When you read resumes, what mental shortcuts do you take? If you want to hire smart people, do you look for the reputation of their college? If you want people who are highly skilled and professional, do you look for the reputation of their current employers? And how much weight do you give to the pedigree of a candidate’s educational institution or previous employers?
Everyone knows that a degree from Harvard does not guarantee intelligence. But it does mean that you met the institution’s famously high standards just to get in.
Similarly, working as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. means that you passed the intense scrutiny of that company’s hiring process — even if the occasional bad apple snuck past its quality control. McKinsey’s perceived higher standards make elite organizations tempting to use as a hiring shortcut. You think to yourself, “Well, people with that background must be better than average.”
But does your logic really hold water? Consider that:
- The majority of people who chose prestigious schools and companies thus far in their careers will not be interested in working for a lesser-known company. When they change jobs, they often want to “trade up” to even more elite opportunities. Small employers rarely win the competition for people who care about prestige.
- The majority of people who thrive in large, well-known, well-run organizations will not thrive in the less structured and more entrepreneurial culture of small firms.
- The overwhelming majority of smart, professional, highly skilled people did not attend elite colleges and do not work for employers that are familiar.
So as it turns out, your mental shortcut was really a short circuit. You did not save time. You only gravitated toward the people least likely to accept your job and least likely to thrive in your company. Simultaneously, you ruled out the vast majority of people who were most likely to succeed in the job.
Large, well-respected companies have an inherent recruiting advantage, because candidates respond more readily to their recruiting efforts. And candidates with good looking resumes have an inherent advantage in the recruiting process because their resumes help them get more interviews.
But the most prestigious companies do not always have the best jobs, and the people with the best resumes are not always the best candidates.
So as a small employer, how can you compete?
For small organizations, the key to hiring success is to think more broadly about the different paths people take to reach competency.
Education and pedigree are very poor predictors of success on the job. Once you ditch them as requirements, you gain the upper hand in recruiting highly competent people who think differently from the prestige-oriented candidates. Thinking more broadly about the kinds of backgrounds you might consider makes your organization more likely to draw the free-thinking iconoclasts that often fit in nicely with quirky small company cultures.
Instead of narrowing your conversations to a handful of people, cast a wider net. Once you look beyond the resume and have real conversations with people, you’ll know everything you need to know about their intelligence, their skills, and their professionalism.
Start with the desired business impact you are trying to achieve, and then find people who are interested in achieving that business impact. Look at the kinds of work people are doing, the kinds of problems they are solving, ask them how they think about the work. (As an added bonus, you’ll probably learn quite a bit from the people you did not choose to hire.)
This wide net approach does not result in a simple apples-to-apples comparison of candidates’ credentials. You’ll find it more difficult to “rank” people. But you will make far better hiring decisions.