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Beware of Candidate Crushes

by Allyson Biegeleisen, Vice President of Client Searches

If you’re ever been involved in a hiring process for your organization, you can appreciate how hiring is a lot like a whirlwind romance. At the start, you have a vision for the perfect mate (or hire), and in the end, you may find out that person is completely wrong. Often times, a seemingly dreamy candidate may not want the job you’re offering or may not bring the right skills for the job. In these cases, hiring managers ultimately benefit from putting their crushes aside in pursuit of more appropriate candidates.

Here are three types of candidate crushes that hiring organizations often pursue, only to get their hearts broken later.

Often, hiring organizations are overly focused on certain candidate experiences, such as an Ivy League background or work experience at elite organizations. We call this “searching for a shiny penny.” While educational or employment background can add to a candidate’s qualifications, it can’t be at the expense of hiring someone who wants and can actually do the job.

Instead of getting sidetracked by a specific candidate profile, keep an open mind about candidates who are equally smart and impressive and have the competencies to be successful in the role, but may not have the “right” schools and employers on their resume. Think through the qualities that make a shiny penny so impressive - such as a Harvard MBA bringing strong analytical skills - and identify other ways to identify and evaluate candidates on a desired skillset. In the end, you need to hire the person who is best for the role, not the person who looked best on paper.

It’s easy to fall in love with someone who speaks knowledgeably and passionately about your organization’s mission. We’ve seen this happen when an organization hires a long-time volunteer or community member into a role that may not be a good fit with his/her skillset. While mission connect is hugely important, it can’t be at the expense of the qualifications required for a given role.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage your biggest fans in other ways. For applicants who bring tons of passion, but not necessarily the right skills for a given position, engage them in other ways, such as joining an Advisory Board committee or helping to plan a fundraising event. Then, you can focus on finding the right all-around fit for your highest need positions.

So you need to create a program or development team from scratch, and you want a leader who has been through that exact experience before. True, that person will bring the experience, but chances are, they are not looking to do the same exact job again - especially in high burn-out situations like launching a new site or rebuilding a Board of Directors. Unfortunately, many hiring managers hold out for someone who has “been there, done that,” even if that means turning away seemingly less qualified candidates.

Rather, pursue candidates who aspire to take on an ambitious set of responsibilities. Often times, the “up and comer” candidate brings a valuable level of energy and hunger. As long as you are clear about the competencies and experiences required to do the job, you will be able to identify a range of candidates who will be successful in a given role.

In the end, you need to hire the candidate who wants (and is appropriate for) the job. Giving in to narrowly defined candidate crushes often results in prolonged and ineffective hiring processes. By knowing what’s important to you about a given candidate profile, and then thinking broadly and creatively about the range of individuals who could be successful, your organization will end up hiring the best person for the job, every time.

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