls for members of the implementations team to manage their time efficiently while remaining flexible and dealing appropriately with various customer situations as they occur.
The research and development team also requires good communication skills, as this department deals frequently with vendors.
“We do a lot of low-level technical vendor interactions with the telephone company, with SMS carriers, with the voice biometric and speech-processing vendors and things like that,” he said.
Furthermore, it is important for would-be employees to stay ahead of the technology curve.
“Our [technologies] are quite cutting-edge. [Candidates] have to be willing and interested in keeping their technical skills up-to-date,” Rolfe said.
Determining a Good Fit
Unlike many of its competitors, Authentify does open its doors to recent graduates. This does not negate the importance of possessing the necessary skill set, however.
“It’s a challenging [job] interview because we need to be able to see the skills in a young person that will indicate whether [that person] would be good or bad with customer interactions,” Rolfe said.
Any relevant internship experiences could prove advantageous for the candidate. “Maybe they were customer support agents for some company — that kind of thing helps,” Rolfe said.
Nonetheless, some job roles call for more experienced IT professionals who can hit the ground running. “Some of the functions do require quite deep technical background — like the voice biometrics — so those are usually harder to find. But I do require some expertise there,” Rolfe said.
When interviewing candidates for senior and management roles, Rolfe pays particular attention to previous work experience and relevant certifications. On the operations side, certifications such as CCNA and any type of telephony experience prove useful. Similarly, on the implementations side, those who show strength in the area of customer support will have the upper hand.
Vendor-neutral certifications are more useful for those on the research and development side because they demonstrate a broad perspective, Rolfe explained. “The intent is that they would be able to design and architect new components, but also make suggestions and initiate ideas about out-of-the-box changes that we may not have thought of.”
In general, Rolfe said the company makes an effort to hire individuals from a variety of backgrounds.
“We do use vendors across the world, and having a person on staff who speaks Hindi or German helps,” he said. “It also helps in terms of the creativity. They come with a different perspective and allow us to see different ideas.”
In some cases, hiring with the expectation that the individual will receive necessary training is a viable option, Rolfe said.
“If I can’t find a person who has the actual experience I need [but] I think there’s great potential there, I’ll hire him and send him off to training,” he said. “But I want a candidate who at least can do a significant amount of work prior to that training.”
Beyond that, however, training to facilitate an employee’s professional growth is key at Authentify.
“[We] work with candidates to grow their experience and skills over time,” Rolfe said. “That’s why it’s so important to understand their goals and their interests so that they’re excited about going to training and see it as a career step forward instead of a painful process.”
Moreover, the company offers reimbursements in certain cases.
“[If we] push them to go get specific certifications or push them to get educated on maybe a particular speech-processing engine or something that’s critical for us, [the training] is completely paid by the company,” he said.
– Deanna Hartley, firstname.lastname@example.org