How We Misjudge a Candidate’s Background When Hiring

Last week, as part of my 5-week review of what to look for when hiring, I wrote about knowledge & skills. This week, I’ll focus on background.
A chief consideration when assessing a job candidate is the person’s background. Three main areas make up background. Sadly, and typically, one we overemphasize (education), one we misinterpret (work experience), and one we underemphasize (life experience).
Yes, having a degree can tell you certain things, but if there’s one thing that’s become undeniable in recent years it’s that many people have proven extremely capable and accomplished significant things without having a university degree. Anyone heard of Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg?
Ask yourself three questions when considering degrees and certifications: Are they required? Are they preferred? Are they even relevant?
Work Experience
The most misleading part of a person’s background is when they talk about the results they achieved in a previous job. Let’s say a sales manager grew sales by 75% over 3 years. Sounds impressive, right? Maybe not. I want to know if the results were because of the person or despite the person. Did they spearhead the effort, were they a contributor, or did they just happen to be employed when the results occurred? What specifically was their plan and rationale, and what action did they take that directly led to the results? That’s what I want to know.
Life Experience
Drilling down into a person’s life experience can provide compelling evidence for the traits, knowledge & skills, and values that are relevant to the position you’re hiring for. Think of the single mom who raised three kids while getting her degree and working full-time. Or the refugee immigrant who worked two jobs so he could save money and ultimately bring his family over from another country. Or the long-term volunteer who spends much of their non-work time managing groups that help the needy or disadvantaged. In each case, life experience can provide relevant insights.
Yes, it’s important to consider a job candidate’s background. Just make sure you put the right amount of weight, and carefully interpret, what each candidate brings to the table.
Next week I’ll look at values.
Your reactions?

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