Old Dog, New Tricks


When Malcom Gladwell wrote Outliers, he claimed that anyone can master a skill with 10,000 hours of practice.  While I doubt any of us sit at our desks and tally up those hours, I do think that, over time, complacency sets in.  Once you’ve done a job long enough, you feel like you’ve seen it all and done it all; you’ve got it all figured out.  So when a client asks for something atypical, it can be a little bit unsettling or shocking.

“Can you tell me the weaknesses of each candidate you submitted to me?” this client asked.  “Any areas of concern I should know about?”

I’m sorry….what?

I’ve worked in talent acquisition for more than a decade.  I’ve sorted through hundreds of thousands of resumes, fielded tens of thousands of phone calls, met thousands face to face and I’ve placed more than my fair share of applicants throughout many different industries in all corporate level positions.  The process has always (more or less) been the same.

If the talent meets the criteria the client laid out, we move forward, and I present that information to the client. 

Talent, meet company, task and culture.

I never send candidates to a client that I have genuine concerns about.  It’s my job to provide the client with someone who can hit the ground running, providing a good return on talent investment and to weed out the “bad from the good”.  But the perfect candidate simply doesn’t exist, as much as we’d like to pretend that he/she does.  Everyone has flaws or concerns; some more extreme and disruptive than others, but everyone has them.  We accept those imperfections as a part of the whole and we work through or around them. 

Taking a step back and reexamining my process has made me realize that we, as talent acquisition consultants, may be leaving valuable material on the cutting room floor.  Doing a deeper dive into who the candidate is – unearthing some of those warts and blemishes – may provide the client with a more complete picture of who they’re potentially bringing onto their team.  I feel as though we have an obligation to help paint a complete and accurate candidate picture. It’s not our job to only sell the good because we aren’t the ones who will be saddled with the baggage of hiding the bad. 

Discussing a candidate’s weaknesses is uncomfortable.  The candidate is doing his/her best to disguise them while we’re trying to find a good candidate to fill the client’s vacancy.  Traveling down that road just feels counter-productive; like you’re looking to start trouble.  But is that truly the case?

If you were taking a cross-country trip, odds are you’d have your car thoroughly inspected first or at least have a few rest stops laid out, a path or hopefully a final destination point determined.  Finding problems and paying for repairs is surely not on anyone’s to-do list, but it’s better to find them now before your trip than when you’re stuck on the side of Route 66 in the hot desert sun with no cell service.  Providing the client with a more complete dataset allows them to assess the entire situation and make a decision they can feel good about.  Such an informed decision should lead to improved retention and productivity, increasing the client’s bottom line and maximizing the return on talent investment.

“Can you tell me the weaknesses of each candidate you submitted to me?” 

As the words echoed through my head, it sent me into a spiral of personal reflection.  The client was asking about weaknesses of the candidates, but in a way, he identified a weakness in me.  After eleven years in this business, I had fallen into the redundancy trap.  So set in my ways, I was startled at the notion of seeking different, dare-I-say uncomfortable information.  But complacency is the death of ambition, and the time has come for this old dog to learn some new tricks. 

Jared Brookstein