By: Becky Stein On: November 01, 2018 In: Becky Stein's Blog, SPMB Blogs, SPMB News Comments: 0

Why holding out for the Perfect Candidate will hurt your business.

Perfection. It’s what every company wants in their search for new employees. Finding and hiring employees can be one of the most stressful aspects of leading a company, and seldom do you find a candidate whom you could label a perfect match.

Is the search for the “ideal” hire worthwhile, or should you revise your focus to concentrate only on the things that are most important?

The price of hiring the wrong candidate is painful; the U.S. Department of Labor clocks the price of a bad hire as at least thirty percent of the employee’s first-year compensation. Even so, there is a reason the term “purple squirrel” is used to denote a candidate with precisely the right education, experience and qualifications.

Purple squirrels simply do not exist.

The Costs of Purple Squirrels

While there are costs to a bad hire, there are also costs to holding out for the non-existent perfect candidate.

  1. Opportunity costs – While you are interviewing–and interviewing and interviewing–you could have hired someone who is adding to your company’s success.
  2. Declining returns – Open job positions are like fish: The older they are, the more they stink. If a position stays open for too long, the market will start to wonder why. Does the CEO have unrealistic expectations? Is the company tanking? Potential candidates will wonder, “What do others who have passed on the opportunity know that I don’t?”
  3. Misaligned incentives – The longer a position is open, the longer existing employees fill in; the longer they fill in, the more likely they are to think the role does not need to be filled. This is especially true if there are internal candidates who want the job or for people who will be getting bumped down a level by the new hire. Additionally, this scenario makes those employees even pickier if they are in the interview loop.
  4. Time management – If you are handling the search internally, think about the time your recruiter could be spending filling other jobs, while you look for your purple squirrel.

A willingness to be more grounded in your search does not mean you have to abandon your ideals. You just need to be really clear about what is vital and what is negotiable.

I like to start with the question “If this person is going to be fired in the first year, what would they get fired for doing or not doing?”

The answer provides a clear idea of the “must haves” versus the “nice to haves” for the role, and it’s more often the subjective, soft skills that will sink someone.

Purple Squirrel Suggestions

Here are a few suggestions for things you may want to consider vital:

  • Skill set – The more senior the position, the more important leadership skills are as opposed to executional or technical ability. Where on this continuum does this role sit? For example, when hiring an SVP Sales, weigh how important it is to hire someone who has deep connections with your potential customers but is an individual contributor against hiring someone who also knows to inspire and mentor a team of sales executives.
  • Communication – What style works? Written or verbal? Some companies have CEOs who want 20-page PowerPoint presentations, while other CEOs rely on verbal communication. Can the candidate communicate in the way her boss will hear?
  • Decision making – Is yours a “Ready, Fire, Aim” culture or a “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire” culture?  Does this match how the candidate makes decisions?
  • Potential versus Performance – How important is it to hire someone who has the IQ and EQ to continue to grow at the company versus someone who is talented but will likely top out at the position for which they are interviewing?
  • Passion – Does the candidate believe in what the company does? If they do, they are more likely to go the extra mile, have a positive, enthusiastic attitude toward what they do every day and be an evangelist in the community about how great the company is.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Voltaire, Confucius and Shakespeare all coined variants on this maxim, and it is a pretty good turn of phrase when it comes to recruiting, too. So next time you’re deliberating over a tricky hire, remember, purple squirrels do not exist.

Becky Stein

Becky Stein is a Partner at SPMB, a retained executive search firm, specializing in placing senior executives at consumer companies nationwide.

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