Looking for that perfect candidate to fill a role? Good, that means you'll never steal a great candidate away from me. I love it when industrial-strength stupidity renders my competition comatose. You can't hire the perfect candidate, but please keep trying. Maybe after six months I'll even get your open headcount.
This isn't a case of letting the perfect be an enemy of the good. Idiotic hiring managers aren't trying to create perfect candidates—they are waiting for them to appear. It's like a romantic awaiting their soul mate or a home buyer searching for their "dream house." Guess what? Dreams aren't reality.
If someone tells you on your first or second date that you are the man or woman of their dreams—run. They aren't dating you. They are dating their dreams. Sooner or later, they'll realize the two don't match. The same thing happens when hiring managers get caught up in seeking their dream candidate.
It's natural for a hiring manager and their team to imagine what the new hire will be like. When you spend so much time checking resumes, doing phone screens, informationals, and interviews, you can't help but think about the potential outcome.
Unfortunately, there are three dangers with getting caught up in fantasy:
§ You may not interview a great candidate even if they meet your needs because they don't match your preconceived notions.
§ You may hold off on an offer to a great candidate because they lack attributes that were imagined but not essential.
§ You may regret hiring candidates who turn out different from your projection of perfection, compromising their chances for success.
Of course, you shouldn't hire people who don't meet the high bar we set, but it's awful to lose out on strong hires because you were busy hallucinating. Let's dive deeper into each case.
I talk about informationals and interview loops more in "Out of the interview loop" (Chapter 9).
If you have a preconceived notion of whom you're hiring (worse case—someone just like you), then you're certain to subconsciously filter applicants based on that template. You may get candidates that match your musings, but you'll miss a crowd of candidates that meet your needs. If a good hire is one in a hundred (not far from the truth), the sooner you review a hundred qualified candidates, the sooner you'll hire someone. In addition, less filtering brings more diversity, which leads to better balance, better products and services, and better customer experiences.
If you hold off on an offer to a great candidate thinking that the next candidate might be even more ideal, you're likely to lose both. Surely another team will want your great candidate, and your next candidate will be at least as flawed. They say, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Thus, the next candidate better be twice as good if you hold off. Otherwise, make an offer now before your great candidate becomes your great regret.
Speaking of regrets, ever order something only to regret it shortly after? That feeling of buyer's remorse can afflict managers as well. Hire's remorse happens when you've imagined who might fill an important position, fill it with a real person, and then regret the decision because that person isn't precisely who you wanted. Quit sulking and get over it. Only movie directors occasionally get what they imagine, and that only lasts while the camera is rolling. You've hired a great person, now give them a chance.
How do you differentiate what is really required for your open position from your unintentional biases? Consider the must-have results you seek from the role, and consider how soon you need those results. Then insist on candidates that have achieved those results in some general way. The sooner you need results, the more specifically the candidate needs to have achieved them before.
For example, say you need someone who can develop and ship code for a service. If you can afford to have them figure it out over nine months, hire someone who has demonstrated they can write code of any kind and ship it. It could be a game or a numerical algorithm for a thesis. All you need is the development skill and the ability to finish something. That could be almost anyone from any field—lots of possibilities.
However, say you're in SQL Server and need an engineering lead to step in right away. In that case, you need someone who has recently been an engineering lead. Your need for SQL Server expertise might not be as immediate though, so that's not an essential skill and shouldn't bias your thinking. You'd hate to pick a lousy lead with SQL experience over a great lead who can gain SQL experience over time.
The key is to focus on must-have results and the core skills essential to achieving those results. Then look for anyone who demonstrates those essential skills and gets analogous results. You can be more specific if your need is more immediate, but don't kid yourself. Getting picky may cost you candidates who'll deliver great results for years if you support them and give them a chance.
One item you generally won't find on a resume is a candidate's principles. Principles don't tend to align with appearance, skill set, or even achievements. Thus, when you imagine your ideal candidate you often don't think of principles, which is yet another reason not to waste your time imagining your ideal candidate.
What principles are important to you and your team? Integrity? Transparency? Accountability? Selflessness? Loose coupling? Screen for them. They are just as important as skills sets and demonstrated results. Many would argue that principles are more important. People can learn skills and work together to achieve results. Principles can be harder to attain or change.
Don't know what principles matter to you and your team? Figure it out—now. Let your team know. Being principled is itself a principle. For me, it matters the most and is the first trait I seek when talking to candidates.
Life is not a novel you get to write where everything turns out the way you conceive it. It's full of twists and turns for you to ride and hopefully enjoy in the end. Hiring and building a team is no different.
You have no idea who will respond to your open positions at what times, so don't try to guess. Instead, keep your mind open to all possibilities. Remember, you want a team full of differing viewpoints that are all aligned toward a common goal.
While you don't want unpredictable ships dates and quality, you do want unpredictable ideas and interplay on your team. They are the source of innovation and improvement. The more your team is filled with variety instead of clones, the more your team will enjoy learning from each other—a result reflected in more thoughtful designs and improved customer experiences.
So, consider the needs of your team, but stop short of projecting who might fill them. Keep your mind open to the possibilities, give offers immediately to great candidates unless you know the next candidate is twice as good, stick by your principles, and avoid hire's remorse. Everyone complains about insufficient resources—the sooner you fill your open positions the happier and more productive your team will be.