I am often consulted to help companies fill key positions. Whenever someone wants to fill a position, the natural reaction is to write up a list of things you want that person to do and then try to find someone who has done all of that. While I understand the appeal of finding a proven commodity, this “been there done that” approach to hiring often leads to less than optimal results.
The problem with this approach is that it fails to consider that hiring someone requires a dual sales process. Not only do you have to be convinced that a particular candidate is the right choice, but the candidate also has to believe that the job you are offering makes good career sense for them. This is where the “been there done that” approach runs into a big issue. The top performers – the ones you really need to give your business a competitive advantage – typically won’t want to do the same job they have already done. These “A” players are looking for their next step up the career ladder. They are looking for new challenges and bigger opportunities. If you focus your screening criteria around a been there done that approach, you will weed out many potential superstars while interviewing mostly mediocre candidates.
To attract the top performers, you need to set the experience bar one level below what you expect them to do in the job but set the talent bar one level higher. For example, when hiring for a VP position, I would always rather hire a super talented individual with director-level experience than a less talented individual with VP experience. You may not always have a VP position available for superstars, however. In general, the people you want aren’t willing to make a lateral move without some sort of disruptive event. Examples of disruptive events are bankruptcies, acquisitions or CEO departures. This is often a time when you can convince a good performer to make a move. Otherwise, you should reach down to find a rising star that can blossom with a new opportunity.