Recruitment 101: Look for a human being, not a Superman.
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Throughout my decades of experience as an HR Business Partner, great leaders are the ones who understand the importance of recruiting the right talent into the business. And most of the time, these great talents can be classified into two: early careers and promising graduates, and mid-career professionals who inspire leaders.
Of course, in every industry and profession, you have particular hygiene to fulfill:
i.e., you will always need to ensure your Engineer candidate understands engineering, and your Accountant interviewee knows and can do accounting. So what I am sharing here is the 'soft-side' of the coin, not the 'hard-side' of technical expertise.
For example, when I hire a fresh graduate, and I need to decide between two candidates:
(1) highly superb technical expert, yet poor soft-skills? or
(2) mid-skills technical expert, but with amazing soft-skills?
I usually bet on the second.
Why? Because I know for sure that the second candidate would have a better self-awareness to adapt and cope with the evolving world. In a world where the only thing constant changes, talents will need different capabilities and strive to update their skills (which make the second candidate more relevant for your business for the long term as they self-drive their change). The second candidate will also connect with other people and bring them together to achieve the company's objectives and Purpose, which is also an essential leadership requirement if you are recruiting them to be your future Head of the Business in the long term.
Interestingly, successful early career hires have entirely different traits and DNA from mid-career professional hires. The only thing that made them common is that they came to your interview as genuine human beings, not as a Superman. So here is my advice to anyone who is currently recruiting or will be recruiting :
Look out for humility. Find young talents who see their world as a glass-half-full and look forward to learning the craft from you as they pursue their Mastery in their profession. Daniel Coyle (in his book "Talent Code") has written about 10,000 hours needed for someone to develop Mastery in any discipline. Humility is the essential requirement that allows young talents willing to commit these hours to be experts in their field. Humility is also a good climbing rope in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world as it grows resilience. Resilient leaders are the one who thrives and can keep walking under heavy storms when it comes to testing your business. These are people who will stay when their non-resilient peers will pack their bags and leave.
Scanning for impact-makers experience (both through extra-curricula exposure inside or outside campus) shows their willingness to roll out their sleeves and get into the actions. Looking for the smartest who lived in the ivory tower during their college period will only give you that: perspective and thinking. The smartest-of-the-ivory-tower will fail to deliver the curiosity to get their feet in the mud and get hands-on experience in solving problems that will be exposed to them early in their careers. Someone who does these in their college life: works part-time, interning, become campus journalist and publish writings, student-body leader who also goes the way in running campus events themselves, part-time researcher and lecture assistants, business case competition participants, volunteering, etc. would offer you a safer bet that these talents will get their hands into work, and not 'just' bossing people around. Another benefit of recruiting such talents is that you will bring in someone who gets used to managing their time well. It is not easy to split your focus of getting a degree while doing something else that requires a serious time investment. They will enjoy multiple challenges that will rain over them in the world of work, especially in the recent era when speed is the essence. These young talents will also manage their lives well, as they have usually found a coping method to have "a life beyond the workplace" that is getting more and more important in the demanding nature of work.
Find ally to your Purpose. Every company has a Purpose (if your company doesn't have one, go find it urgently because it will also help you recruit the right talents). The more affiliated your company's Purpose is with the talent's Purpose, the stronger their passion will be in making significant impacts on your organization. Purpose is a natural motivator, as one finds their work meaningful when they see that their work contributes to making the world a better place. It is the real reason why people volunteer for a social cause (although it was unpaid). Purpose strengthens the sense of contribution, resilience, level of engagement, and consequently, retention of these talents. Getting a Purpose-driven young talent is a jackpot that you should strive for in any recruitment efforts because they will also bring a positive aura and energy to their team. They are also usually big fans of your company.
It is critical to note that by the time you recruit the right young talents as identified above, do develop and nurture them and give them a chance to be the technical expert to be empowered to deliver impacts. Promote them whenever they are ready, and there's an opportunity for more considerable responsibility to be available in your evolving organization. Because this is the only way, you will showcase their traits to be role-modeled by other young talents across the company, which in turn, helping you to build company culture.
