Archive for March, 2012

The Not So Secret Ingredient to Sustainable Growth

March 22, 2012

My hiring client gave me the perfunctory checklist of candidate prerequisites for a senior sales search.  It contained many of the typical tangible attributes, such as: a proven history of over-quota achievement, experience selling into a particular vertical, specific type of software sales experience, educational pedigree, and commutable distance from the headquarters.  In prodding for intangibles, I ferreted out the importance of creativity, entrepreneurial mindset, resourcefulness, personal drive, autonomy, and planful nature.

So what happened when I presented a candidate with very strong intangibles, but worked outside their software realm and would need to endure a long commute?  The hiring manager’s knee-jerk reaction was to disqualify the candidate outright without even speaking with him.  In pushing back on this hiring VP, I learned that the commute was important only for the first couple of months during the ramp-up period.  Beyond that, the new hire wouldn’t need to be in the office more than once a week.  In addition, although the candidate hasn’t sold their type of software, he did sell a solution that was tangential to the company’s space.  Upon reviewing these points, the hiring executive changed his mind and agreed to interview this candidate.  Sure enough, the interview went well and the two bonded furiously.

In a similar vein, candidates regularly come to me with their checklists for the ideal next step in their career.  Yet, with few exceptions, they’ll find that no opportunity is a black or white proposition.  When it comes to people, there are numerous variables, making each career opportunity as well as each candidate unique.  I like to give candidates the benefit of the doubt that above anyone else, they know best what their optimal career next step looks like.  How realistic their expectations are, combined with how marketable their candidacy is, usually leaves plenty to interpretation.

Sadly, there is no one secret ingredient to companies achieving sustainable growth.  Similarly, there is no secret ingredient to candidates achieving sustainable career growth.  Despite our human inclination to categorize and itemize nearly every facet of our lives, some things cannot be defined by a list.  There are simply too many dependencies that will sway the direction of one’s company or career.  Having said that, it all starts with a foundationary element: open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness implies truly listening, trying ideas on for size and genuinely considering other perspectives.  Even more critical, open-mindedness is the gateway to seizing opportunistic events that otherwise would have been summarily rejected or gone unseen.  After all, how can we think out of the box when we’re spending so much time reinforcing the boxes that already exist?

What does this have to do with job hunting or hiring?  Everything!

The greatest hiring executives I’ve worked alongside had a penchant for identifying and ultimately hiring top-tier, non-traditional candidates – people who didn’t fit the spec to a T, but came to the table with immense aptitude and attitude.  They tried these candidates on for size, unearthed attributes and capabilities that would have otherwise flown under the job spec radar, and brought them on board.  Often times, non-traditional candidates can bring in fresh ideas, implement new processes, solve longstanding problems, and help perpetuate an innovation mentality throughout the organization.

Non-conforming job opportunities offer similar potential benefits to job seekers.  Perhaps a candidate had it in her mind that a mid-sized, well-established company would provide the necessary level of stability and personal growth.  However, up crops a position with an earlier stage well-capitalized growing company, in which everyone on board wears multiple hats, plays a high impact/high visibility role, and needs to build out teams around them.  Without open-mindedness, this career opportunity would be dismissed due to the mere size and stage of the company.

Two of the greatest determining factors in a company’s ongoing quest for sustained growth are:  1) Ability to innovate, and 2) Ability to attract, retain, and develop talented people.  If I were a candidate, I would give these considerable weight in assessing hiring companies.  As a hiring company, I’d explore ways to invest more in people who can transcend the bounds of status quo thinking and usher in the next wave of innovation and refinement.  Once again, it all centers on people.  And given that all people are uniquely gifted and bring different perspectives, this is where open-mindedness comes into play as an ever-present catalyst for sustained growth.


Action items:

1.  Job descriptions, complete with their list of candidate preferences, should serve as an initial guide, not the Ten Commandments.  As a hiring company, you really don’t want everyone cut from the same cloth.

2.  It behooves candidates to seek objective counseling from mentors, trusted colleagues and recruiters on the efficacy of their career preferences.  With most candidates, there are multiple potential career roads to take.  It’s important to identify and consider as many of them as possible – even the ones that initially appear far-fetched.

3.  Both candidates and hiring companies that submit to staying the course, riding past trends and adhering to “safe” decisions, will likely find themselves dangerously behind the curve.  These are highly dynamic, fast-moving times with no let up in sight.  Open-mindedness is one of those magical elixirs that promotes agility, opportunistic events and innovation.