This article was written as a blog post for my friends at AptoZen, the company in San Francisco combining science and art to change how companies build their teams.
Are you searching for unicorns? Hunting for change agents and thought leaders who possess every skill imaginable? You may not want to admit it, but if despite a steady flow of applicants and interviews a position remains unfilled, it’s possible you’ve fallen into the unicorn trap. This happens when your qualifications wish list is full of must-haves, and your hiring manager is not satisfied until they see a trail of rainbow hoof prints. Meanwhile, herds of ponies are trotting off to take other opportunities.
Let’s look at ponies versus unicorns.
Unicorns are magical. They can do many amazing things, and they are very very rare. It could take you a long time to find a unicorn. In the mean time, real work needs to get done. Suppose you find your unicorn. Every other company is looking for a unicorn, too, so get ready to spend a lot of money catching and keeping that unicorn.
Now let’s look at ponies. Ponies are real. They exist. That’s a good start. I’ve been doing a little research on ponies, and contrary to what many people believe, they’re not just small horses. They actually have their own very special qualities. Since ponies evolved in unforgiving environments, they tend to be more adaptable and more tolerant. They’re strong for their size, have excellent endurance, and are known for being quite intelligent. Ponies are not fancy. They may dream unicorn dreams, but meanwhile they show up and do the work.
You can avoid falling into the unicorn trap.
First, take a look at your job description. Look for excessive use of the word “and.” If you’re hiring a marketing manager, for example, watch out for requirements that include writing and design and web development and PR and data analytics and…you get the picture. There may be someone out there versed in all those things, but before you start interviewing, be sure you know which are the real must-have skills.
Candidates will respond to your laundry list job description in one of two ways. Some may stretch their claims about what they can do in order to land the interview, rather than talking about what they’re eager to learn. Other very solid candidates will simply decide it’s not worth their time to apply, and move on to more realistic opportunities.
The next thing to examine are the expectations of the hiring department. Define which skills are fundamental versus what can be developed through training or acquired through outsourcing. If it’s a manager you need, then hire them to manage. If you’re looking for a tactician, that person is most likely to come with a specialized skill set.
Finally, you need to ask yourself, is your company the right place for a unicorn? Let’s assume you find one and it’s just as magical and wondrous as you had dreamed. How long will it be before your unicorn is looking for the next amazing assignment that makes them look shiny and awesome?
Chances are you’ve already hired a lot of ponies. Hard working, sturdy, adaptable, and clever ponies. Which means you know a lot about their care and feeding. You can stop hunting for unicorns and focus on realistic hiring practices that will enable you to add the very best ponies to your herd.
Copyright 2016 Liz Behlke