Filling the World’s Single Toughest Job | Right Recruiting White Paper
A few months ago, I was being interviewed for an article on recruiting. I was asked a question that I get frequently – what is the most difficult job to fill?
Usually, the expected answer is some unique job in some esoteric industry in an odd location. For example, earlier this year we filled a PhD Life Sciences job, in a specific tech, in rural Central Pennsylvania. That was tough because there were no local employers and we had to conduct a national search. But, it was nowhere near the toughest we’ve faced.
The toughest job to fill is more situational than industry or discipline specific. Most employers have this type of project occasionally and these projects require a different strategy than a traditional job opening. In this White Paper, we will dissect these projects and give you some bullet point suggestions that might help you through these projects.
The most difficult job to fill is one that does not exist in an organization at the current moment. Usually, it is an executive being brought in to create a discipline that does not currently exist. We are now working with a client to identify a CMO who will create a formal marketing function in an organization that does not have one now. That’s a good example. Last quarter, we worked with another client to find their first HR person.
These projects are tough for a few reasons, some obvious and some not.
1) Candidate evaluation
If you are bringing in someone to create a function, that means that you have no one in your organization who is trained in that function. How do you judge a candidate’s skills? A VP of Engineering can evaluate an engineering candidate’s skills. A VP of HR can evaluate the skills of a HR Business Partner. But, how does a CFO evaluate the skills of a marketing candidate? How does a business owner with no sales management experience evaluate the skills of a VP of Sales? In these scenarios, there is no objective way to evaluate job specific skills.
As an aside, if you have a consultant doing this function now, be a bit practical about their feedback on any candidate. Bringing the function inside may affect the consultant’s billings. Be a little cynical about potential self-serving advice.
2) Candidate expectations
Candidates are often nervous about being the first in the door in their function. They are nervous because of two things. One, how firm is the commitment to create the function? Any organizational change will result in staff pushback. Will a little staff squawking about needed change abort the project and put the candidate out of work? The second is resources. Will I get the needed resources to create the function? Even a one-person department needs resources – vendors, training programs, software, etc. Will the owner/CEO invest enough for me to really create a function or am I going to be a boat with no engine?
Expect questions about that and give honest answers. Honesty is your ally, as you will see below.
3) Candidate mismatch
We see this a lot. Well, actually we clean this mess up a lot. Sometimes a $50,000,000/year manufacturer in search of a Director of Operations goes out and hires a Director of Operations from a $500,000,000/year company. We’ve talked about this extensively in other White Papers. Scaling down is as hard to do as scaling up. Running a 30 person department with a $30,000,000 budget is not the same as running a 2 person department with a $2,000,000 budget. Because you can do the first, does not mean you can do the second.
For us, each of these type projects is different but there is one constant challenge for the employer. How do you hire someone who knows more about the subject matter than you do? For example, how does a company who has never had someone in HR, marketing, engineering etc. evaluate skills in those areas? If I gave you 4 people to interview outside your discipline, how would you decide who was best?
If you merely ask specific questions to test skills, would you truly know if someone was giving you the correct answer? Probably not. Here is what you do:
1) You hire the person. You hire the person who can explain his or her answers in a way that helps you understand the thought process behind the answer. After all, that person will oversee a function. You are hiring them to make decisions. They are being hired to tell you what to do. He or she is bringing you something (skills, knowledge) that you do not have now.
To evaluate judgment and thought process, ask them to give examples of projects/experiences they have had and to explain what they did to get a positive outcome. Ask for a step by step explanation and ask why they chose one course of action over another. Ask them to explain the worst decision they’ve ever made and what they did to correct it. Expect clear and sharp answers. If you do not get them, move on to another candidate.
2) Explain your company and its needs in detail and answer every question they have so that they understand the situation. Why? It is insurance. Here is what I mean.
This person will probably be gainfully employed now and will definitely know more about their discipline than you do. If you extend them an offer and have painted an accurate picture, they will know whether they can do the job or not. They risk as much, if not more, than you do if they leave their employer for a job they can’t do. An honest presentation of your situation is insurance against a bad decision.
3) Interview at least 4-5 people. You need comparisons and you also need to hear a variety of thoughts about your job/company and get different insights. Each interview can teach you something. We have often seen the job specs for these projects change after each interview as the client adds or subtracts a preconceived notion about their needs.
4) If there is no personal connection between you and the person, do not hire them. This is a relationship built on trust. Trust cannot exist in a vacuum.
5) Lastly, when you have finalists, ask each for an informal 30 day, 90 day, 6 month plan. Ask for an explanation and reasoning behind priorities. And, expect it to be accurate. Expect it to be logical. Even with extensive interviews, your candidate has never worked at your firm. They are data poor and their plans are based on assumptions and not experience at your firm. After a week at your company, their priorities may shift. That’s ok. They know more about what is needed at that point.
Employment is not certainty, but it is probability. Employment is people. Because of that, employment is murky. People change. Companies change. While certainty is impossible, due diligence and planning can increase your probability of any successful hire. We think the steps we laid out above can help.
Of course, we think we can help a lot more if you hire us to fill your positions. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Please contact me directly to explore how we can help you.
As ever – Jeff