I’ve spent 12 years leading marketing for pre-hire testing companies, so I’ve gained an interest in how the best companies find and evaluate great talent.
The recruiters I’ve met typically say they are on the hunt for game-changers, but they aren’t. Game-changers often fail, and they certainly strike out and get derailed more than once. And despite learning quickly from their mistakes, their career choices don’t always tell a coherent story. Does your applicant screening process have a way to evaluate this? Of course it doesn’t. ATS systems play the percentages. They can’t identify who will invent the next great SaaS service or build a great Facebook campaign.
That’s why I really liked the insights in a book called The Rare Find by George Anders. He explains how companies can spot exceptional talent using a term to describe the career arcs of potential game-changers. Anders refers to these people as having “jagged resumes.” These are resumes that zigzag at the extremes and are full of interesting career experiences, surprises, and occasional greatness. Jagged resumes don’t fit your perfect candidate profile, but you should definitely be looking at the people behind them.
I remember interviewing a candidate with an extremely jagged but appealing resume. We’ll call him Calvin. Calvin was applying for a Marketing Director position and he was bright, charming, enthusiastic, and creative. Despite scoring low on our aptitude test, I was interested (even at a testing firm, we knew the score was just one data point to consider). But I let his diverse resume as a metal sculptor, e-commerce marketer, small business owner, and manufacturing operations manager (and his lower-end score) scare me a bit instead of help me see new possibilities. In retrospect, he might have been an amazing marketing director ready to reinvent our processes and approach our campaigns from a new perspective. I ended up making a pretty ho-hum hire who did okay. But what could have been?
Most companies play it safe looking for candidates who have “been there and done that” instead of identifying the unique traits, competencies, and motivation to excel in a specific job. Traits such as curiosity, self-reliance, diversity, hustle, and passion are good places to start (e.g., your next star salesperson might be organizing fundraising campaigns for underprivileged youth in Africa).
My advice? Look for people who have zigzagged at the extremes doing amazing work (maybe as a Marine, an athlete, a blogger, a school fundraiser, etc), and deal with the fact these people might have made puzzling missteps along the way as they bounced around trying to change the world. Anders says these are people who “don’t need anyone’s permission to try something bold.” They just might be the new hire you’re looking for.
Thomas Edison was reportedly a master at failure. He considered failure an important part of the invention process and gave us these two gems:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Only someone free to fail has opened their mind wide (and long) enough to invent a new product or see a better way. As you hunt for great talent, don’t look over the applicant with a jagged resume. They just might be ready to hit their biggest peak.