Finding the Best Person for the Job

How many times have you seen your company hire an individual who seemed like he had all the attributes of a successful hire during the evaluation process, and then after the third, fourth, or sixth month, you discovered this person was not cut out for the job?

Conversely, have you ever seen someone get hired – over the objections of others – who you were certain was destined to fail, and that person then exceeded all expectations and set new records of performance? I have seen both situations occur, and I began to wonder why some people succeed at a task that others can’t even conceive of doing. How can a company hire someone with so much pride and conviction, only to have that individual fail miserably?

I have a good friend with whom I used to work, and early in our careers, I thought she was a liability. I thought there was no way she would ever last. Well, it’s several years later, and she’s still with the same company, she’s surpassed numerous records, and she is a top producer month after month. When I ask her how her job is going, she always has the same remarks: she doesn’t get along with this person or that person, the company changed territories yet again, etc. But she always claims it’s a pretty good place to work. And this year, she’s on pace to earn more than any previous year, and she has no interest in looking for another position elsewhere. She has career bliss.

In the recruiting realm, this phenomenon is called “a good hire.” Companies go to great lengths to make good hires, and they should. With enough good hires, a company can obtain a serious competitive advantage. Likewise, a company that makes a lot of bad hires may find itself in bankruptcy. So, the age-old question of course is, “How do you isolate the good ones from the bad?” Is there a system that can be implemented that will regularly yield higher results, over and over again? Many say the answer is behavioral-based interviewing. Maybe so, but that’s not the whole answer. Behavior-based interviewing is a component of the system, but it is not the system, itself.

I want to illustrate two examples that might help illuminate what I believe is the ideal way to isolate the best person for a job. In our house, we have a dog – an English Springer Spaniel named Dolly. She’s a hunting dog. Every time I throw her toy across the yard, she darts off to get it and promptly brings it back to me. I didn’t have to teach her this. She knows that when a toy is thrown, she is to retrieve it.

My second example comes from my days in the Marines. Among other things, Marines are known for being excellent marksmen. In training, Marines are taught a concept called natural point of aim. The concept says if you want to hit your target, you must hold the rifle so that it naturally comes to rest with its sights already focused on the target. All the Marine needs to do is pull the trigger and chances are the bullet will find its way to the right bulls-eye. The concept works. I grew up in the suburbs and had never shot a gun in my life, and after learning this concept, I have become pretty handy with a rifle.

What do these two examples suggest about making a good hire? You need to find a person’s natural point of aim. That is, you need to find their innate instinct and align it with the job. In short, you need to identify a candidate’s talents – his or her God-given ability to do something well, over and over again. Can you imagine a poodle being taken on a hunting trip? Of course not. Poodles don’t hunt. Poodles just hang out; they’re companion dogs. Hunting is not what they do. I suppose you could train a poodle to retrieve, but when put up against my Dolly, I bet my dog would do a heck of a better job bringing back a bird.

Imagine taking your everyday software developer and putting him in sales. You train him, coach him, and put him on the phones. In a short time, you’ll be looking for a new salesperson and a new software developer. The same can be said for most sales people. They were not put on this planet to write code for the most part.

Each person has a certain set of talents, something at which they naturally excel. Babe Ruth hit home runs. Thomas Edison invented things. That’s what they did. If you want to make a good hire, you have to ensure that when you’re evaluating a candidate, you identify their natural tendencies. All too often, a person ends up in a career for which they are not ideally suited. That’s one of the reasons we have habitual job-hoppers: people who go from job to job looking for that ideal situation in which they can become successful. The problem for job hoppers is that they’ve never really figured out their own true calling.

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There are myriad tools available that enable a company to investigate and isolate a candidate’s inherent strengths and talents. Mostly, we’ve come to rely on history: a resume. The resume shows what a person has been doing for the last number of years, and we assume he or she must have been doing those things because that’s where their natural talents lay – their natural point of aim.

My technique in getting to the root talent of a candidate is a component of behavioral-based interviewing. But I don’t just focus and dig on a specific anecdote and then play Socrates using the dialectical cross examination questioning method so commonly touted in recruiting circles. I ask a person what motivates them. I ask why he or she is in sales, for example. I often hear the ever popular, “Because I’m a people-person,” or the “I’m entrepreneurial by nature.”

That’s a fine starting place. Then we enter my line of questioning. My goal here is to identify this person’s natural point of aim or instinct. My exploration has questions such as: “I’m a people-person. Let’s talk about that. What do you mean by people-person? What, specifically, do you like about people? What strengths, with regards to people, do you possess? Why do you believe this strength is specific to you? How did you discover this strength about yourself? What have you done to broaden and hone this strength? If you were forced to make a choice, would you prefer always meeting new people, or strengthening relationships you have with people you already know? Why?”

This line of questioning can go on, and on, and on. Hannibal Lectur would be proud. Freud would take notice. The candidate will certainly be put off balance and will always try to steer the conversation – or at least hope the conversation was steered back – to their resume. But remember, you’re not trying to alienate the person. You’ll have to practice this technique in order to apply it naturally.

Your ultimate goal is to find the person’s natural point of aim and determine whether that natural point is properly aligned with the demands of the position in question. The question you want to answer is this: If I seat this potential salesperson in front of the telephone, will he naturally pick up the phone and start dialing, or will I have to tell him that it’s time to make calls? If I put this coder in my development shop without any instruction, would he be able to naturally find his way around and start coding, or would I have to say, “There’s a PC. Here’s our project. It’s time to start coding?”

Oddly enough, I’ve found people who looked totally unqualified for a position, on paper, but when put into that position, they soared like a rocket. And I have seen the exact opposite: people who appeared to have an excellent career history and yet fell flat on their face after getting the job – an obvious misalignment of natural point of aim.

Take a moment now, and search the ERE website for the word, “Talent.” See how frequently it appears in articles, ads, and commentary. The term talent no longer means one’s natural, God-given ability to do something well, over and over again. It’s taken on a whole new meaning. I maintain the term talent still refers to one’s God-given ability to do something well, repeatedly. And if you want your company or client company to have a serious competitive advantage as a result of your recruiting, you should start asking questions that will reveal a candidate’s true talents and see whether those skills fit with the position for which he or she is being considered.

Todd Rogers is the sole partner with The Alva Bradley Company, LLC, a professional services firm in Fishers, Indiana. Prior to founding ABC, LLC, Todd worked in sales for Monster.com. He has a total of eight years experience in the recruiting industry, which by his own account feels more like 80 years. He also served five years in the U.S. Marines, and has a B.A. in philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio.

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