• Susanna Williams

How to Hire Better

When thinking about who I want to add to my team, I consider the activities the role will entail and the skills and traits needed to successfully engage in those activities. Skills can be learned. Traits can be developed. Both skills and traits are equally distributed- everyone has them, although people certainly have different skills and traits and determining what an individual’s skills and traits are and how they align to the job that needs to be done is the heart of the hiring process.

I see far too many job descriptions, however, that include experiential qualifications. Things like “Big Four consulting” or “prior experience supporting C-suite executives in a fast-paced, highly matrixed startup environment”. This despite the fact that study after study has proven that experience doesn’t matter.

But the reason that I am especially averse to considering prior experience is that experiences aren’t equally distributed. The pathway to working at a Big 4 consulting company, for instance, generally requires getting recruited from an Ivy League or R1 institution as a 20-something college grad willing to work insane hours for relatively low pay (memo to the Big 4 consulting companies: experience doesn’t matter for you, either). Experience is just as much of a proxy for other things as academic background. I would rather be explicit about what those experiences provide and hire for those skills or traits instead.

So what are you saying when you ask for “Big 4 consulting experience” or “supporting C-suite executives”? What are the actual skills or traits you’re assuming those experiences convey? Do you want to know if someone brings a potential book of business and relationships with a certain echelon of clients? Do you want to know if someone knows how to deal with complicated, highly demanding clients? Do you want to know if someone is comfortable working in ambiguous environments with visionary, ambitious, ego-driven people? Then ask for those things or evidence of the ability to navigate those behaviors and cultures.

Job postings and hiring processes telegraph a great deal about your organization, your culture and the ways you work. If you want better outcomes, bringing new people on board is an opportunity to reflect on what matters for the work you do. As Simon Sinek reminds us, you have to start with why. Respect your future colleagues enough to clearly ask for what you actually want in order to do the work at hand. Be mindful that skills come from a lot of different experiences, not just the ones that look good on paper. There is unconscious access bias in privileging certain prior work and life experiences. When you get down to your "why", it's easier to find your "who". And you will be truly impressed by the people you find as a result.