[Cue Sophia Petrillo voice.] Picture it. High School. 1993. My cousin exuberantly celebrated the C she earned on her report card like it was the highest grade she’d ever achieved. Not only was this not the case, her other grades that period were As and Bs. When I asked her why the lone C evoked such a joyous celebration, she explained that she worked harder for it than the As and Bs. They looked better on paper and did more to strengthen her grade point average (GPA), but she had to study and do extra credit to earn the C.
On that day, what came to be known as the “Bad Ass C” was born.
The As, Bs, and Cs of Recruiting
If you’re a fan who caught the Golden Girls reference and are familiar with Sophia’s nuanced way of storytelling, you’re likely wondering what my cousin’s grade has to do with recruiting. Well, hang tight as I illustrate why it’s beneficial to hire the Bad Ass C.
At several junctures in my corporate recruiting career, I encountered candidates who compelled me to put in extra work and who in turn put in extra effort to remain in consideration for immediate and future opportunities. These were not what we would call the A and B Players, the ones who are characterized that way because of factors that included their competence, motivation, expected superior performance, and culture fit.
We have a tendency to emphasize hiring A and B players, but what we fail to realize is that not all As, Bs, and even Cs are created equally. The truth is, we often characterize people as A and B players because of factors that have nothing to do with their competence, motivation, and expected superior performance. In some cases, mere proximity and bias cause us to value them more. Just like those tests that we didn’t have to study for, there are A Players who sometimes come to us without a need to use creative sourcing strategies.
(By the way, we do the same thing with the roles we’re looking to fill. Let’s be honest. Just like the As we got in easy classes to boost our GPAs, we sometimes focus on Easy As, or easy-to-fill positions to help improve various recruiting metrics.)
Let’s also not pretend that we don’t keep some B players in our pipelines who will answer our “Hey, Bighead” calls when the A players decide not to accept an offer. I liken these Bs to the last-minute extensions we received on school projects so we could do just enough to stay about average. Sometimes we’ll even rationalize that these candidates are a better “fit.”
Meanwhile, I’ve worked in recruiting organizations that constructed entire strategies around attracting what they defined as high-performing A and B players. While this sounds good in theory, more times than not, this practice amplified existing hiring biases. The very same biases we were supposed to be acknowledging, addressing, and disabling!
As a result, we label and pass over C players not because they are of average competence, motivation, and expected performance, but as a result of the following hiring biases that classified them as poor culture fits.
Pictures of Biases
Picture it. A hiring manager asks a recruiter to go in the system and retrieve the resume of the A player who is being promoted on their team so they can craft a job description that will ensure any existing B player on the team will apply to fill that role. They just don’t have time to train someone to do the job properly and want to ensure there’s no break in service. So to weigh this expectation-anchor, the recruiter collaborates with the hiring manager to craft a description that widens the candidate pool to attract talent within and outside of the organization.
Picture it. Qualified candidates are not being advanced to the interview phase because they haven’t completed a four-year degree, which isn’t a requirement for the role. So to interrupt the stereotyping, the recruiter removes education from all candidate resumes before submitting them for review to ensure fairer evaluation.
Picture it. The infamous six-second scan is in full effect and a junior recruiter is throwing any resume with too many jobs listed into the toss pile. To reverse the horn-effect bias, the mid-level recruiter they’re shadowing pulls a few contract employees from the toss pile who list every project separately.
Picture it. A hiring manager wants brain-teaser interview questions to account for the largest percentage of the interview evaluation. To remove this illusory-correlation bias, the recruiter suggests a more balanced approach to include questions designed to predict performance.
Picture it. Early-career recruiting season. The team is focused on recruiting technical talent for internships and entry-level roles from a handful of their alma maters. (They call them “focus schools” for a reason.) To diminish affinity bias, the recruiter engages HBCUs, community colleges, technical schools, high schools, and diversity organizations to strengthen the candidate pool.
Picture it. A panel interview debrief. You appear to be the only interviewer who set aside the aforementioned biases and see the bad assness in what your peers consider an average C player. Instead of succumbing to peer pressure, you reject conformity and embrace being the sole outlier who believes the candidate did well.
The “Bad Ass C” Candidate
So, who is a Bad Ass C? Someone who moves the culture fit narrative away from an organization’s mission, values, and culture when the mission, values, and culture are steeped in biases.
Where do we encounter a Bad Ass C? Throughout the recruiting lifecycle when we acknowledge those instances where bias is prevalent. This consequently forces us to take a closer look at the criteria we use to evaluate and categorize candidates who we would otherwise not give serious consideration.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we completely abandon our efforts to attract and select established A players or forsake the rising B players who are approaching the next level. I am, however, recommending that we put aside our premature conclusions about what makes an A, B, and C player.
Why Hire the Bad Ass C?
Hire the Bad Ass C because weighing expectation anchors can result in improved engagement of a great employee who otherwise might have resigned.
Hire the Bad Ass C because by interrupting stereotyping, you get a candidate without a four-year degree capable of bringing a wider range of skills and experiences.
Hire the Bad Ass C because reversing the horn effect and being open to contract workers can result in increased profits.
Hire Bad Ass C because removing illusory correlation can increase productivity.
Hire Bad Ass C because diminishing affinity bias can improve cultural insights and employer branding.
Hire the Bad Ass C because rejecting conformity can increase innovation.
Hire the Bass Ass C.