Risk Topics

hiring for many talents


I've repeatedly been faced with the difficult task of hiring for ambiguous roles where a range of different skills are required. It's tough, much tougher than hiring for a role with a widely-held skill set or common job title. In fact, it can be a major distraction. But it shouldn't be, and there can be a fairly simple fix.

What I realized is that I had to eliminate the complexity in the decision. For instance, it's not uncommon to be looking for a set of four or five desired skills. Naturally, these won't be equally present in the candidates you're interviewing. Between the candidates' natural limitations, their variable career and educational backgrounds, and the trade-offs they made in choosing their path to life, it's unlikely that a limited set of candidates in a given locale will result in anything like a perfect match for an all-encompassing job description.

Especially if money matters.

The approach I'm now taking is to cut the desired set down to two or three skills. These will naturally occur in candidates in certain sets: for instance a software developer may have substantial exposure to either the financial or entertainment industry but not usually both in equal – or useful – amounts; but a software developer with financial industry and substantial SQL experience will be common, as developers frequently use that language in that industry.

By recognizing these natural sets of skills, it's much more possible to come up with not only a single realistic set of skills to expect in a candidate, but to model alternative profiles with unique sets of a limited number of skills. At the same time, I need to recognize that a candidate is going to usually be strongest in only one or possibly two. This should clarify the sorts of candidates to speak to, and greatly help with evaluating those candidates.

In the example that follows, I outline an attempt at hiring to replace a person who was relatively junior, but who punched above his weight in one field. That person's work taught us how their capabilities benefited the firm, and gave us hints as to some alternative roles that might extend their work in different directions, or alternatively allow us to focus on something new as needs dictate.

There are a number of factors here:

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