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Why Wasn't That On the Resume?

This article was originally published in the Providence Business News and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

When we try to define candidates in predetermined terms, we’re forgetting that every one of them is unique.

In the course of each executive search we learn a lot from our clients and our candidates. Each engagement reminds us how smart we’re not. In prepping a search, we describe the ideal candidate. We detail specific business, professional and educational experience. Yet without exception, each candidate will bring unique assets that we hadn’t contemplated. We recall one IT executive search for a large manufacturer and an impressive candidate with invaluable experience that was not on her resume. Beyond an exceptional IT track record, we found through our vetting process that her earliest career had included shop floor manufacturing experience, plus years as a first line supervisor. The sum of her IT and operations experiences made her a truly unique prospect for this client – and then a highly valued new leader. (With every engagement we do get a little bit smarter.)

Hiring people is an art, not a science, and resumes can’t tell you whether someone will fit into a company’s culture.” – Howard Schultz

In-depth discussions with each candidate for every search take us beneath the surface and beyond their resume. As the hunt progresses, we’re too often struck by clients who view candidates solely through a rear-view mirror. They may be too intent on where a candidate has been, missing where they can go, and how they could impact culture and a changing business; they’ll assess the candidate’s motivations, including what they’d do in their place (sometimes forgetting that not everyone is similarly motivated). The best candidates themselves are driving their careers not based on what they recall in their rearview mirror but what they see through their windshield. They’re focused on future challenge, growth opportunity and how they’ll fit the chemistry of a new organization.

In the profiling of the ideal candidate comes the reality that no prospect will touch every base. The perfect candidate does not exist! This reality demands that the hiring executive determine those attributes that cannot be compromised, and then somehow capitalize on, or develop, the rest. And let’s not ignore the unanticipated strengths that every good candidate brings – assets that were never contemplated when the search was planned.

In the recruitment process, some organizations employ candidate assessment tools and others will use online recruitment tools. Both can be helpful aids when used properly but alone, neither will touch on the intangibles or the candidate’s fit with the organization. As an analogy, when shopping for a bolt at my local hardware store I can always find a nicely finished and sized bolt, but how do I know it’s the right one? I need to know where and how it’s going to fit. And perhaps just as important, these tools won’t help onboard a new hire or guarantee the outcome.

In matching a candidate to a job, if the fit doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Don’t think you can change it. Don’t do it.

Any job must offer its incumbent some stretch and challenge to keep them motivated and excited. The stretch also serves to stimulate a new leader’s approach to new and unique problems, rather than just repeating what they’ve always done in the past.

Recruiting right is arduous work that goes well beyond a resume or an initial introduction. Yet as consuming, challenging, and expensive as it may be, a disciplined recruitment is far less expensive than owning a bad hire.


Stanley Davis is the Founder of Standish Executive Search.

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