Are you hiring for comfort or capability? 

Alex KaarFeatured Are you hiring for comfort or capability? 

Are you hiring for comfort or capability? 

As a hiring manager with a lot on your plate, the last thing you need is a resignation from one of your team. But, as we know, it inevitably will happen.  The question is: When it happens – Will you hire for comfort or capability?  


A question which is frequently debated at the beginning of any hiring process is: Does the candidate need to come from the same industry? Typically the answer is ‘Not particularly, so long as they are the right person’.  Fast-forward to the shortlist stage of the process, and often, the hiring manager will gravitate towards candidates who have direct industry experience.  It’s this bias towards hiring for comfort, not competency that we need to break.  


The impact of industry and unconscious bias  


During the recruitment process, industry bias is somewhat unconscious by nature and it’s just one of a myriad of unconscious biases we adopt. Unconscious bias can also incorporate preconceived assumptions based on social norms, stereotypes or biases such as gender, race, age or even where someone resides.  There are in fact many types of unconscious bias. For instance, affinity bias is a tendency to gravitate to people like ourselves. This can be a challenge when hiring, as we run the risk of not achieving true diversity. A common bias is perception bias, which is a tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups, making it impossible to achieve an objective judgement.  


We are subjected to unconscious bias from the outset of the hiring process. Upon reviewing the candidate’s personal details, education and even address, we develop a preconceived notion of that person.  A novel way to overcome this is to ensure that all details that could be the subject of unconscious bias are removed from the candidate’s CV.  We have seen this recently adopted by some of our clients, whereby the candidates name, title and previous organisations have been removed to ensure complete objectivity.  


“We don’t have unconscious biases because we’re bad people – we have them because we are people”. – J. Emerson 


Why does it matter?  


Unconscious biases influence the way in which we think, operate, recruit, retain, attract and engage with our workforce. Over time, the small decisions made along the hiring journey can make the difference between a good organisation and a great one.  


By falling victim to and accepting unconscious bias, organisations are creating and cultivating a “safe” culture limiting its potential for creativity, innovation and disruption.   


How do we combat bias and hire outside of our comfort zone?  


As executive search consultants, we are typically asked to focus on a candidates’ background and experience rather than their competencies and capabilities. The collective assumption is that the ideal person will have performed the same role elsewhere, and likely in the same industry.   


Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule that require a certain and unique skillset and qualifications (i.e. a surgeon). However, many roles have transferable skillsets. Keep in mind – experience in an industry does not necessarily equate to better performance. 


We have witnessed the career trajectories and personal performance plateau for many executives, as they continue to transition from one competitor to the next, boxing themselves in as a limited “industry specialist”.   


We are entering an age of disruption and innovation and we’ve witnessed the rise of a “digital first” world of work.  Nobody has the blueprint for what’s coming.  What we have done in the past regarding hiring will not work in the future.  We need agile, adaptable, resilient people to meet this demand.  


By focusing on hiring the same types of people from the same industry you risk ending up with a team that’s stale, lacking innovation and energy. When you create a team with diversity of experience and of thought, it inevitably leads to new and innovative solutions. At first, it will be disruptive, but hiring on a platform of true diversity is a catalyst for growth and innovation.  


Disrupting the hiring process 


An individual’s capability and “value add” is not always evident from their resume. Progressive employers look for the right work ethic, adaptability and motivation, over technical competencies, which can be learned on the job.  They are prepared to compromise on years of experience, or industry specialisation for high energy, adaptability and creative spirit.  


To uncover adaptability, motivation and transferable skills, these are the questions I recommend asking during an interview.


  1. What measures did you take in your last role to up-skill?
  2. How do you invest in your personal development outside of work?
  3. What new skills are you seeking to add and how do you see this role fitting in with that plan? 


Another recommendation is to conduct a robust assessment or psychometric test, to evaluate the candidate’s learning and intellectual agility. Having a psychometric testing process in place removes unconscious biases by fundamentally assessing how a person thinks, behaves and how they will act in a given situation.  


Hiring on an individuals’ core competencies, rather than their background and experience can be challenging, but the rewards are significant. The next time you hire… ask yourself.  Am I hiring for comfort?  


Louis Triandos

Louis manages mid to senior level search assignments for a range of clients across the Accounting, Finance, HR and Talent sectors.

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