It’s funny… sometimes it’s the smallest things that make you pause and rethink a bit about how you do your job.
I’ve been working on a search which, now checking our ATS, has been open since early/mid April. Yes. I know. We’re at about six and a half weeks that this job has been sitting open. Ugh. The clock is ticking. And it’s a revenue driving role too… maybe a purple squirrel, a somewhat tricky search for a hard-ish to find skillset requiring industry specific experience that will have revenue generating impact. Immediate revenue generating impact. On top of that, the search is for a hiring manager I have the utmost respect for… like a lot, a lot, a lot of respect for. And then on top of that? The position sits on a team where a personal friend of mine also sits. From the get go, this search had no room for failure in my mind.
Within the first two weeks of the requisition being open though, I had found a gal who was seemingly the perfect candidate. I wanted to pinch myself. She was the absolute perfect blend of what we thought was going to be super difficult to find. The right amount of experience. The right background and skills. Just the right temperament. A few rounds of interviews later, in the hiring manager’s words? I had pretty much found that needle in the haystack. As the first candidate to be interviewed, the team was ready to pull the trigger on her and hire her. Don’t you love those situations? “I don’t know how you did that!” the hiring manager exclaimed. And, of course, I was pleased.
Something had to go wrong though… otherwise we wouldn’t be at six and a half weeks with the req still open. I couldn’t close the deal. Ugh. I know. I didn’t read the candidate right on the salary front… not that our expectations were mis-aligned, I didn’t read that she’d be the type to whip out a new set of expectations at the 11th hour. Not that I’m bitter about that. I just wish I could have seen that one coming. So we held firm to the market on this role. We did what was right for the company. And we had to part ways with this candidate. Not the outcome I wanted, but it was the right thing to do and so I set out again on this search. To find another needle in the haystack, an exact replica of the first.
Which is how we all typically approach a search, right? A req lands on your plate. You ask all the questions you need to ask to get a sense of what the job is. You think a bit about who the manager is and what the team dynamics are. You drill down and focus in on what the needed skills are. I always try to get down to the nitty gritty details of what a position really requires and what a great fit is going to be so I can embark on my search. And then I look for EXACTLY that. EXACTLY that. I want to try for that proverbial needle in the haystack every single time.
But with this search, something strange happened. As part of the general pipeline recruiting activities I do, I came across a candidate who was not exactly what the hiring manager wanted. Close but a few years off the mark experience wise. I knew there was maybe something there but then I struggled because she wasn’t what the “ideal” necessarily was. And I really didn’t think there was room for error with this search. But I got a conversation going none the less… and then I became quickly convinced, and then quickly convinced her, that there was something there.
So I took a risk. I just scheduled her to meet with the team. I wouldn’t let them question it. I told them from the get-go that on paper she wasn’t “it” and I knew it but they had to meet with her anyway. I gave them no choice. And voila. “Love her,” would be the exact phrase used when I asked for feedback on the candidate. This candidate who was not on the mark, or what the hiring manager and team thought they wanted and needed. But I trusted my gut. And I took a chance. And I presented a candidate who wasn’t necessarily that exact replica of the needle in the haystack we thought we were searching for… but actually, it turns out she was.
We’ll *fingers crossed* close this deal later in the week. And I’ll walk away remembering something so very simple but really quite powerful – don’t be afraid to draw outside of the lines at times. And don’t be afraid to test the limits of what your hiring managers are looking for or believe they need. It won’t work for all searches or all hiring managers – but you’ll use your best judgment – and go for it when it makes sense.
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don’t be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she’s still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life… she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat.