The hire

A GREAT PRIVILEGE of managers is to provide jobs, and there is no shortage of people looking for them. Given the abundance of available talent, it is a mystery that we struggle so much to consistently hire the right candidates. Pairing people and employment opportunities is an extraordinarily difficult equation, whose outcome remains largely random. Obviously, it is hard to know people from their resumes, and recommendations are not entirely dependable. Interviews can easily be deceptive. Moreover, especially when creating positions, we don’t necessarily have a clear view of what exactly we need. All told, recruiting is a hunch, a leap of faith. You will inevitably make mistakes. But here are counterintuitive hints on how to avoid some of the more frequent ones.

  • Forget the perfect fit. Don’t waste your time waiting for just the right person: like a unicorn, the perfect fit is a mythical animal. Any given hire only approximates the intended results, and is an exercise in adaptation for all concerned.
  • Be clear with yourself. There usually is a mismatch between what we like a person for, and what we need that person for. It is up to you to align these two variables, rather than expect someone chosen for being brilliant, say, to metamorphose into an effective team leader—or vice versa. As a rule, hiring typically follows one of two trajectories. On one hand, you may create a job around a particularly impressive person, provided that your organization has the resources to absorb and capitalize on abilities it previously had no purpose for. On the other, and more often, you seek an individual most likely to fulfill specific functions and satisfy well-defined prerequisites. Many blunders come from confusing the two.
  • Be fully transparent. You won’t establish a fruitful professional relationship on the basis of an early breach of trust. Expectations may rise dangerously when recruiter and candidate court one another, giving the best possible image of themselves, oftentimes romanticizing the other side, and setting the stage for future disappointments. Nothing beats a candid conversation about the advantages, constraints and uncertainties surrounding a given position. Ultimately, your hire will prove his or her stuff by making the most of that mix; you might as well test their ability to do so from the get go.
  • Invest, invest, invest. Hiring new team members always entails more, not less, work for you, at least to start with. Training, delegating and empowering is extremely time-consuming, but the more you invest in doing so early on, the sooner it will pay off. The relief we expect from a hire is in fact a delayed return on such down payment.
  • Go for potential. Unless your needs boil down to basic skills, which is relatively rare, the safest bet is to assess how willing and capable a candidate is to grow into a given role. The most successful recruits generally display a distinctive learning curve, using your organization as a genuine opportunity to acquire new skills, explore novel topics, and generally evolve. Two essential hiring criteria are, therefore, a demonstrable motivation to learn, on one side, and a proven capacity to recognize failings and raise problems, on the other. Without such qualities, an employee is condemned to stagnate; probing for them must be built into the selection process. (Sharing specifics would defeat the purpose with respect to Synaps applicants…)
  • Beware of achievements. Past successes offer a compelling promise of future ones only to the extent that you are asking for precisely the same thing. A brilliant analyst, as suggested above, may be a terrible project manager. Moreover, many people with outstanding diplomas or career paths may prove ill-equipped to adapt to new and unfamiliar roles, whether because the prospect throws them off their game or because they simply don’t wish to do so. By contrast, breakthroughs often come from outsiders with the drive and the edge to challenge more established professional cultures. This takes us back to the previous point of giving at least as much importance to attitude as to aptitude.

Finally, it’s good to remind oneself that hiring is altogether a daunting process, a flip of a coin, and an exciting prospect. With the right balance between these three items, you may actually make the right decision!

Make the most of the occasional, thoughtful boost to your productivity!

Illustration credit: Sir Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris & John Henry Dearle The Attainment: The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval by Wikipedia / licensed by CC. 

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