What I Look for in Young Candidates

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We’re starting to build out a more robust recruiting process at Barrel. For the first eight years, Sei-Wook and I have been primarily responsible for reviewing applicants and interviewing candidates. These days, we’re entrusting more experienced members of our team to recruit and hire junior-level employees. I think it’s crucial that they select people who are not only skillful but have the right attitude and exhibit the behaviors that align with our core values. These are baseline characteristics, and we make sure to ask the questions in interviews to cover both technical excellence (skills) and cultural fit (values).


Here are few extra things that I like to see in young candidates:

  • Insatiable curiosity: even during interviews, I’ve found that great candidates will not only use it as an opportunity to land a job, but they will use it as an opportunity to learn more about the industry as well as new processes, techniques, and even books to read. Even if they don’t come away with a job offer, they’ll come away with knowledge that’ll help them somewhere else. I look for the questions that candidates ask throughout the interview (too many candidates only ask questions when prompted at the end).
  • Affinity for tools: whether or not they’re applying for a technical position, great candidates are constantly playing around with different tools and getting better at using them. Whether it’s Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, developer-specific tools, or any cloud-based software, strong candidates will be unafraid to learn new tools with an eye towards maximizing their productivity.
  • Personal interests and projects: I’m really high on candidates who devote a good chunk of their free time to other productive endeavors. I respect people who have passions such as music, art, and sports that require rigorous practice routines and a high level of commitment. I am especially impressed if a candidate is prolific in extending their professional skills beyond the workplace. This might be a designer who starts an e-commerce side project outside of work selling cool posters; a project manager who runs a popular fashion blog; a developer contributing to a plugin for an open source content management system platform.
  • Freelance work: I’ve found that people who have had their own clients in the past are typically organized, articulate, and efficient with their time. Of course, they could have been terrible as freelancers, so I’ve found it helpful to probe a bit deeper about their freelance experiences to understand how they worked with clients.

Sometimes, the greatest interviewers can turn out to be a poor fit for the organization. I believe that beyond basic skills and a good attitude, there are a couple characteristics that can be good predictors for whether or not a young employee will succeed at Barrel. Based on the points I’ve noted above, they won’t be a surprise:

  • Resourcefulness: she has a curious mind with a knack for picking up new tools and figuring out problems. This person knows where to look for answers and who to ask. She loves to get things done and will be pro-active in chasing down the information and instructions she needs to complete her tasks.
  • Discipline: she keeps a very organized schedule and methodically plans her day in advance, trying to squeeze productivity out of the time she’s allocated for herself. This helps her keep focused and allows her to get through the wide range of tasks within a reasonable period of time. It’s not about working long hours but being efficient and effective with her time through a well-thought-out system.

Not everyone can be resourceful and disciplined from the get-go. It takes training, mentoring, and experience to build these up as ingrained habits, but it’s possible to get glimpses into the potential by learning more about the candidate’s curiosity, approach to tools, personal interests/projects, and any freelance activity. When I see a young candidate with lots to show for some or all of these areas, my gut tells me that they’re likely to do very well at Barrel.

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