Let’s face it: resume reviews, phone screens, technical screens and interviews are all a bit of a crap shoot. We like to think that they are some sort of science, but we all know people who looked like they were a great fit who end up flaming out. And we also know a lot of people who were written off only to become a top performer.
In my humble opinion, the problem starts with the basic approach recruiters and hiring managers take to evaluating talent. Every recruiter I know starts with two basic filters: education and experience. First they look at where you went to school and what degree you received, then they look at the companies you have worked for in the past. In fact some companies have turned this into religious doctrine: if you didn’t get the right grades at the right college and have the right previous work experience you might as well be a felon on the run.
Maybe it’s because I barely graduated from a small liberal arts school, or maybe it’s because I have jumped around a lot in my career, but I think these filters are crap. Worse, I think they are doing real damage to our institutions and our country.
We have met people who almost flunked out of high school and went on to make significant contributions to their businesses and communities. And we have most likely all met (or seen on TV) blithering idiots with a complete lack of morals who graduated with honors from an Ivy League university. Best of all, I have had the real joy of working with people who failed miserably at all their previous jobs, only to watch them turn into complete rock stars in their new role in a new company. What could be better than that?
The great thing about America is that the past is prologue. That means we give people a chance when they make mistakes and that someone who gets knocked to the ground a hundred times gets the chance to brush themselves off and get back in the arena to compete (my favorite quote by Theodore Roosevelt who speaks directly to this sentiment). But that should also mean that we don’t give people a medal because of past accomplishments that could have been nothing more than dumb luck. Interviews should focus on the value a person can add in the future, not their past.
I have been singing from this hymnal for a long time. And many are eager to point out that this is easier said than done. People will agree with me in principle but then ask how they can convince hiring managers to take a look at the resume that everyone else is discarding, or how to get a recruiter to stand up and fight for a candidate that everyone else dismisses. I don’t have snappy answers to those questions, but I do know this: there is no greater reward in life than taking a chance on someone and having it pay off. There is no greater opportunity for our companies than figuring out a way to unleash employee potential. There is no greater need than to shift our focus from keeping the wrong people out to ensuring that we are all the right people.
I hope that recruiters and hiring managers will give themselves the opportunity to fight the good fight and earn that feeling. And I hope that candidates will keep their chins up and their hopes alive, realizing that there are people out here who are trying to find a way to take a chance on you.