From Rebellious Millennial to Lead Design Manager at Amazon
Hiring for skills isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes there is great value in hiring for potential.
In 2004, I had a small start-up business called Imaginahome. I needed an in-house graphic designer but didn’t really have the funds to hire someone with experience. I hired this young guy named Gajan Vamatheva 15 years ago when he was just 19 years old and fresh out of high school. He wanted to work before deciding if he wanted to go to college or university, and I gave him a chance. I was willing to coach someone inexperienced if they had the right “drive”.
Gajan was definitely driven—driven to earn a living and willing to do anything to get the job done. He had no real design portfolio or real job credentials, but I was certain that his drive could be harnessed to unleash the hidden talent that was brewing within him! He did struggle with showing up late, but he always showed up. And he made a lot of mistakes on the job in the beginning. I mean… A LOT! At times I wondered, as I was still a green employer: when do you know when to let someone go, and when do you know when to keep investing into someone?
Where Gajan lacked in punctuality and attention-to-detail, he made up in creativity. He produced some very interesting designs and he was very engaged in his work. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more he could improve if he just had a little more time and experience.
“For the past few decades, employers have focused on competence, breaking down jobs into “competencies” and seeking candidates with the right blend of them…Competency-based hiring, however, is becoming insufficient in “a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment…” (SOURCE)
A year went by, and after much hard work, things were finally starting to hum. Gajan, however, decided that he wanted to go back to school. This would have a perfect time to just let him go, or get mad at the time I invested in him, but instead, I offered him a part-time job to continue working with us, while he went to school. He stayed with us for three years and during this time he trained several designers. He also helped streamline our workflow by creating many photoshop actions and droplets to automate the mundane work. He understood the value of scaling our work, in order to help the business scale. He added so much value, that it’s no surprise to see him working today at Amazon.
I recently spoke with Gajan and he had this to say: “I’ll always remember I was so scared to let you know I was going to quit to go to school. But instead, you were so supportive and you even offered me part-time work which helped pay for school and even more importantly, I learned how to balance my priorities! I had a lot of growing to do. I remember you pulled me aside one day to tell me I was making mistakes in my work. But instead of ‘disciplining me’, you gave me more responsibilities for being our QA designer. So now I was checking everyone’s work before they sent it to the client. Which forced me to apply that to my own work. It was smart. I manage a design team here at Amazon’s advertising org for IMDb. I’ve been doing it for over a year now. For the most part, it’s pretty good.. but it’s challenging at times. Managing people is not easy, I don’t know how you do it.” That rebellious millennial, who added some gray to my hair, was a hidden gem that most employers would have passed upon, but I am so glad I didn’t. Hiring for skills isn’t a bad thing but there is also great value sometimes in hiring for potential. The skills can be taught, but there’s no adding passion and determination if it’s not already there!
Gajan was driven to succeed. After attending school or his internship during the day, he spent his evenings and weekends working with us to support himself. With each passing year, he matured and grew into a business savvy, professional millennial that would put the rest of us to shame. And if you’re curious to see how his designs have improved, check out Gajan’s own website at http://www.gajanv.com/
It’s now 2019, and yet again I venture into nurturing another Millennial taking a year off after graduating high school.