How important are qualifications (degrees, diplomas, certifications etc.) when it comes to hiring people?
The perfect package is, of course, the person with the right qualifications, experience and values, but rarely is it so straightforward. Resumes tell part of a story, a polished, sugar-coated version and it’s up to you, the interviewer, to wade through the sparkles and glitter to find the real stuff.
A tale of two candidates – the MBA vs the Diploma
A number of years ago, I was faced with a hiring decision involving two very different candidates. Both were mature men with experience. One was “sparkling” on paper. He had an MBA, had worked at reputable organisations in positions equivalent to the one I was hiring. The other was not as qualified paper-wise but had something else – initiative, a “can-do” approach and street smarts. He gave me the confidence that if he hit a stumbling block, he would find a solution.
The other candidate was disappointing in spite of his various degrees including an MBA. The organisation was a start-up with no staffing or resources. It was going to be a two-man show at the start with no immediate plans for expansion. I asked the candidate what he would do if he ran into a technical issue that he couldn’t solve. He gave me an “are you kidding me?” look and asked “don’t you have a technical department?” Sure signs of having been spoon-fed! Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.
We use qualifications to help us make decisions when hiring people but as my example above has pointed out, be careful how much emphasis you place on qualifications. Yes, qualifications are objective because it feels like an independent certification of a certain level of knowledge. With work experience backing that up, it may seem like a no-brainer, but it is not. Use your instincts to look further.
Think outside the box when you are hiring. You may discover a gem
With rare exceptions, recruitment agents mostly fail in this area. They take the path of least resistance which involves the lowest risk because they are not paid to bear that risk. The “box” is a recruiters’ dream. If you fit perfectly into the box, you are the best candidate for them. So if you are using a recruitment agent, don’t expect them to think outside the box unless you brief them very thoroughly on what you are looking for. Keep in mind though that the brief can also become another box!
Is there such a thing as too much experience?
Experience in a particular industry is an area where most people play it safe. There is value in relevant experience in a particular industry but experience can be a double-edged sword. Extensive experience may indicate a lot of insight and knowledge in a particular industry, but it may also lead to closed thinking and an inability to look beyond the obvious. Lack of exposure to other industries and other roles could mean never being exposed to new and different ideas. It could mean only operating within one’s comfort zone. New ideas and innovation come from pushing boundaries and comfort zones.
What does your business need? Someone safe because there are enough mavericks already? Or someone who will bring in new ideas and new ways of thinking because there are too many people operating in their comfort zone?
Generalists vs specialists – Depth vs Breadth
Another area of consideration is hiring for depth or breadth. For example, when hiring for a marketing role, do you hire someone with the most marketing experience? Someone who has immense experience with marketing and may come backed by a Masters or PhD in Marketing? Or do you hire someone who may have acquired marketing skills in non-traditional ways?
Which does your business need? Someone who is flexible and adaptable or someone who is skilled in a narrow area. Don’t discount generalists just because they don’t appear to have the necessary depth. Are they able to acquire the depth that you feel they need? Are they able to bring something else to table as a result of not having years and years of experience in a particular area? These are some issues to consider.
Hire for values first and skills second
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I beg to differ and would also add that it is far easier to teach someone new skills rather than new values. So, hire first for the right values. Be clear on your organisational core values and how these values are expected to be embodied by your staff. This is far more difficult to get right than the other areas discussed but way more valuable in the long run.