‘The rare find’: on recruiting talent by George Andrews

What is best for the long, cold autumn evenings that just started? Of course: a book. Here in HR we are all getting our reader’s digest from blogs and online…

What is best for the long, cold autumn evenings that just started? Of course: a book. Here in HR we are all getting our reader’s digest from blogs and online magazines but it feels good to pick up a paperback once in a while. The new thing on our bookshelf here is ‘The Rare Find’ By George Andrews. As you probably figured, it treats about recruiting. We would recommend it to anyone interested in hiring talent, but if you don’t have the time to spare or your local bookshop feels too far away, don’t worry: we made some notes for you.

“Make room for the jagged resume.”

The recruiting process seems to be a lot about sorting the applications a putting them in two piles: rejections and go-further. Repeated a couple of times with fewer candidates in each round, it allows to peel away the semi-finalists, finalists and come up with the winners.

Andrews repeats time and time again that this recruiting system needs a nuance- a third ‘maybe’ pile for the candidates who are not an obvious fit but might have the potential. He coined the term ‘jagged resume’ for people whose background is a puzzling combination of promise and pitfalls.
Some of the best recruiters cultivate their talent pools by analysing the middle pile in search of an overlooked winner.

“Compromise on experience, not on character.”

It’s a sentence that anyone would make their maxim, but in terms of recruiting it’s easier said than done. The art of hiring tends to involve very subtle assessments of character. What is worth remembering is that these values are not universal: every company has a different, unique sense of which character traits are essential.

The first step to recruiting an un-obvious talent successfully is self-awareness. What is behind the keywords you’re fishing for in resumes? Can it be found somewhere else than in the track record? What would indicate that a candidate will be easily trained into the role you are looking to fill?

“You can always learn more equations as an adult,” he said. “We can teach that. But you can’t learn to be an inventor if it isn’t in your blood.”

Linear Technology, one of the most profitable enterprises in Silicon Valley seems to have answered all of the above questions. The company is known for recruiting chip designers among mischievous tinkerers who would electrify garbage bins as teens or tear apart their first computers out of curiosity.

Bob Donkin, the company’s CTO responsible for this slightly bizarre recruitment method, came up with the idea that the restless desire to create is not going to show up on resume. In Linear Technology’s recruitment credentials are secondary. Candidates are asked to come up with a practical solution to a problem or asked about something they did in the past. That way, even those without perfect track record can shine and the company doesn’t miss out on great engineers without pedigree.

“If everyone felt comfortable drawing insights from their own lives, this wouldn’t be a controversial chapter(…) hiring becomes a labored exercise in not making mistakes.”

Donkin’s method stemmed from his own experience. He was the one doodling circuits on lunch breaks and turned out to be successful. Instead of following the prescribed method to hire engineers, he is putting his bet on character traits that made him or his colleagues successful.

However, it seems like there is something Andrews overlooks altogether: the importance of great managers (although, true, those need to be hired too). Sometimes the so-called ‘safe hire’ can be coached and motivated into becoming a top performer- but it takes a special kind of boss to achieve that.

Sounds interesting? You can find some more thoughts on talent recruiting on the Google Books preview.

Photo credit: Flickr Erika

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