by Dan D. 8/25/16

checkboxI had some thoughts earlier today about job requirement listings and how to identify people who may not fit the exact mold you’re looking for, but would make a great addition to your organization nonetheless. Here they are:

If you’re a hiring manager or HR professional, it’s likely that at some point you’ve had to compile a list of job requirements for an opening in your company. There’s a lot of disagreement as to what’s absolutely necessary in a skill set for a job opening and what can be flexible—this, of course, varies largely by position and industry. You can’t hire someone fresh out of undergrad with a degree in History to perform neurosurgery, and you wouldn’t want someone with a PhD. In English Literature who has no experience in tech to manage IT security for your financial services company.

That said, for a good deal of entry-level and mid-level management positions—particularly in the nonprofit world, which I work in—many skills are transferable, and rather than looking at what experience or knowledge a candidate doesn’t possess, it’s smart to instead consider how their skills and experience could add a unique and helpful perspective to your organization, particularly if the role you’re hiring for is newly generated.

I’ve interviewed for a lot of jobs over the years, and one thing I’ve learned to ask if it isn’t explicitly stated at some point during the interview is whether I’d be replacing a departing employee or whether the position is new/a hybrid of previous employees’ positions. The sense I’ve gotten from talking to hiring managers is that the departure of a valued employee generates anxiety which can, if left unchecked, fester into fallacious-confirmation-biasy decision making.

What do I mean by that? Well, let’s look at the example of one Bobby Mortenson. Bobby has been working as a marketing coordinator for BlogBlob Marketing, a B2B company, for the past three years. He’s well-liked, had a solid list of credentials backing him up—an undergrad degree in marketing, experience working on marketing campaigns as an intern, a portfolio of successful projects to show during his interview. Bobby worked well with the creative team at BlogBlob, created good content that informed and entertained, kissed his boss’s butt just enough and at the right times, and was always ready with a witty observation to make his co-workers laugh. Bobby wasn’t always perfect—he’d occasionally blow a deadline because he took on more work than he could reasonably handle, but hey—he was a real go-getter, right?

What, then, might happen when Bobby decides that after three years, he’s ready to move into a management role that BlogBlob isn’t able to offer? Well, he’ll go looking for a job, and sure enough, he’ll find that BlobBlog is hiring for a marketing director. As Bobby begins to wrap up his work and say his goodbyes, his supervisors—Sven and Karen—panic, and one of two decisions is made:

  • Decision 1. Hire someone to replace Bobby in his exact role.
  • Decision 2. Merge Bobby’s role with an admin support position (the department admin assistant, Julie, left last year, and BlogBlob never moved to replace her)

 If decision 1 is made, Sven and Karen must decide between hiring for someone who’s:

  • Bobby 2.0, who MUST have a BA in Marketing, 3 years of experience coordinating marketing materials for a B2B agency, and has a good sense of humor
  • Not Bobby, but who fits the description of someone his team needs after meeting with them to find out where they’re at, a meeting which might include taking an honest look at Bobby’s shortcomings. This person could have a degree in an unrelated field, have experience that’s primarily freelance writing for a wide range of clients, but who is better at meeting deadlines and staying within agreed-upon scopes of work.

If decision 2 is chosen, an interesting thing happens. Sven and Karen can’t really recruit for a new Bobby, as the new role is going to include a significant amount of non-Bobby work. Sure, they can look for a Bobby that’s also a Julie, but let’s be realistic—how many of those people actually exist, and furthermore how many of these Bobby-Julies would pass through the BlogBlob ATS interface? Furthermore, even if a Bobby-Julie could be found and hired, who will be there to train the person to do Julie work? Remember, she’s been gone for over a year now, and her admin manual was lost in the most recent IT security upgrade.

What Sven and Karen need, then, is to adopt an open-minded approach and collaborate with the creative team to bring someone on board that may not have all of the skills Bobby and/or Julie had but who is trainable and would mesh well with the BlogBlob ethos. This in turn would provide Theresa, Sean, and Margot, the other marketing coordinators, with the opportunity to develop training and mentorship skills. Heck, Sven and Karen might even be able to generate the in-house marketing director they missed out on when Bobby left!

In both decision scenarios, one thing remains constant: choosing a person without Bobby’s exact skill set—someone who may even transfer over from a different industry—can provide unexpected and helpful benefits to BlogBlob. Are Sven and Karen taking a huge risk by hiring a non-Bobby to handle Bobby work? Perhaps. However, even if Bobby 2.0 is hired, he/she still needs to be on-boarded to BlogBlob’s proprietary software systems, task processes, office culture, and company-specific terminology.

Let’s say Bobby 2.0 was poached from BlobBlog—assuming BlobBlog does everything the same way as BlogBlob, A) it’s very likely the team personalities at BlogBlob are at the very least…different, and B) other than a salary spike, what’s Bobby 2.0’s reason for switching companies if everything is pretty much the same—dissatisfaction with BlobBlog? Won’t he find the same issues at BlogBlob? If not, and BlobBlog truly was a uniquely toxic place to work, how will he adjust to working in an environment that’s more supportive?

Ted Bauer of The Context of Things, a thoughtful and intelligently presented blog that explores recruiting and management, had this to say about the unfortunate tendency of many business leaders to insist on industry-specific experience to the exclusion of hiring bright people from the outside capable of learning processes and lingo quickly. It’s a piece that’s well worth your time to read.

One of the points Ted makes that is of particular interest to me is that hiring someone from outside of your specific industry can help you gain valuable insight into how your products and processes can be improved. Bobby 2.0 might be able to help maintain your white paper, but what he/she doesn’t know is that white papers aren’t really a great way to reach people (thanks again for the insight, Ted).

When you’re hiring, take time to really think through hat you absolutely need and what can be trained/learned on the job. You might find you can bring someone on board whose unorthodox approach can provide you with a uniquely competitive edge.