I have a recurring talent conversation with 3-4 colleagues I really like talking to – and it involves hiring generalists vs. specialists. Simply put, once you get away from some very specialized positions in your company, are you open to finding the smartest available person to take the challenge you have or are you forever trying to match an overly complex set of "wants and desires" skill sets to the candidate pool, with the resulting effect on time to hire and cost per hire? We also talk about this from the perspective of the NFL draft, where teams ultimately are on the clock and have to figure out if they are going to take an average quarterback based on their need or take a defensive back with lots of upside, even if they don’t have a big need at that position.
Once I get away from the CPA and Engineering requirements, I am a big "smartest person available" recruiter, especially if the candidate has something in their experience that shows they will likely ramp up quickly in the position. Dick Costolo agrees, citing the following in an entry he calls the "Best Available Athlete":
One of the things we’ve done a few times at FeedBurner is hire what our vp advertising Brent Hill refers to as Best Available Athlete. This is a bit of a silly analogy drawn from a term used when pro football teams are drafting college players. Sometimes there’s a guy who was a quarterback in college and everybody knows he won’t play quarterback in pro football, but he’s smart, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got a great attitude etc. Some team will select him on the bet that although they know he’s not going to be a quarterback, he’s the best available overall athlete remaining among the available players, and they know that a person with these qualities will work somewhere on the team.
That’s the essence of what I call "smartest available person", although my tag is limited because it doesn’t really lend itself to being a descriptor of qualities other than intelligence that are important. I like the concept because having a bench of interchangeable parts makes you stronger as a company moving forward. As a manager who hires HR professionals, I seek the type of people who could and would do things other than HR when the time is right, because those types of candidates are the most progressive thinkers and ultimately provide the most value to the organization. I also like to hire non-HR people for HR roles to get outside of the box as well.