Archive for September, 2008

What Makes for a Greater Fit?

September 23, 2008

When considering and interviewing candidates, it’s all too easy to concentrate solely on the tangible elements.  After all, they’re obvious and for the most part, objective in nature.  Examples include domain experience, quota achievement, longevity at each position, and education pedigree.  Yet, to what extent do tangibles determine a fit?

One common theme we see played out over and over is how hiring managers hire for tangibles, only to end up firing for shortcomings on intangibles.  So, what intangible qualities matter in a candidate and how do they translate into a fit?  I’ll give you a few examples.

One intangible often overlooked by hiring managers is risk tolerance.  To move the needle on your business results, are you really looking for a “yes man,” someone who will toe the line and play it safe, all in the name of CYA and job security?  By contrast, would a candidate who took risks by joining a start-up, who took an innovative idea and put it into action, and who asked provocative questions, be more likely to be an impact player?  This speaks to newness, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and having the courage to make a mistake (and learn from it).

How about social skills and emotional intelligence?  Wouldn’t it be preferable to bring on board someone who is tactful, fleet-of-mind, open-minded, coachable, and self-aware?  These qualities tend not to waver – either you have them or you don’t.  When was the last time you looked for these attributes in a candidate during the interview process?

I’ll get back to intangibles in a moment, but let’s tackle the age old issue of convincing those in the talent pool to “cross the street” for a lateral move within the same domain as your company.  Sure, it’s possible.  Yet, is this a realistic expectation for each new hire?  More importantly, how is the scalability of your hiring objectives affected by such a requirement and are you really getting top tier candidates by limiting the talent pool with this stipulation?

All too often, I hear from hiring managers that they must find someone who completely understands their space, ostensibly because it takes too long to ramp-up a new hire from outside the space and teach them all the nuances of the domain.  Of course, these are the same hiring managers that at some point, switched domains themselves to further their careers.  This brings me to another set of intangibles:  desire, determination, aspiration, and urgency.  Finding these attributes in an “athlete” trumps all the domain experience in the world.  All that time spent, holding out for the person with domain experience, could have been spent hiring a candidate with stronger intangibles and teaching them the trade.

Ultimately, finding a great fit is a multi-dimensional blend of factors, such as mindset (entrepreneurial, proactive, can-do attitude), organizational/cultural match (collaborative, innovative, acting with urgency, sense of humor), and effectiveness (aptitude, coachability, drive).  That brings us to the crux of the issue:  to increase the likelihood of a solid and lasting fit, hire for the qualities you cannot teach.  And yes, those would be the intangibles.

Action Items:

  • Identify the intangible qualities that are truly vital to success in your organization.
  • In the interview process, cull out the existence or inexistence of these intangibles based on candidates’ past achievements, decisions, and initiatives.
  • When assessing fit, don’t completely lose site of tangibles, just avoid becoming fixated by them at the expense of intangibles.
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