There are several critical business decisions that are driven, often subconsciously, by arrogance; one of the most critical is around recruiting and hiring. I often write about Blue Ocean strategy but despite its proven higher ROI, companies still regularly pursue a Red Ocean approach driven by overconfidence that they are simply smarter than their competitors (your competitors also think they are smarter). Recruiting is another area where overconfidence and arrogance can not only lead to sub-optimal decisions but also inhibit growth.
The mistake is rooted in the belief that they can train someone to fill an open position so the person would out-perform a candidate with experience. Thinking you will do a better job of training the person than a previous employer is an example of arrogance, unless you have a proven and reputation as being the best of the best, it is unlikely you can actually train someone to be the best of the best. More importantly, you neglect a tremendous opportunity for your company.
Up-skilling your company is more important
One of the biggest opportunities when recruiting is improving your company’s skillset. One of the very best people who ever worked for me, who has now gone on to achieve much bigger and better things, taught me never to hire someone who did not bring a new skill or attribute to the team. When he interviewed candidates, he not only ensured they had the skills for the target position, he would reject anyone (and it did make recruiting challenging often) who did not add something to the team. If we had a bunch of great producers, he would hire another producer who was not only fantastic at production management but might have design skills our team lacked. If he was hiring a designer, rather than take another strong artist, he would wait for an artist who was not only talented but may have come from a different industry that had a unique take on UI.
What his approach showed me (and the results were incredible) was that the real value in hiring is not filling a need but up-skilling everyone on your existing team and making them better. You can look at it mathematically:
- Candidate A is brilliant. You can train her to be a great performer. She will deliver 100% value * X (where X is output) after you train him, thus the ultimate value to the company is X.
- Candidate B is very good and but also brings a new skill (i.e. live operations management). She will be very good at her job (maybe a little weaker but I am not advocating accepting weaker candidates), so 90% * X. Other people on your team will also learn live ops management from her, making them all 10% better. Even if that is only 5 people, that adds 5 * X *.1; .5X. The total value to the company of this hire is 1.4X (so 0.5 better), not even considering the training costs avoided with candidate A.
Although this example is an over-simplification, it shows the leverage in hiring an experienced candidate and bringing their skills to your organization rather than focusing on developing a great employee from scratch.
You may not be ready to train to be the best
Unless you are truly the best in the world at something, you will not be able to train someone to be the best. At most, you will train them to be as good as you. If you are a Designer, you might believe you can train a designer who is coming straight out of university to be great. The reality is hiring a Designer who worked at Apple and was trained by Jony Ive is likely to yield a better designer than you could ever develop.
In effect, you are capping the new hire at the skillset of the person or people who will train them. Very few people are the best in the world, so assuming your company can do a better job training someone than anyone else could train them reflects arrogance rather than farsightedness.
You are missing a critical indicator of performance
Another problem with hiring with the intent to teach the candidate the job is your missing during the recruitment process the best indicator of how they will perform. While “past performance does not guarantee future success,” as anyone who has ever read an advertisement for a mutual fund knows, it is a damn good indicator with job candidates. As I previously wrote, interviews, personality tests, reference checks, etc., create an illusion of validity when evaluating candidates and are highly inaccurate. Conversely, work samples and experience are most predictive of success in a role. If you are hiring someone who has never had a similar role, with the plan to train them, you increase greatly the chance of a bad hire.
Experience is not an excuse for mediocrity
One important consideration when hiring someone is that experience should not be an excuse for accepting mediocrity. While there are benefits to bringing on someone with experience, it does negate the need to hire a great candidate. Someone with a mediocre track record probably has a low ceiling; they will be perpetually mediocre and not help your organization significantly.
You should also not equate a big name company on someone’s resume with great experience. There are both good and bad people at big (and even great) companies, it is actually often easier for these people to hide their weaknesses at a big company (their great colleagues can compensate for their weaknesses). You need to assess whether they did a great job at the position you are hiring for, not whether their company had great results.
Internship programs are great
This post should not be seen as a black and white blueprint for hiring, as there are many great opportunities to hire people with little or no experience, particularly creating an internship program. There are certain positions where experience is not needed or helpful. There are junior positions where it is quite easy to train people (though you still miss the opportunity to bring in people with different skills or experiences).
Finally, and most importantly, bringing in younger interns generates cognitive diversity. They will probably bring a fresh way of thinking to your team, challenge some conventional wisdom and potentially make everyone better.
Recruiting moving forward
The next time you are recruiting, particularly if it is for a somewhat senior position, look beyond the position and see how you can best help your organization. Realize you cannot train the person to be better than you. Understand the opportunity to bring new skills to your team. Hire the best, but make sure you know what best looks like for you.
- Recruiting candidates with the expectation you will train (upskill) them to do the target job well shows an arrogance that you think you can train them better than anyone else has.
- Upskilling people ensures your team does not go to the next level, you set your current skillset as the ceiling.
- You also miss the opportunity to bring new skills and experiences to your team, where the new hire can make everyone else more valuable.