Is it worth the risk to go nontraditional with recruiting practices?
We’ve all seen it: that candidate whose resume doesn’t really match the job requirements, yet there’s something about her overall experience that piques our interest. Perhaps she took a “gap year” after school or between jobs; maybe she spent time working in a completely different field.
If we listened to our gut and invited the candidate in for an interview, we may have been impressed with how her unique career path has afforded her a different perspective and approach. Some of us may have taken the leap to hire this nontraditional candidate, secretly hoping that such an atypical choice was a risk worth taking.
It’s a nerve-wracking decision, and the stakes are even higher when placing executive and C-suite roles. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, organizations could greatly benefit from CEOs and other senior executives with diverse sets of experiences.
In 20 years of corporate and executive consulting experience, I have observed first hand how nontraditional candidates can be the key to continued growth and success for organizations. Of course there may be some risks, but with such risks are also recruiting approaches and interview tools that help assess a candidate’s ability to mesh with an organization’s culture and lead effectively.
Why take the risk?
Today’s most successful leaders break boundaries by choosing nontraditional career paths, allowing their exposure to other industries and positions to permeate and enhance their current roles. Companies that only consider candidates who perfectly fit certain job specs (aka ) are missing out on this:
If your executives and staff share similar career paths, then they all view their company through the . Leaders with diverse educational and professional experiences bring a fresh perspective on how the team and organization could be more effective, both internally and externally.
New technology, changing governmental policies, and shifting global markets are forcing industries to adapt at a rapid pace. From healthcare to higher education, traditional ways of approaching business are quickly disappearing.
Nontraditional leaders often have the willingness to explore nascent or untested approaches to business, and the experience to handle adverse or unusual challenges along the way. A prime example of this is the of staff with “outside-the-box” experience, finding their experience in other fields just as important as their ability to manage technology.
Innovation is key to future success for any organization, and leaders with diverse backgrounds may be better at finding and embracing innovation than their peers with more traditional career paths.
How to limit the risk
“That all sounds terrific,” skeptics will say, but some candidates simply won’t fit within the culture and meet the baseline expectations of an organization. This is a good point, and there are proven approaches to identify those most likely to succeed. Here’s how:
Check your organization’s hiring mindset
Make sure the search committee, CEO or other hiring authority and feels comfortable being a bit outside of their comfort zones. Consider discussing potential executive backgrounds before actual candidates are presented. Analyze target profiles and consider what types of nontraditional backgrounds and career paths would be most appealing to the group. Important to include in this discussion are elements of your organization’s culture, mission and operational approach that may play into how nontraditional candidates could integrate into the team.
Revisit recruiting techniques
Make sure your organization’s top nontraditional candidates. For example, job descriptions should focus on success factors over specific skills. And don’t forget that networking remains an essential way to find leaders who may not be actively searching for new roles, but would be ideal for your organization.
Also, examine your interview questions and consider “deep dive” behavioral interviews. This approach provides a better understanding into the rationale and motivation behind a candidate’s career decisions, successes, and failures. One of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior.
Use assessment tools
Even for candidates with traditional career paths, prior work experience is not the only tool for evaluating job success. Psychometric assessment methods can provide insightful, meaningful information about how the potential of candidates to perform and align with your organization. These methods have been validated through years of research and use, and customized to specific industries and roles. Such assessments can be used to identify personality types and how candidates operate under stress and in normal circumstances as well as their core drivers and values.
A risk worth taking
Whether a candidate fits every traditional check-box, or brings an altogether unique career history, there is never a 100 percent guarantee that your selection will be the perfect fit. As industries shift and new ideas become the norm, it’s nearly impossible to predict what set of experiences will be needed five or ten years from now.
No matter the candidate’s past, it’s best to focus on their for future success. Be methodical and gather as much data as possible, but focus on a candidate’s ability to be curious, resourceful, and determined. By carefully stepping outside the proverbial hiring box, it is possible to identify nontraditional candidates who have a high likelihood of future career success.
is a consultant in the Healthcare practice at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer.