What I Look for in Collaborators

Recently a student asked me what I look for when hiring people. I sent an abbreviated response but thought it worthwhile to expand on it here since it may be useful to others.

When I’m evaluating somebody as a collaborator, I want to know about four factors:

Is s/he a solid thinker?
This comes across in how they express themselves in interviews and written communications, and what they express. Do they demonstrate a solid grasp of key concepts and relationships between them? Can they explain difficult concepts without resorting to jargon/cliches? Can they explain their decision-making process clearly? Are they confident in what they’re saying?

Is s/he a solid maker?
This comes across in the artifacts in their portfolio. Do artifacts communicate clearly? Do they get to the point? Do they demonstrate mastery of medium? Do they demonstrate mastery of craft? Do they demonstrate clear intent? Do they demonstrate a willingness to experiment/push boundaries?

Is s/he a team player?
This is difficult to evaluate through portfolios and interviews; references come in handy. Still, there are cues that reveal how they relate to others. For example, do they give credit to their teammates or do they claim all the glory for themselves?

The character factor
Most importantly, I want to know about their character. Are they upstanding? Do they behave courteously towards others? Do they demonstrate a clear value framework? This is rather difficult to evaluate over brief interactions. Again, references help.

I place less weight on other things such as formal education or a record of having worked at the “right” places. The four factors above go a long way towards identifying​ the people who will help us be successful.