Hiring is Not About Avoiding Mistakes

Want to find an exceptional employee? Give them a chance to prove they can be.

No matter what you’re working on, the best way to increase your odds of success are to surround yourself with exceptional people.

But “exceptional” is not a one-size-fits-all characteristic.  “Exceptional” doesn’t mean finding someone who is great at everything.  It simply means that they are great at a few specific things, and that those few specific things turn out to be the ones needed to get things done.  

Unfortunately, the “things that need doing” will always be unique to a given company at a given time.  Being exceptional in their last company is no guarantee they will be exceptional in yours.  And conversely, the person who seemed completely mediocre in that past position may completely crush it when you turn them loose on your problems.

So although it seems counterintuitive, the best way to surround yourself with exceptional people is not to aim to hire exceptional people.  Instead, you must give yourself the opportunity to discover they are exceptional. And the only way to discover someone is exceptional at something is by giving a reasonably talented person a shot at doing it.

No matter how much experience they have, how thoroughly they crushed their last job, or how many raves they have on their LinkedIn profile, none of that will translate seamlessly to what you need them to do.  It will all be different when they are working on different problems, with different resources, at a different pace, and in a different culture.

You just can’t know in advance.  Resumes reflect what they’ve done – not what they will do.  Interviewing is a horribly inexact science full of unconscious biases.  References can effectively screen out the bottom but are poor at identifying the top.  

Nope, you can’t know how well someone will perform in a role until they’ve actually had a chance to do it, so don’t waste time obsessing about hiring the perfect person.  

Be thoughtful about your hiring process, but don’t set up a process so rigid and exacting that it guarantees you only hire great people.  Not only will you slow your hiring to a crawl and waste a lot of people’s time, but worse, you’ll have certainly turned always dozens of people who would have been exceptional – had you only given them the chance to prove they could be.



Many ideas in this post were first discussed in the Neverland entrepreneurial community. Join us there!

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