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Would your organisation have employed Mandela?

Nov 16, 2009 Business Daily, Management

“The current job market reminds me of a story about a church committee assigned to hire a new pastor. Numerous well-qualified candidates applied, but none seemed to meet the committee’s requirements. Frustrated with this perfectionism, one of the committee’s members submitted an anonymous résumé with the accomplishments of a certain priest who had lived and preached in Galilee 2,000 years before. The committee reviewed the résumé and rejected it. Even Jesus Christ wasn’t good enough.
Today’s job market is like that.”

GUY NADIVI, Forbes (22 October 2009)

After last week’s piece on promoting from within, a reader came to my website and referred me to an article in Forbes in similar vein. I liked it enough to feature it in Thought Leadership this week. It certainly makes us think about how we recruit people and what we look for.

Guy Nadivi suggests that HR departments and selection committees are so fixated on “credentials” that they would even reject Jesus Christ as a pastor! Which rings true: I can envisage the ensuing discussion as Jesus’s application is considered:

“Hmm, don’t like the beard. Might be too preachy for us. Would he be comfortable with the new technology – can this Jesus fellow blog? Seems to have a lot to say about the poor – is he a communist?” Decision: Reject.

My website reader suggested that even someone called Sunny Bindra might be rejected as a strategy manager these days! That rings true: I have indeed been rejected on my CV in the past (but subsequently hired). And I can picture an officious junior HR executive thinking: “No formal strategy qualification, eh? Not even an MBA. Reject.”

Jokes aside, this is a serious issue. We have become fixated on qualifications and experience, and apply those criteria robotically. And yet, as Nadivi points out, the “perfectly qualified” candidate might be exactly the wrong one, for he/she is very likely to have already mastered the job and may not have much growth left in that position. We should also be wary of “experts”: as Nadivi points out in his piece, “experts built the Titanic, amateurs built the Ark…”

We should always factor in two things: attitude, and passion for the job. If you can get those two things, you have probably got the right person for the job, regardless of qualifications. And which CV is going to capture those things? We should learn from Southwest Airlines, masters of recruitment. This is an airline whose very purpose statement is all about customer satisfaction. So they look very carefully for cabin crew who can empathise and connect with people. Their entire interview process is geared towards unearthing those gems who can behave like warm and friendly human beings – not corporate automatons.

Consider the following people who would have no chance of being hired by modern corporations: Steve Jobs (didn’t finish university); Bill Gates (not enough charisma); Barack Obama (unusual parenting and childhood); Richard Branson (no qualifications to speak of); Paul Kagame (too quiet); Nelson Mandela (a jailbird)!

We are trivialising the idea of talent, people. It really is NOT about what people have already achieved: it’s about what they are capable of growing into next. It’s NOT about how many A-grades they scored – it’s about how impassioned they are about the industry or product or profession in question. It’s NOT about how flawless their career has been to date – it’s about their resilience and ability to deal with unexpected adversity.

But gauging that stuff is too difficult, isn’t it? So we just dumb it all down and look at what people did at school, and who else hired them. Who would want to join the corporate treadmill these days? Not me. Perhaps all this rigidity is a good thing, after all: it’s forcing the REALLY talented people to go out and form their own organisations.

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