“But she looked great on paper…” The CV was stellar, the references checked out and the interview was little more than a formality. Yet the hire was a resounding failure for one simple reason: you focused too much on what the applicant had done – and not on who they were.
It goes without saying that the “brightest and the best” (whatever that means) are always going to gravitate towards the Googles of this world.
So picture the scene if you’re a Google recruiter with a role to fill. Your company happens to receive around two million resumes each year (not to mention the potential ability to headhunt whoever you want). Whatever the specialism, you simply hone in on proven ‘geniuses’; scanning the talent pool carefully and ruthlessly for those with the strongest credentials, the most experience and the highest possible level of expertise. The whole process is swift, clinical and more-or-less guaranteed to ensure that your company is staffed by the creme de la creme at every level.
It’s also pretty much the opposite of what Google actually does in real life.
Now obviously, you’re not going to ‘blag’ a job as a Google engineer if you don’t know your stuff. Screening is essential, but as Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Bock puts it, “by far the least important thing we screen for, is whether someone actually knows anything about the job they are taking on”.
For Google, recruitment isn’t simply about siphoning off those who already know the most. As Bock explains, “We recruit for aptitude, for the ability to learn new things and incorporate them”. A CV might give you an idea of an applicant’s core competencies, but will it tell you what’s really important? In isolation, will it uncover whether that individual is right for your company? Probably not.
Google is looking for ‘Googleyness’ from its candidates; a certain blend of attributes, from “intellectual humility” through to “comfort with ambiguity” that complement the company’s values. Will a CV tell a recruiter whether an individual has those attributes?
Again, it’s highly unlikely.
Why do successful companies go to great lengths to look beyond core competencies? It’s because of the crucial things a CV won’t tell you. Here are five of those things.
Richard Branson takes the view that “Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality”, and he cites “personality” as the first thing to look for when searching for a new Virgin employee.
A CV doesn’t show personality. And even a traditional interview can be problematic; being “good at interviews” might highlight an ability to perform – but very little else. It’s one of the reasons why Virgin Money has developed an “immersive” interviewing process, with candidates entering a series of different rooms where each room features a practical challenge to showcase their talents. Are they creative? Are they willing to get stuck in? The Virgin approach is all about providing a platform to demonstrate this.
How do you begin to measure an individual’s integrity? When faced with adversity, are they the type of person who brushes it under the carpet – or someone who confronts and deals with it?
Character is a tough one to gauge. You could ask the standard “Give me an example of how you’ve overcome a problem” at the interview – or you could take a leaf out of Walt Bettinger’s book.
The CEO of Charles Schwab consultancy wants to find out “whether their view of the world really revolves around others, or whether it resolves around them”. He invites the candidate to breakfast, tells the waiter in advance to mess up the candidate’s order and waits to see the reaction. Do they rant at the waiter? Are they respectful? Do they show understanding? Are they willing to say something to right a wrong?
For an indication of how an individual is likely to confront a difficult situation, a breakfast meeting can be infinitely more revealing than a CV.
Does a candidate share your view of the world? Whether you are looking for an innovator, an entrepreneur, someone who is dedicated to client care, it’s likely that you want your candidate to think a certain way; something that’s very different to having the ability to do certain things.
Earlier this year, the advertising agency The Garage took an novel approach to finding candidates with a particular mindset. It wanted people who “think differently”, and, citing the example of Steve Jobs, stipulated that “only Dyslexics (like Steve) should apply”. It’s a reminder of what somebody knows, isn’t the same as how they think.
4. Fire in the belly
Initiative, team player, good communicator, track record of success: CVs are typically peppered with these phrases. For employers such as Arianna Huffington, these and other buzzwords count for little. Indeed, on the track record point, as she puts it, “We have hired people who never had a job before and now they’re running the company”.
What Huffington looks for is “passion, that fire in the belly. If people have that, you can teach them about the rest of it”.
5. Cultural fit
Huffington Post could have its pick of journalists, but drilled into its hiring managers is this core rule: “no brilliant jerks allowed”. Time and again you’ll see this approach in successful companies; a willingness to turn down the “brightest and the best” if there’s a risk that the candidate isn’t going to embrace the company’s values and way of working.
The most dangerous employee in an organisation isn’t the programmer with gaps in his knowledge, or the sales person who is yet to hit their form. After all, skills can be developed and gaps in knowledge can be filled.
The “brilliant jerk” has the greatest potential to do harm; the high performer who regards himself as untouchable; who belittles and undermines other team members and who forces you to compromise on your standards and your way of doing things.
“A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.” – Jim Collins
So how do companies avoid being lumbered with this type of individual? Cultural fit can be hard to gauge until you’ve actually seen the candidate in action in the workplace, which helps to explain the popularity of extended selection processes.
Take PwC’s “Growing Talent” scheme, for instance. To fill entry-level vacancies in its Infrastructure and Procurement division, the company launched an initiative that incorporated a week of orientation followed by 11 weeks learning the vacant role and working all shifts. Candidates were mentored and appraised throughout.
PwC was essentially making recruitment decisions based on a 12-week process designed to help employees and employers get the right fit, with a strong emphasis on recruiting “sustainable” staff. The company also widened its search criteria, removing the age ceiling of 24 that it previously had in place. And did it work? Well, all four initial participants who completed the process were still with the company a year later.
It’s easy for an applicant to make the right noises and say the right things in their CV. It’s only through putting this to the test, by placing the individual within your organisation that you can start to determine whether they are going to fit.
The CV is only part of the jigsaw…
According to Lex Fenwick, the former CEO of Dow Jones and Bloomberg, “Resumes are puff pieces, written by an individual, about an individual”. At best, a CV will tell you what an individual has done – not who they are.
So when recruiting, consider the following process:
- Define your very own “Googleyness”. Laszlo Bock has a certain set of characteristics he looks for. It’s up to you to define what you are looking for. What does your company stand for? What blend of attributes should people possess to complement who you are, and the way you work?
- Look beyond core competencies. Whether you take an applicant for breakfast, or institute an extended orientation programme, make sure your selection process measures more than just what someone knows.
- Never compromise. If hiring a certain individual means jettisoning what you stand for or your preferred way of operating, you’re making a wrong choice.