We’ve all done it, interviewed the person that everyone in the room loved. Your gut told you she was a great fit, but she was too entry level, came out of a different industry, or didn’t have one of the skills listed in the job description. So you didn’t hire her and instead kept searching for someone with the ‘right’ resume.
We see this all the time in sports. A team is looking for the right pick and focuses on things that are easy to measure, like pedigree and statistics, and misses the opportunity to draft the best fit for the team. In 2000, Tom Brady didn’t have the numbers to back him up. He was too slow, he didn’t have a good arm, his body type was wrong. Brady had been overlooked by every single team in the NFL, 5 times, when the Patriots finally drafted him in the 6th round. 198 players were drafted before he was. How many of them do you remember? Tom Brady didn’t look perfect on paper, but he had the intangible skills that would contribute to the team’s ultimate success. He was driven, smart, a fast learner and a great leader. Five Super Bowls later, Tom Brady’s resume looks pretty good, but he was very close to never having played professional football at all.
So who is the best athlete for your team? It’s the person who, if you had your druthers, you would rather work with. The candidate you know is more talented, hungrier for the opportunity or a better fit for your culture even though they don’t have the perfect resume. Everyone knows someone like this – the person in your network who you describe as a superstar or as having amazing potential, but who keeps getting overlooked for opportunities to prove what they can do. The person who never gets bubbled up to companies for jobs because their resume isn’t a perfect fit for the position.
In some positions, this makes sense. Your college roommate may very well be the savviest and most ambitious person you know, but he’s not going to be in-house counsel at your firm unless he went to law school. And when you’re really lucky, the best resume and the best athlete are the same person. But that magic doesn’t happen every day and there are many positions that can be filled by great people who don’t check all the right boxes.
There are a lot of reasons we fall back on the perfect resume, but the most prevalent are:
No one wants to go to the boss and say you’d rather make a decision based on instinct over the obvious choice. What if you’re wrong? Most people revert back to the safe choice and reluctantly hire the person who checks the boxes even knowing that it’s not the best choice. That way, if the person doesn’t work out, the blame lies on them for not measuring up, not on the person who hired the wrong person.
Managing to the Org Chart
Many companies do long term succession planning. Succession plans aren’t a bad idea, but they have tight parameters and rely on perfect world scenarios. And we all know how often our plans turn out perfectly, especially given the amount of movement in today’s job market, it’s rare that an organization would be able to have enough contingency planning to take everything into account. A company that knows that their head of accounting will be relocating in five years and wants to hire someone who can be trained and moved up into that position in that time frame. So they look for someone with qualifications based on the assumption that the future will be just like the present. The job will be the same. The company’s needs will be the same. The work tools will be the same. But what if the accounting head moves in two years instead? What if you switch your ERP. Hiring the candidate who checks only the present boxes for the future unknown is bound to limit you.
How many time has working with a specific software or development tool been the determining factor in who got hired? While most people would not list it as a deciding factor if you asked them, it’s easier for managers who are already stretched to the limit hire people they think will require less training.
So how do you catch your brain up with your instinct? There’s no way to absolutely know who to hire, but there are a few ways we can look at the problem:
- Think about how you’ve hired in the past and trace what happened to the majority of people you hired based on resume. Where are they now? If they’re mostly gone, or they’re still there but you wish they weren’t, the answer is clear. It’s time to re-think how you are hiring.
- Look at the best people in your organization. Reverse engineer their career paths. Were they best resume or the best athlete? You probably won’t be surprised to realize that your best people were the best athletes from the start.
This is not to say that there aren’t people who are both perfect on paper and have that extra ‘it’. But use this exercise to be honest and really follow the data. Are your best employees the best athletes or were the people who looked the best on paper? Use that data to back up your gut next time you’re presented with the choice and, one by one, you’ll start adding the best athletes to your team.