Article: Hire for the strengths and not for lack of weaknesses

Talent Acquisition

Hire for the strengths and not for lack of weaknesses

Hiring is a part scientific and part instinctive process. However, few organisations follow or are even aware of the scientific methodology.
Hire for the strengths and not for lack of weaknesses

When you are building a team for your startup, or hiring to fill in key positions in your company, you need to ask yourself some critical questions; what are we looking for in a candidate? What value addition will the candidate bring to the organization? As entrepreneurs and business leaders who have created successful companies with strong teams will tell you, hiring is a complex process. Especially for startups that are building a brand from scratch. 

There are, however, different scenarios that drive a company’s hiring process. If your company is one that prefers to maintain the status quo and not shake things up too much, then hiring someone who is ‘just fine’ and does not have any glaring weaknesses can be a good move. However, what if they do not have any distinct strength either? Most times, when recruiters come out of an interview, the common remark they make is, “He’s okay. I don’t have any objections to him.” But there’s something not quite right with this picture. An alternative to this is to try not to hire a candidate who is good at everything or not bad at anything. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ben Horowitz believes that it is always a better decision to ‘hire a candidate for his/her strengths and not for a lack of weaknesses’.  Here is an instance on how I used this quote to choose between candidates for a senior position.

Hiring is a part scientific and part instinctive process. However, few organisations follow or are even aware of the scientific methodology. So, let’s look at the science behind finding the right candidate through an example considering 4 good candidates that we recently interviewed for a senior position. Before we start interviewing for a position, we have a fair idea about the skill sets we are going to evaluate candidates on, so that we have a basis for objective comparison among candidates. Here is what we rated our candidates at the end of the interviewing process:

Total: 31.5, 33, 31.5, 26.

We provide the above table (score against skill sets) to the candidate whenever he/she joins the company. This helps him in defining a roadmap of his/her learning curve. Culture fit is absolutely essential - so any candidate who doesn't score on that is not a fit at all, hence candidate D is out. Summing up scores on all skill sets, candidate B appears to be the winner. However, we ended up rejecting candidate B. We preferred an excellent output in Skill Set 1 and Skill Set 2 rather than just good output in all skill sets. Hence, we chose candidate A and candidate C instead of just selecting candidate B. 

There is a huge difference in output between good and great skill sets. Taking an analogy from sports, if Usain Bolt can sprint 100m at 27.7 mph, you cannot combine 2-3 runners together to outdo his performance. Similarly, when I appeared for the IIT JEE exam in 2003, gap in scores between AIR 1 and AIR 2 was huge and the gap kept on reducing with subsequent ranks. After 100 ranks, there were multiple ranks on the same score. Quality curve is highly exponential as you aim for the world best. A typical skill set vs output graph -

As per our roadmap, we would have anyway hired another team member in the next 6 months. We had to compress the timeline for the second hiring. We had to blend the work profile and strengths of both the selected candidates so that they can combine their individual strengths to yield max output together. We bet that Candidate A will also excel in Skill Set 3 in 4-5 months. He has the aptitude and intent to excel and not just be mediocre, demonstrating the same in Skill Set 1. 

Topics: Talent Acquisition, Recruitment

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