Archive for October, 2010

Don’t Close Any Doors Until You See What’s Behind Them

October 25, 2010

A longtime friend and mentor always had a knack for summing up thoughts into memorable one-liners.  Oh sure, some of them seemed trite or outright dorky.  Yet they always were worth a moment or two of reflection.

One of his expressions that has stuck over the years and found its way into multiple situations and conversations is, “Don’t close any doors until you see what’s behind them.”  It has come up amongst friends discussing differing world culture, children being admonished to give new food a try, and debates over which movie to see.  For me, this saying comes up the most when discussing candidates with hiring managers and hiring companies with prospective candidates.

Though prescriptive in nature, this saying serves to ward off rushing to judgment without fully vetting the subject in question.  With candidates and hiring managers alike, it’s much easier in our fast-paced world to say “no” than to take the time to peel back the layers of the onion.  After all, everyone has a picture of their ideal world painted in their mind…the perfect candidate, the perfect career opportunity.

Of course, we have to learn the hard way, time after time, that life isn’t as ideal as our minds lead us to believe.  Thus, a candidate who is wonderfully suited for a given role is still a human (i.e. flawed).  A promising early-stage company with a game-changing solution is run by humans, thus inherently flawed as well.  To expect perfection is, in itself, a flaw.  And to disqualify a strong candidate or viable position based on an initial hint of imperfection can be a fatal flaw.

Related to the human frailty of casting judgment before gathering all the facts is the syndrome of declining opportunities for fear of better ones coming down the pike.  This can transform avid decision-makers into highly exasperated and paranoid individuals who magically become decision averse.  Buy low, sell high.  But where is low and high?

The bottom line is every career and hiring decision involves an educated risk and a certain leap of faith.   It behooves us to fully test the waters, not by dipping a toe, but by diving in.  To gauge a candidate’s viability, walk a mile in their shoes.  You’ll be certain to come across a career misstep or two, but hopefully you’ll hear what they learned from it.  For candidates considering a given career opportunity, allow the hiring company to divulge their business plan, warts and all.  When it comes to careers and companies, there’s just no room for closed-mindedness.  Don’t close any doors until you see what’s behind them.

Action items:

1.  Perfection is an otherworldly and unrealistic concept, one that should be fought off in our mind’s eye.  Hollywood and the media at large have trained us to expect perfection.  Yet, in careers and companies, there is no airbrushing or plastic surgery.

2.  To fully try an idea on for size, whether it be considering a particular candidate or contemplating joining a new company, get immersed in it.  Learn all you can and walk a mile in their shoes.

3.  As dorky as some sayings are, every now and then you’ll come across one worth keeping on the back burner.