This post is the result of reading a wonderful article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Don’t Hire The Perfect Candidate.” By Lance Haun. It was sent to me by one of my favorite candidates and I can honestly say, I wish I had written it.
I have often written about companies giving me virtually inactionable job specs. Just recently, I received a three page document from an integrated ad agency that was looking for a very senior person.. Not once did it mention the media skills – traditional, digital, promotion, etc. – required to fill the job! Instead, it was loaded with platitudes. They were looking for a candidate with “great training”, “excellent education” specific “category experience”, but, believe it or not, it never mentioned the category. This was a wish list of what the perfect candidate looked like; but it had nothing to do with the job, nor did it give me any direction as to where to search. The list of desired traits was extensive - and virtually impossible to find. If such a candidate did exist, it would take months to find him or her. Mr. Huan refers to this as "The purple squirrel candidate." Purple squirrels don't really exist, although everyone wants to see one.
I recently got a job from a fine agency, one I am very fond of, for an account executive, $50k salary, who had four to six years experience including category experience, extensive digital (web development, social media, email blasts") as well as traditional, including television production ("preferably multiple commercials"). Now, such a person may exist, but it is almost impossible to find her or him. Entry level, even at the smallest ad agencies is now about $38-42k, so finding someone with six years experience at such a low salary would be almost impossible. Combined with the extensive digital and traditional experience they wanted and, indeed, this candidate would be a purple squirrel. As Mr. Haun points out in his article, they could wait months before finding such a person, if at all.
I have seen agencies spend months trying to find the perfect candidate, especially for very senior jobs. In several cases that I can think of, the job for the lead account or creative person was open for so long that the client became antsy because their account lacked necessary leadership. By the time the ultimate candidate got hired, the wheels had already been in motion for an account review, and the new account person, no matter how competent, could not save the business since the client had lost faith in the agency. This is a very common occurrance.
Companies tend to concentrate on their ideals when hiring, but they often forget about the job itself. The perfect candidate, by their original standards, may not exist. And if they are hired, often their performance proves to be disappointing because, despite a "perfect" résumé , the candidate lacks the experience to handle the real issues of the job. I call this hiring a résumé. It happens because the company never really defined the job (as opposed to defining the candidate). But if the company truly defined the job and the issues that need to be handled, the perfect candidate they are looking for may take a back seat to a person without category experience and to the real issues that need to be solved.
What do I mean by that?
The first thing every company and hiring manager needs to do is to ask themselves a series of questions: What should this hire accomplish? What problems need to be solved? Are there any specific skills or experiences which are essential to the success of this job? How will this person be measured in terms of success or failure? What kind of personality is best suited for both the client and the agency? What kinds of skills will most likely compliment their supervisor? You will notice that not one of these questions involved “category experience” which is often misleading and unnecessary.
The answers to these questions leave a broad based interpretation. And they will make it much easier to find the right candidate, not the perfect candidate.