How much baggage is too much?

applicant tracking system that finds the best applicants

Imagine you need to hire for a key opening in an established team. The team is led by a strong manager and has been performing well for a while, but recently lost a key team member to a competitor. You have two short-listed candidates and have been asked to recommend one. To make your decision easier, you’ve been given videos and reports detailing aspects of each candidate’s performance at their previous employers.

Candidate 1 – A very talented employee (top 20%). He has had 2 previous employers during the past 8 years and has consistently performed well. Candidate 1 has worked well with his previous team mates and has had no significant disciplinary issues. Candidate 1 has a salary expectation of around $50,000.

Candidate 2 – An exceptionally skilled employee (top 1%). He has had 5 previous employers during the past 8 years, including two where his departure was acrimonious (one of which was after just 3 months). Candidate 2 has faced disciplinary action on several occasions and there are also signs of friction between him and current team members. Candidate 2 has a salary expectation of around $75,000.

Which candidate would you recommend? Why?

This scenario is loosely based on a recent personnel decision taken by a football (the round ball kind – excuse me, I’m originally from England) team in Europe – They chose candidate number 2. (The jury is still out on whether it was a good decision. The player in question is delivering goals, but has already faced disciplinary action and caused friction within the team).

Variations of the situation described above are often seen in the sporting world, where a player’s previous performance and behaviour are more public, and it got me thinking: How do we make the trade-off between talent and behaviour? If, say, in the scenario above, the 1st candidate was as talented as the 2nd – he’d be the obvious choice as he is both less expensive and comes with a better behavioural track record. What about then if he was just slightly less talented – say in the top 2%, 5% or 10%? – When does the benefit of more talent outweigh the “baggage” of behavioural issues?

There is obviously no “right” answer to this question, however, from personal experience and observation I would offer just two pieces of advice:

  • Make sure your hiring process does not focus solely on the skills and experience of the candidates. Use tools such as personality testing, behavioural interviewing and effective reference checking (with prior managers, peers and subordinates) to assess the candidate’s suitability.
  • For candidates, or employees for that matter, where the talent required comes with negative behaviours, the most important success factor is a strong team leader that is able to manage the individual’s performance while minimizing the impact of the behaviour (and hopefully, over time, addressing it).

In summary, while we all want to hire “A Players”, “Rock Stars” and “Ninjas”, it is vital to keep in mind the overall performance of the team when hiring any new employee and not be blinded by talent.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences on this, as well as the English Premier League, below.

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