Recruitment 101: Look for a human being, not a Superman.
Updated: May 31, 2019
Throughout my decades of experience as 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 also inspiring leaders.
Of course, in every industry and profession, you have certain hygiene to fulfill:
i.e. you will always need to ensure your Engineer candidate understand 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 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 continue adapt him/herself and cope with evolving world. In the world where the only thing constant is change, talents will need different capability and strive to update their skills (which make the second candidate more relevant for your business for a long term as they self-drive their own change). The second candidate will also be able to connect with other people and brings them together in achieving company's objectives and Purpose, which also is a key leadership requirement if you are recruiting him/her to be your future Head of the Business in a long term.
Interestingly, successful early careers hires has entirely different traits and DNA with the mid-career professional hires. The only things that made them common is only one: they came to your interview as a genuine human being, 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 looking forward to learn 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 profession. Humility is the basic requirement that allows young talents willing to commit these hours to be expert 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 able to keep walking under heavy storms when it came to test your business. These are people who will stay when their non-resilient peers will pack their bags and leave.
Scan for impact-makers experience (both through extra-curricula exposure inside or outside campus) that shows their willingness to roll out their sleeves, and get into the actions. Looking for the smartest who lived in ivory tower during their college period will only give you that: perspective and thinking. What the smartest-of-the-ivory-tower will failed to deliver is the inquisitiveness to get their feet in the mud, and get hands-on experience in solving problems which will be exposed to them early in their careers. Someone who do 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 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 get used to manage their time well. It is not easy splitting your focus of getting a degree, while doing something else that also require serious time investment. They will enjoy multiple challenges that will rain over them in the world of work, especially in recent era when speed is the essence. These young talents will also be able to manage their life well, as they have usually find a coping method to have "life beyond workplace" that is getting more and more important in demanding nature of work.
Find ally to your Purpose. Every company has a Purpose (if your company don't have, then go find it urgently because it will also help you recruit the right talents). The more affiliated your company Purpose with the talent's purpose, the stronger their passion will be in making big impacts to your organisation. Purpose is natural motivator, as one's find their work meaningful, when they see that the work they do contribute to the making of the world into a better place. This is the real reason why people volunteers for social cause (although it was unpaid). Purpose strengthen 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 in positive aura and energy to their team, and they also usually big fans of your company.
It is key to note, that by the time you recruited the right young talents as identified above, do develop and nurture them, and give them a chance to be the technical expert, so they can be empowered to deliver impacts. Promote them whenever they are ready and there's an opportunity for bigger responsibility is available in your evolving organisation. Because this is the only way you will showcase their traits to be role-modelled by other young talents across the company, which in turns, helping you to build company culture.
Now, there will be time in your organisation where business can't wait for the young talents to grow up and ready for the challenge, Especially in exponential-growth sector like start-up, most of hiring are mid-careers as they paved the way to build more established company. This is also the reason why mid-career hiring is usually for senior levels, as they are brought in to, either to build something out of nothing, or transforming functional capability from basic to advanced or even leading-edge. Mid-careers is 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. Only when the start-up stabilize and deepening their stronghold, then succession plan becomes possible as there is enough timing for young talents to mature and get them ready for leadership jobs. Hiring 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 needs to fill in to be able to perform such responsibility.
Mid-Career (MCR) Professional
Look out for clarity of thinking. Leaders needs to prioritize and make decisions. Without clarity and simplicity of thinking, you will be trapped into a cycle of hiring "another doers" that ends up making complexity (instead of clarity), and forced you to find another more senior mid-career hire to fix the hiring mistake you have done. When I hire senior mid-career professionals, I always ask the hard-questions. Questions like: " Industry 4.0 is coming. It impacts all industry, including FMCG. What are three things you want to do in making our business ready to compete for the future". When the answer are a long-winding road, without clarity of thoughts on what is he/she tried to achieve, and simply sell his/her wealth of past experience instead trying to unlearn the past, try to understand the business and come up with very specific focus, I will cross out the candidate. Simply because his/her level is still a do-er, operational manager, not a Leader. The difference: operational manager focus on fixing problems happening now, while leaders start with what the future challenge is and work backward to ensure they fix current problems but also building something for the future. Hiring MCR is expensive, as you usually utilize headhunter service who will charge you 30% of candidates 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 expensive fee. You want to get someone who will transform your organisation 3-5 years ahead (or even longer, the longer the better). I observed companies wrongly hire MCR, and the cost to the organisation is a lot. And the cycle of these mistakes becoming worse when they try to fixed it by getting another more senior MCR whom the person must report to and create another layer (instead of having 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 total organisation. My suggestion would be for business leaders to approach MCR hire through scouting, which means each business leader need to network with the best possible Leaders in the industry, and bring them in on 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 that you are securing a company-wide Leadership roster who help you to lead the whole company, instead of just leading his/her own function. The bigger the company, the more ambassadors you must create to help you building 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, its 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 made your company's presence no longer depends on the CEO and Board's presence only.
Find a Synergy-creator. Most of transformational changes require cross-functional efforts. And by logic, the most senior roles in the organisation (i.e. CEO, COO, CFO, Board) must be performed by Leaders who can connect the dots, facilitating collaboration, and drive synergy. These leaders are inter-dependent in thinking, having great empathy to then take understanding they has from other leaders to finetune their transformative change, and land those changes well where acceptance level are high. The more synergy-mindset you have in your senior leadership rosters, the easier you lead your organisation to move toward bringing your company Purpose came to life.
As you can summarize, approaching different segments of your hiring require different approach. Humility, impact-makers, and purpose are key to unlock early-careers hiring as you scout for potentials. While clarity of thinking, visible leadership, and synergy-creator are must-have 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 learn to sharpening their ideas by reaching out and continuously learn through his/her professional journey.
Impact-makers leads to visible leadership, as one's growing up by making things happen in his/her circle of influence, and then expanding it bigger through time.
Purpose leads to synergy-creator, as purpose-driven leader put company Purpose above anything else, and hence grow his/her empathy and creative thinking to rally people together in driving transformative changes into the better; changes that brings organisation closer to their 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 being themselves: 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?