Monday, December 19, 2005

The Secret Ingredient of the Perfect Candidate

I’ve had a blast the last two weeks interviewing candidates for…my job! On the 23rd I’m moving back to world of the wireless where I got my first corporate recruiting gig with AT&T Wireless. Those were the days of … Careermosaic, The Monster Board,, and, unfortunately, a “cheeks-in-seats” mentality. Much has changed since then, and we’ve learned a few good lessons; some easy, others not so easy.

My Oklahoma roots make me a big fan of the late Will Rogers. Rogers had a knack for putting things in perspective. He once said,

There are three kinds of men: the one’s that learn by reading; the few who learn by observation; and the rest of them have to pee on the electric fence.”

We’ve had our share of EFE’s (electric-fence-experiences) since those early days, but we’re getting much better at learning by reading (ERE,, Interbiznet, et al) & learning by observation (Valero, FM Bank, T-Mobile, Microsoft, et al).

One of the things I’ve learned is that, oftentimes, the “nearly-perfect candidate” is missing one ingredient. We’re quite sure something is missing; we’re just unable to put our finger on it. We are quick to dismiss our uneasiness because the candidate seemingly provides the perfect technical fit. Afraid to miss the one-candidate-that-everybody-wants, we pull the trigger. Sometime later, possibly while assessing the exit-interview results of Mr./ Mrs.-one-candidate-that-everybody-wants, the light goes off: a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e.

Much has been written of the Southwest Airlines creed: hire for attitude, train for skill. Libby Sartain, former VP of the People Department at Southwest, once said, “The ultimate employee is someone whose devotion to customer and company amounts to a sense of mission, a sense that ‘the cause’ comes before their own needs.” In the same article, FastCompany asked Jose Colmenares (Southwest Recruiter) “What he’s looking for in a candidate?” “An attitude,” he says. “A genuineness -- a sense of what it takes to be one of us."

In his book, The Winner Within, Pat Riley talks about people afflicted with the “disease of me.”

Diseased team members, Riley says, “…develop an overpowering belief in their own importance. Their actions virtually shout the claim, ‘I’m the one.” Riley asserts that the disease always has the same inevitable result: “The Defeat of Us.”

Are we doing all we can to avoid “The Defeat of Us?”

The secret ingredient should be a bit easier to detect these days, given our lessons learned and our first-hand observation of world-class recruiting organizations who are modeling it for us every day.

Here’s to attitude and electric-fences. May we find our good share of the first and keep learning our lessons from the latter.


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