B.v.S. asks:

Recently I was approached for a management position at a large company in the microelectronics industry. Although I was quite enjoying myself at the company where I work, I was triggered. After graduation, I worked in technology for several years, initially as a development engineer and later in a leading technical role. After a few years I switched to a cool start-up I have had a rapid career: from group leader I grew to the position of Technical Director. The company worked on very interesting technology and it received plenty of attention from the international press and grew hard. When the company booked more and more commercial success, it was taken over by a multinational.

Unfortunately, then my career with this company came to an end. The founder / director – who had held my position before me – claimed his job back and I got a severance pay. Shortly thereafter, I was offered a job by my old employer: a heavy technical role with managerial aspects. I have accepted this job as there were plenty of challenges.
Yet now I miss the management aspect in my job.

The vacant management role thus came at the right time. After my first round I was however disappointing news. I was rejected because I would be too process-oriented and would have little passion for technology. What is your opinion about this?


The headhunter replies:

When filling in heavy technical leadership roles companies always struggle with these issues. They are looking for a manager who has sufficient leadership skills: vision, people skills, communication and interpersonal skills. He must have sufficient knowledge and passion for technology, so he does not come across as a Paper Pusher & PowerPoint Ranger when interacting with the engineers. Without the necessary technical skills the manager is deemed not sufficiently able to take responsibility for competence management, resource management and strategic technical decisions, such as design reviews. In addition, he will also have specific domain to represent within the organization and beyond. A thorough knowledge of the technique is essential.

In practice, however, it is not easy to find candidates who meet all the requirements of the function. Because there are so many different specializations and so relatively few companies and therefore candidates (especially in certain regions), you see that are done regularly concessions on certain points. That can certainly turn out well for a candidate with sufficient management skills and a healthy interest in technology because he can learn a lot in a short time. The same applies mutatis mutandis to those who have technically sufficient strength but have less management experience. Essential, however, is the assessment of the skills. The assessment that is made is in fact subjective or inter-subjective and therefore arbitrary. You can of course get tested psychologically a candidate, but that can only measure a few personal skills and not the technical level or the ability to learn.

When I see it well, you are not rejected because you have insufficient personal and management skills. The reason is that you have shown more passion for managing a group of engineers during the interview compared to your interest in the technology, what the engineers are doing all day. From your perspective, this argument will seem incomprehensible because you’re dealing with technology all day. Of course I can say that you should have presented yourself differently, but you didn’t receive any question about technique and your interest is obvious from your resume. It is a missed opportunity, but the question is for whom.

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