167 – High performance: ‘Why I Like People with Unconventional Résumés. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         500 words

its not the what or the how cover

This is the title of a chapter in Fernández-Aroáz’s book ‘It’s not the How or the What but the Who’. It is also the title of a blog he posted for HBR.org . In it he discusses the unconventional candidate with exceptional potential. I was surprised at his honesty in discussing his personal ‘epiphany’ when he realized that, as a recruiter, he had been advocating a recruitment strategy that his own company did not follow.

Fernández-Aráoz starts the chapter by discussing his HBR.org blog post and the response it prompted. Many of the respondents described their frustration at recruiters who didn’t appreciate, understand, or even consider their track record. For many people who have pursued executive roles in local government this is not news.

Many councils or almost all recruiters play it safe. They are looking for someone who is not going to fail in the role. In the experience of my colleagues this almost always translates into ‘we are only interviewing people who are already at level 2’. Anyone with an outstanding track record of achievement who hasn’t had the good fortune to find a benefactor (i.e. a CEO who they get to know who trusts them) or who hasn’t lucked out by applying for a job when there were no applicants already at level 2, is then eliminated from consideration.

So why does this happen? For the recruiters, it is important because it means that they will get paid. Usually, their fee depends on the person staying for a set period of time. For the CEO it reduces their risk of being seen to make a poor hire. Even if the person performs poorly, they can say that they weren’t the first person to make the mistake. Or they can blame the referee who said they had performed well in their previous level 2 position.

Fernández-Aráoz proffers the view (discovered when he realised his firm didn’t hire for previous experience in roles)that whilst the mantra in the past might have been ‘the best predictor of future performance is past performance’, that the dynamic nature of jobs now means that potential should be the first consideration. And, he says that people who have ‘thrived in nonlinear careers form an excellent candidate pool’. His parting advice is to check the past work experience and performance of a candidate (which matters) but to also consider their potential (which matters more).

“ … never automatically discount someone whose job history differs from the norm. In fact, give them a close look. Versatility is a huge asset”

As someone who has worked for seven level 2’s in the past 10 years, I can’t help but agree. I have seen 5 people come into the role and each has been a predictable choice with a background in local government that has meant they have simply repeated what they have seen others do.

None has brought genuinely new thinking and a different approach to address changing community needs and ideas about value.

Fernández-Aráoz, Claudio, 2014. It’s not the How or the What but the Who – Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best.