Archive for December, 2010

Resist the Blanket…

December 24, 2010

…generalization, that is.  Or even worse, the dreaded premature conclusion.  We’re all well aware of the human condition’s tendency to categorize, label, and resolve the many variables we face throughout our lives.  After all, we’re trying to understand the world in real time as we plow through it.  Yet, in doing so, we do ourselves a disservice by automatically viewing the world in more narrowly defined terms.

An absolutely top flight candidate has been interviewing for a senior level client facing role with management responsibility.  He exudes quiet confidence, never getting bent out of shape, yet possessing an even keel intensity, team player mentality, and professionalism that demands credibility and respect.  He can serve as a calming influence in a chaotic start-up, all the while providing mentoring and consistent leadership to a fledgling group.

The interview team all liked him.  He brings to the table the domain expertise, thought leadership and real world experience needed to thrive in the role.  However, given his level of sophistication, is he truly willing to get his hands dirty and function on the front lines as needed by an early stage start-up?  With multiple high flying sales cycles to navigate through, does he have the energy to thrive in this environment and handle the demands of the role?

Sophistication = Unwillingness to get in the weeds

Even keel / unexcitable = Unable to succeed in a fast moving hard charging start-up organization

These blanket generalizations made by a couple members on the interview team nearly derailed this candidate’s chances for moving forward to an offer stage.  Despite all the positive elements, they weren’t convinced of the fit.  Funny enough, the hiring company’s need is to backfill their current director with someone who can bring greater stability, flexibility, and collaboration while causing less angst and conflict due to an enlarged ego and closed-mindedness.  But somehow, the hiring company had it in their minds that the ideal candidate must arrive to the interviews swinging from the chandeliers while waving pom-poms.

Upon hearing the mix of feedback, the candidate was duly confounded.  He did articulate his understanding of the role, including the need (and his desire) to function at a granular level and, as is the case with most start-ups, wear multiple hats while rolling with perpetual change.  But when he heard that he gave off an impression to the contrary, he was dumbfounded.  His only conclusion is that those on the interview team who came to this determination must surely have a political agenda.

Yikes!  Now it’s happening on both sides!  If an executive recruiter wasn’t involved to intercede and get both parties back on track, this ideal fit in the making would have been dead in the water without any hope for resuscitation.

In a similar vein, I’ve received countless follow-up phone calls from candidates just after they finished their interviews.  That all-too-predictable confidence and excitement in their voice is the same from call to call.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, they absolutely knocked it out of the park, establishing strong rapport, agreeing on many topics, and not being tripped up by curveball questions.

To their shocking dismay, I contact them later to impart the news that they in fact bombed the interviews.  In many cases, their rambling answers to interview questions or outright inability to answer questions directly, combined with inappropriate behavior or lack of preparation, killed the deal in the first 10 minutes.  While the candidate concluded that the interview went smooth as silk, the reality is the interviewer shut down from asking any further substantive questions and just coasted through to end the meeting.

Just as in our daily lives, the interview process is filled with many variables and unknowns.  Try as we might to understand all that’s involved, be it candidate demeanor, organizational needs, interview questions, and feedback, we don’t necessarily have all the data points to make an honest and fair assessment.  Instead of rushing to judgment, we need to ask more fact-finding questions, allowing the process to play itself out while doing our utmost to avoid the blanket generalization and premature conclusion traps.

The interview and hiring road is littered with misunderstanding and typecast roadkill.  The hiring company needs to keep an open mind and stay focused on what it takes to meet their needs.  They must remember that all candidates are unique, complete with differing combinations of skill set, relevant experience, and personality.  The ideal candidate may very well surface as someone quite different from the initial profile.

Candidates must remember that they will never come off quite the way they think they do because it’s not themselves on the other side of the table doing the interviewing.  Thus, there are a multitude of reasons why a candidate either moves forward in the interview process or faces deal-killing concerns.  Chances are they may not even know the half of it.  How’s that for a blanket generalization!


Action Items:

1.  As a candidate, no matter how self-aware you may be, you still don’t know concretely what impression you’re giving off in an interview.  It could be helpful to inquire about the interviewer’s impression of you along with any concerns he/she may have.

2.  Hiring executives build a job spec and from that, formulate a profile and vision of their ideal candidate.  They must remain open-minded on this profile as candidates are humans, meaning they come in all different shapes, sizes, personalities, and idiosyncrasies.  Of course you want to judge candidates on how they fare in the interview and how they carry themselves.  But make sure to assess their past – the decisions they’ve made and how they handled relevant situations in the past as that could be a better indicator of their ability to thrive in the role.

3.  It’s just too easy to slap a label on someone or an organization.  Try as best you can to resist the temptation.  Invariably, that label is bound to be at least somewhat inaccurate.