I Hired Your Resume, But Unfortunately I Got You*

In the early days of moving pictures marketers quickly discovered the power of subliminal messaging. The human mind could subconsciously register a single image embedded within a movie projecting 24 frames per second. This advertising method gained favor among marketers, because it induced higher response rates among viewers than overt advertisements. The Federal Trade Commission deemed subliminal messaging deceptive advertising and outlawed it in the USA during the 1970s.

Repeated studies suggest that hiring managers are often heavily influenced by the subliminal power of first impressions. Too many of us will unconsciously make a go / no-go hiring decision in less time than it takes to watch a Super Bowl commercial. At that point, Confirmation Bias kicks into gear, and we spend the interview looking for things to affirm our initial subconscious impression.

Of course, you are smart enough to avoid that trap, or at least that’s what you tell yourself. However, unless you have a solid plan, you will end up looking at all the wrong things in all the wrong places when the time arrives to make your next hire.

Over the years I have often joked that a hiring interview is like a first date. We instinctively know that first impressions are important. We stand in front of the mirror to make sure we have the look just right. We apply extra diligence to observing social courtesies. We tell stories about our respective pasts with a focus on the positive. We talk about people we know, places we’ve been and events we’ve experienced. These fact-oriented discussions often do not tread into more sensitive topics; such as, why we act the way we do and what drives us.

Resumes reinforce this backward-looking, surface-level focus. In fact, the Latin root of resume means “to summarize” and “take back.” In other words, a resume summarizes the “what” of my past. When and where I worked. What I accomplished. A typical resume provides no sense of context; i.e. the external business environment, internal culture or surrounding talents and resources in which the candidate worked. The resume also gives no insights into the innate talents the candidate may have leveraged to deliver the results.

Granted, it’s important to understand the external/internal environments in which the candidate formerly worked, if for no other reason than establishing context for evaluating past accomplishments, but your environment is different to some extent than the candidate has previously experienced and changing all the time. However, the constant in this equation is the candidate’s talents. These raw abilities follow the candidate everywhere. When you hire a candidate you don’t get their past. Rather, you get their talents.

Unless you recognize this crucial distinction you may risk repeating the mistake of the hiring manager who lamented, “I hired your resume, but unfortunately what I got was you.”*

So, what talents are important? Most unique hiring factors are usually acquired skills (software coding) or related experiences (startups, R&D, finance, consumer goods, etc.). Talents typically have more universal applicability across projects, jobs and time. To illustrate the point, here’s a list of targeted talents I developed during my last startup:

1. Integrity. Managing becomes easy when I can count on people to say what they mean and follow through on their commitments. You don’t need lots of policies and rules if you hire people with integrity. You can trust them to do the right thing.

2. Intelligence. Experience is a weak substitute for raw intellectual horsepower. The business environment is constantly changing, and we wanted people with the smarts to solve the problems we don’t even know about yet.

3. Initiative. It is always easier to guide something in motion. Organizations waste tremendous amounts of energy just overcoming static inertia and moving into action. Besides, it is just plainly more fun to work with people who are willing to pitch in to solve problems.

4. Inquisitiveness. It is the best “I” word I identified to describe people who are curious about life and constantly looking for better ways to do things. Without people like this on the team, continuous improvement remains a theoretical concept.

In closing, here are some tips for integrating “hiring for talent” into your own culture:

  • Identifying the core talents and traits most important to your business culture takes time and careful thought; This may require researching the traits of successful people who have done similar work
  • Describe your target talents in writing–make your target hiring profile tangible; if not, we subject every hiring decision to the vague and subconscious biases of individual hiring managers
  • Develop methods for identifying and hiring people with your target talents…that’s the topic of the last blog post in this three-part “Hiring for Talent” series.
  • Talk about your target talents often; make them a visible part of your culture
  • Publicize and celebrate the linkage between those talents and the extraordinary results they produce
  • Align your reward system with your target talents

* Source, Jay Jordan in “Who” by Geoff Smart and Brad Street, pg 6