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You’re Not Hiring for a Position. You’re Hiring for Potential.

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Years ago I learned a very important thing about hiring individuals for positions on my, or others’ teams: you can’t really get what you want. 

You see, when I first started hiring people oh so long ago — whether as contractors or employees — I ran out the gate with wonderfully-created job postings that detailed the job and its responsibilities to a “T.” I made sure that each ‘i’ was dotted and each ‘t’ crossed and in the process of doing so, found the responses to be lackluster and amazingly out of sync with what I was looking for.

Skip forward some 15 years and dozens of employees (and organizations) later and here’s what I have learned: you hire the person, and his or her potential, not just the already-developed skills.

For some reason, as managers, we like to believe that if we hire the right person with the right skills and the right experience, that person can join our team and “hit the ground running.” No lag time, no learning curve. But, for my colleagues out there who also hire teams, how many times has this actually happened? My bet is never.

We spend way too much time looking for that magic bean in a pile of them. We hire firms and agencies. We spend thousands of dollars trying to recruit and find that magic bean — and yet, many times months into the gig, one end of the party realizes that it’s just not the right fit.

So why waste the time trying to find the magic bean (a.k.a. the needle in the proverbial haystack) and why not, instead, use the time — and expense — wisely by finding the person who has the potential to be the right fit.

There’s a saying when looking at real estate: “There is no 100% home. Look for the 80% home and find ways to make up the additional 20%.” Meaning, there’s no perfect place, but you can find something relatively close that has the potential to become the 100% place. This is the same with people.

There is no 100% employee, find the 80%’er and develop ways for him or her to build that additional 20%.

Each individual has strengths. At the University I attended, they referred to them as “Dependable Strengths” — those strengths and skills which you can rely on to essentially be “built into” the individual based on their experiences, desires, and opportunities. I’m a huge advocate of finding and helping to develop the individual strengths of every individual, including those who work with me, however I can.

Playing to the strengths of the individual you bring onto your team, and finding ways to help him or her discover and develop them, is key to a long-term and successful relationship. Not only will it end up saving you thousands of dollars, but it will also save you — and your new team member — a lot of headaches.

So, how do you find those strengths? It’s easier than you think.

  1. Ask.
  2. Listen (and actively hear).
  3. Look at past experiences (not just their employment experiences).
  4. See beyond what’s written.
  5. Remember, it’s not just about what you want.

What do you think? Have you hired individuals and team members? Do you have any tips for those out there who are in their first round, or for others who may need a tune up on their hiring skills?

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