I really like to quote from Ben Horowitz “Hire for strength, not lack of weakness”. I have seen it many times in my professional life as a manager that people who were seen as unobjectionable by the hiring team didn’t do as well on the job as people who polarized the team but who had some real strength that was needed by the organization.
He was “just fine”…
If you have a stable business and want to keep status quo and not rock the boat, I can imagine to hire someone who is just fine and doesn’t have any significant weaknesses can be a good move. However, what if he doesn’t have also any discernable strengths?
Would you hire such a guy when you expect a hyper growth? When you need to make significant changes or flexibly react to the business needs? For these situations the unobjectionable guy may not be the one you are looking for. I see it quite often when the hiring team comes back from the interview and says something like “yeah, this guy is sort of ok,” or my favorite “he is normal, I don’t have any objections to hire him.”
Anyone to stand up for this guy?
What is wrong with that picture? There is no enthusiasm on the team to get the guy on board. For positions that need to hire someone with specific strength like “great communication skills,” or “someone proactive who will drive the project,” or “someone flexible who won’t buckle under stress,” you need to ask the team a very simple question, “Is there someone who is excited by this guy and will stand up for him?” If there is no response, no enthusiasm, then he probably isn’t the person who will help you to get the organization to the next level.
What are the must haves?
So what is the alternative? Don’t try to hire people who are good (or equally bad) at everything. Identify couple of key characteristics and behavioral patterns you need from that particular role and things that are nice to have but at the end the person doesn’t really need to excel at them.
Then after the interview judge the candidate against these criteria. And not just that ask the hiring team to talk about the biggest strengths the person has. Why is he a great new asset to the team? What does he bring that will help the organization to get to new heights?
What can you live with?
What to do with potential weaknesses this person might have? Again, make sure you identify these and discuss with team whether these are the things you can live with and/or whether these can be quickly improved by training, coaching and mentoring. Especially on the technical side there are few things that cannot be improved over time by providing good training. You should be more careful on the behavioral side as when someone is a jerk he will stay a jerk regarding what you do and significant issues in person’s character can turn into a problem that will derail the efforts of the whole team.
Next time you talk to a candidate don’t forget to identify his key strengths and values he would bring to the organization. If you cannot find any and find yourself talking to a mediocre robot you may want to continue your search.
How do you hire? Do you focus on getting someone who seems to be a perfect in all the aspects or are you willing to overlook some of the weaknesses and hire someone just for one strength that you need?
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