Chemistry in hiring – why hiring people “like you” is the wrong science

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Chris Farley and David Spade. Abbott and Costello. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. All impressive duos/teams that did big and impactful things together (or in the case of Walter White and Jessie Pinkman – at least made tons of money together). Yet in each case they were complete and total opposites. Look at some of the most successful duos and teams throughout history and 9 out of 10 times you will see different personality types working together to create something great. It becomes obvious to any rational outsider perspective that these successful teams are balancing each others strengths and weaknesses to perform at a high level. Spade’s straight man to Farley’s over the top physical humor. Walter White’s intellect with Jesse Pinkman’s heart. You get the point. Why then, in the world of hiring do we continue to hire in the exact opposite fashion?

More often than not, people tend to hire people who are “like them”. It can be put under the guise of “culture fit” but make no mistake about it – we love to hire people who won’t challenge us or think differently than the status quo of our own beliefs or organizations. There are always exceptions to this, but I have found in my experience that this is almost overwhelmingly the case. In the world of Talent Acquisition, the prevailing mindset is to “fill jobs”. Typically, recruiters are working a busy desk – managing anywhere on average from 5 – 15 different openings at any given time. Often there are several hiring managers involved and also various kinds of skills and roles being recruited for. This mindset becomes problematic in most organizations though because it is a present-state kind of thought process and doesn’t account for what happens after you fill said job. This thought process is more a “check the box” exercise of skills needed, with the mysterious and often not quantified “culture fit” as part of the evaluation process. In speaking with several colleagues in the industry – “culture fit” is often cited but never really properly or uniformly evaluated in the process. One company “knows it when they see it”, another gives aptitude tests and another does a battery of behavioral questions – you get the point. Yes – “culture fit” is important – but it goes far beyond if the person will attend after hours get-togethers and not be put off by the dress code or certain office policies, etc. No – the real mindset recruiters should be thinking about is building teams.

Companies are one big team, and on this team you have several smaller teams working together but separately towards a common goal. The best teams are not people who are all alike and share the same belief systems and interests (see: The Borg), rather they are often very different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out. It is easy for a hiring manager to hire “mini-mes” (and most often do) but the real art of team building is building teams that balance one another out and provides the proverbial yin to the others yangs. The best hiring managers and recruiters aren’t checking off skills on a resume, but rather working together to put optimal personality types and motivations together in a fabric that makes them perform great as a team. I wonder if Walter White wasn’t forced by his circumstances if he would have ever worked with a Jesse Pinkman – but I think we know most likely he would have not. It is easy to manage someone “like you” because they are just that. But the really strong managers and teams embrace bringing in different personalities and perspectives because those are typically the people who push teams to doing things differently and with better results. It is important to put aside your biases when interviewing and assess talent, personality and motivators not based on what you would think and do but what is right for the team and what might bring added skills or perspective to your organization. This isn’t about picking your friends – this is about picking a great team.

Posted on December 8, 2014 in Nerd Stuff, Recruiting, talent acquisition, Uncategorized

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