have published a few articles on how to evaluate and what to look for
in a graduating engineering student. For undergraduates, I have
fixated on evaluating the students through the Senior Design sequence.
I have been accused of over-fixating on this, but I beg to
differ. It is impossible to over fixate on thej importance and
relevance of Senior Design to industrial performance. Engineering
courses, by and large, test your mathematical ability and the ability
to regurgitate information. While these are somewhat higher order
skills, they pale in comparison to create something from nothing and
solve tens if not hundreds of new situations to create a project.
However, one piece of advice I have given in the past I have
found to be somewhat erroneous. After stating that you should ask
the Senior Design Instructor for a reference, one of my best friends at
a large consumer products company told me that they found that they
could not rely on the instructor reference from our mutual alma mater.
Quite a bit of turmoil in our Senior Design program has made me
realize the best references come from a combination of the Senior
Design Instructor and the teammates that worked the hardest on the team.Five Recommendations for Evaluating a Student
The number one piece of advice I can give an employer. Call faculty for references!
The number two piece of advice. Call faculty not on the student's reference list
Number three is to ask faculty for other faculty references that
may have some insight into the student. I have always been amazed
at the arrogance of every organization over the hiring process.
Everyone thinks that somehow they have gained insight from a 1
hour personal discussion or a 6 hour interview process.
Seriously? Are any of you married or living with someone?
Remember sometime during week one of a live-in relationship when
you thought, hmmm, I did not know she did that! If you want to
have fun with this ask your significant other what the quirks she was
unaware of that became apparent during the first week of living
together. Notice how many people have quirks that do not show up
when you only spend a limited amount of time with them, but do show up
when you live with them. By the way, excluding actual sleep time,
some people spend more time with the people they work with than they do
their significant other. Also I am relatively certain that since
you are probably an engineer, even if you have ten times the people
reading skills of the typical engineer, you are not getting an accurate
read on a prospective hire. Fourth, look at the Senior Design
report and at least perform the flip test as I have recommended in Credentials for the Job
My fifth recommendation is that you or others in your company
take the prospective hire to dinner with some of your colleagues
significant others (hopefully non-engineers). Not only are they
usually more adept at reading people, they are primarily determining
whether or not they are going to have to listen to all of you complain
every work night about the new hire.
Let me expand upon calling
references. If a student is an undergraduate the senior design
instructors and teammates have clearer understanding of who the student
is than anyone else, with the possible exception of a professor that
the student has worked for on a research project. If the student
is a graduate student then the advisor and the advisor's other graduate
and undergraduate students have this insight. I cannot recommend
anyone 100% including myself. Why? Everyone has
shortcomings and areas that are probably going to be personal issues to
the end of their time on this spinning near ellipsoid. Take some
of my best students that I would be more than happy to hire if I had a
company. All of them have quirks. One individual would and
will still not do certain things that one would think that an employee
would do. This same individual was telling me about the company
that hired him trying to get him to do something and he told them no.
They were taken aback. When he told me we were both
laughing at the absurdity of them thinking he would do that. I
was laughing because, I knew him well enough to not have asked, not
because it was that unreasonable of a request. If I had posed the
topic to you, you would have thought it was if not reasonable, not
unreasonable. If they would have talked to me, I would have
largely sung his praises (I am reading Sting's autobiography on Kindle)
and certainly recommended that they hired him, but I would have also
told them of this issue. Why tell them? Because for some
supervisors and organizations this would eventually lead to a firing
sometime in the future. If you are one of those supervisors, you
might as well know it so you do not hire him. I found that this
individual's work contribution was such that I would just accommodate
the quirk. I was not very happy accommodating the quirk and I had
thought about not hiring him because of it. I am relatively
intolerant of and individual's quirks, but I knew this individual's
positive attributes outweighed this negative one.The 20/60/20 Rule
is what I have found from my observations of students on projects in
Senior Design. I have come up with the 20/60/20 rule.
Admittedly, it is related to, but not really an extension of the
20/80 rule. The top 20 percent of the people do not always do 80%
of the work, but they do provide 80% of the organization and leadership
of a group and project. The middle 60% are more or less along for
the ride as worker bees. The bottom 20% are actually negatives.
They can be deadweight, but often they are far worse than that.
The team, and your organization if you hire someone from
the bottom 20%, often have to spend inordinate amount of time
dealing with them. The bottom 20% has two distinct groupings.
The obvious one is the individuals that do not seem bright enough
to have made it to senior year in an engineering program, or as a
minimum make the faculty question the standards of the entire
university. The second group is the one that is infinitely more
worrisome and is comprised of the scammers. These are the ones
that actively know that they are not pulling their weight on a team and
are doing everything they can to expend as little effort as possible.
I would like to say that they are sociopaths, but it actually
worse than that, they know the difference between right and wrong.
I am also relatively certain that the sociopaths are hiding and
one can not identify them. Well, except for their ethics
Basically, students are more or less a continuous
distrubtion. I want to say it is a normal distribution, but then
that goes to the bell curve and we know how that discussion will end.
The middle 60% are not necessarily bad teammates and will not
necessarily be bad employees. They are just not leaders of people
or thought on projects. It is the rare organization that will be
composed predominately of leaders or superstars. My neighbor, a
commercial real estate broker tells me that his company only keeps
the top people and they let people go that will be top performers at
other companies. In addition he says that sales people say that
the only people that truly get paid based upon performance are
sales people and atheletes. What can we learn from this?
Well certainly that whether or not it is true, my neighbor's
company or at least my neighbor think that they are the elite!
Sales people also think that they are equivalent to professional
athletes! Just think what happy hours are with sales people are
like. Just discussion of their big bonuses with no engineering or
math. How boring!Grades
From the article Hiring the Newly Minted
"Here is what a grade in Senior Design really means. A grade of A
distinguishes the team as having exceeded expectations of a senior
project team. While this does not mean that every student performed at
the top level, it does mean that the overall team effort was at a high
level, and there was no compelling reason to lower an individual’s
grade from the team grade. B indicates that the team met
expectations for the course. Every individual on a team should be
embarrassed to receive a grade below B-, since the grade is usually
indicative of an inadequate effort. A grade of C or below usually
is not attributable to technical difficulties that were insurmountable.
Those kinds of difficulties are statistically expected by the
instructor for a few projects. Students are expected to address them.
The low grade is the result of a lack of effort to overcome
difficulties. A grade of D+, D, or especially D- implies
that, in the instructor’s judgment, the student put forth no effort and
should have failed. From past experience, however, instructors know
that a failed student is likely to go on to sabotage a team the
following year. Thus the student is passed, but just barely, in an
educational analogue to triage. We would rather the student tell the
rest of the world he or she graduated from our department than have to
endure the effect on another senior design project."
I have to
modify this for our students from here on out. We have
implemented a rule in the Senior Design course, which students can not
seem to accomodate. If you submit something late, you get a zero.
Thus we now have students that will have grades with below a B- that
is not based upon their work effort, just for their inability to
listen and follow directions.References
Rorrer, R. A. L., "Credentials for the Job,"
Mechanical Engineering, ASME, p. 50, August 2003
Rorrer, R. A. L.,"Hiring the Newly Minted," Mechanical Engineering Magazine, ASME, pp. 36-38, March 2011
© 2014 Ronald A. L. Rorrer