There will be a time in your organization where businesses can't wait for the young talents to grow up and be ready for the challenge, especially in exponential-growth sectors like start-ups. In such time, hiring mid-careers to pave the way in building a more established company becomes the only solution. It is also why mid-career hiring is usually for senior levels. Companies brought them to create something out of nothing or transform functional capability from basic to advanced or even leading-edge. Mid-careers are hired because of their experience and wisdom, as they have spent the 10,000 hours of Mastery that might be the capability gap of the existing young talents in the company. A succession plan becomes possible only when the start-up stabilizes and deepens its stronghold as there is enough time for young talents to mature and get them ready for leadership jobs. Hiring a mid-career, interestingly, is a different playbook altogether. And when I finished sharing the traits that fit successful mid-career hiring below, do note how different it is -- and yet, it also shows the gap that young talents need to fill in to perform such responsibility.
Mid-Career (MCR) Professional
Look out for clarity of thinking. Leaders need to prioritize and make decisions. Without clarity and simplicity of thought, you will be trapped into a cycle of hiring "another do-ers" that ends up making complexity (instead of clarity). It will also force you to find another more senior mid-career hire to fix the hiring mistake you have made. When I hire senior mid-career professionals, I always ask hard questions. Questions like: " Industry 4.0 is coming. It impacts all industries, including FMCG. What are three things you want to do in making our business ready to compete for the future". When the answer is a long-winding road, without clarity of thoughts on what are they tried to achieve, and simply sell their wealth of past experience instead of trying to unlearn the past, try to understand the business and come up with a particular focus, I will cross out the candidate simply because their level is still a do-er, operational manager, not a Leader. The difference: an operational manager only focuses on fixing problems happening now, while leaders start with the future challenge and work backward to ensure they fix current issues and build something for the future. Hiring MCR is expensive, as you usually utilize a headhunter service that will charge you 30% of the candidate's total salary. You don't want to lose that investment by getting another operational Manager who gave you only a 6-months to 1-year ROI of such an expensive fee. You want to get someone who will transform your organization 3-5 years ahead (or even longer; the longer, the better). I observed companies wrongly hire MCR, and the cost to the organization is a lot. And the cycle of these mistakes becomes worse when they try to fix it by getting another more senior MCR whom the person must report to and create another layer (instead of having an honest conversation that things didn't work and replace them). So do take time and don't rush when you hire MCR, as it impacts the entire organization. My suggestion would be for business leaders to approach MCR's hiring through scouting, which means each business leader needs to network with the best possible Leaders in the industry and bring them in at the right moment instead of commissioning a search only when urgent needs come up.
Scan for Visible Leadership quality. When you hire MCR, the best scenario is securing a company-wide Leadership roster that helps you lead the whole company instead of just leading their function. The bigger the company, the more ambassadors you must create to help you build a presence for your clients, stakeholders, shareholders, and employees. Visible leadership is not about getting the most charismatic public-speaking leaders who can rally people around your company purpose (well, it's a jackpot if you can get this rare breed!), but its simply about getting a role model that your clients, stakeholders, shareholders, and employees can look up to. So they attach and affiliate themselves with these Leaders, which makes your company's presence no longer depends on the CEO and Board's presence only.
Find a Synergy-creator. Most transformational changes require cross-functional efforts. And by logic, the most senior roles in the organization (i.e. CEO, COO, CFO, Board) must be performed by Leaders who can connect the dots, facilitate collaboration, and drive synergy. These leaders are interdependent in thinking, have great empathy, and take the understanding they have from other leaders to finetune their transformative change and land those changes well where the acceptance level is high. The more synergy mindset you have in your senior leadership rosters, the easier you lead your organization to move toward bringing your company's Purpose came to life.
As you can summarize, approaching different segments of your hiring require a different approach. Humility, impact-makers, and Purpose are essential to unlock early-careers hiring as you scout for potentials. While clarity of thinking, visible leadership, and synergy-creator are must-haves for mid-career professionals hiring as you scout for transformative capability.
The twist, though, these two traits are somehow connected:
Humility leads to clarity of thinking, as one's learns to sharpen their ideas by reaching out and continuing learning through their professional journey.
Impact-makers lead to visible leadership, as one's growing up by making things happen in their circle of influence and then expanding it bigger through time.
Purpose leads to a synergy-creation, as purpose-driven leaders put company Purpose above anything else. Hence, they grow their empathy and creative thinking to rally people together in driving transformative changes for the better. Driving changes that bring the organization closer to its Purpose.
And those three connected traits I have concluded above are what makes successful hires, brought in by these great talents during the selection process, as they were simply ' become their authentic self as a human being, who openly shared who they are as vulnerable young talents/leaders, without having to boast and showing-off that they are the Supermans of the world who will defeat the competition by their unique individual's super-power contribution.
Even Superman needs the DC Justice League to fight his enemies, doesn't he?