Why do many tracking professionals, who are generally very keen to learn new skills themselves, apply hiring practices that eliminate high-achieving candidates with the same enthusiasm for learning?
The answer lies in the over-reliance on same-to-same hiring.


GRAPHICS V4 04 cropIn their search for a candidate for a particular role, companies often try to find one who has all the necessary hard skills, along with a background that corresponds exactly to the size, sector and other characteristics of the company. We refer to this approach as same-to same hiring. It’s assumed that, with such skills and experience, the candidate should adapt quickly to the role and be able to hit the ground running. 

For example, a manufacturing company that generates $500 million in annual revenues may need a CFO. To find one, the company identifies 20 hard-skill requirements for the role: a qualified CPA with an MBA and experience in acquisitions, strategic planning, budgeting, KPIs, financing, public company financial reporting, U.S. GAAP, consolidations, SAP ERP software, advanced Excel, costing, LEAN manufacturing, continuous improvement, risk management, tax planning, management of over 30 staff, project management and board presentations, who is currently working in a mid-sized manufacturing company with international locations. 

But, even if the company finds a candidate who meets all these requirements, the new hire often turns out to be a disappointment. Despite an apparently perfect match of hard skills and experience, the candidate is not the perfect fit for the role.



GRAPHICS V4 01 cropIn conducting a job search, nearly all the tracking individuals I meet in my career consulting practice say they would welcome the opportunity to learn new hard skills and work in a new sector, and most of them place little importance on company size. They feel strongly that they have transferrable skills and that they can adapt to a wide range of new settings. They feel motivated by new challenges. It’s what gets them excited about going to work.

But when they need to hire new staff themselves, these same individuals think in a completely different way and rely on same-to-same hiring! They look for a short list of candidates with almost 100% of the hard skills required, who work for companies of the same size in the same sector. These hiring managers have no difficulty in identifying, describing and screening for the hard skills. After all, this is their area of expertise, and they know exactly the hard skills involved. 

Unfortunately the over-reliance of companies and individual hiring managers on same-to-same hiring is problematic because of the realities of finding the best fit.

 Reality #1

No matter what skills and experience they bring to a company, new hires go through a big learning curve as they adjust to their role. They need to build relationships, adapt to the company culture and learn its business and systems work. In today’s environment of rapid change, the learning curve never ends. To stay at the top of their game, they will need to keep adapting and learning new skills. Before they can succeed in meeting these challenges, new hires need well-developed interpersonal skills together with the right motivation. 

These necessary soft skills may include openness to the ideas of others, acknowledgement of different ways of doing things, the tenacity and determination to overcome challenges, resilience in the face of setbacks, the capacity for problem solving, the flexibility to think innovatively and the mental agility to adjust strategy on the fly. To succeed in leadership roles, new hires need even more soft skills, from the ability to communicate clearly and listen productively, to self-awareness. 

A candidate may possess 100% of the hard skills for a role and still be lacking some or all of the critical traits. They don’t appear by magic; you have to identify the required soft skills from the outset of your search and then screen candidates appropriately to see if they have them.

Reality #2

By restricting your potential hires to individuals whose hard skills and experience correspond so closely to your requirements, you significantly reduce your pool of candidates, sometimes down to a handful or less. 

Almost inevitably, you will then hire the candidate who possesses the required hard skills and experience, while overlooking their soft skills. From all the years that I’ve run my outplacement practice, I’ve learned that hard skills and experience almost never compensate for poor interpersonal skills, such as the inability to forge productive relationships. By overlooking these soft skills, you set yourself up for the possibility of a poor hire leading to termination and another search for a suitable candidate.

Reality #3 

If you succeed in hiring a candidate whose hard skills and experience correspond exactly to your requirements, you have to wonder why the new hire has settled for the same role. It’s likely that you have either hired a tracking candidate taking a role that they don’t really want, or a candidate who is too complacent to welcome challenge. 

In either case, you face a disappointing outcome. If candidates don’t really want the job, they’ll soon get bored, and you’ll have a problem keeping them interested in staying. If candidates don’t want to stretch themselves, they may be unwilling to adapt to the inevitable challenges of a new role in a growing business. 

The best candidates want to learn and grow. They may not have every hard skill, but they have a strong desire and ability to acquire them.



GRAPHICS V4 03 cropOf course, a new hire needs core hard skills to succeed in a role. For example, a business generalist is unlikely to have the financial insight to be a perfect hire for a sophisticated CFO role. But you need to apply balanced screening criteria that identify and evaluate key hard skills and also enable you to identify and evaluate, from the outset of the search, each candidate’s relevant interpersonal and leadership traits. Only then can you feel assured of hiring a competent candidate who will strive for success. 

In a nutshell: Focus on who can do the best job, not on who has done the job before.

This shift in thinking and approach will pay dividends!

 You can find out more about these hiring principles by referring to “Hiring for Fit: A Key Leadership Skill”