“Mini-me” syndrome…a major hiring risk for companies

One of the tougher things about recruiting is striking a balance between hiring "the best" and hiring the "mini-me". Recruiters out there know what I am talking about. You go into a hiring manager's office to discuss the specs for a newly opened position and the job requirements closely match the background of the hiring manager (surprise!), minus a couple years of experience. The conversation usually starts something like this:

Recruiter: "So, Ms. Hiring Manager, tell me, what are the 'must haves' listed here in the 'requirements' for the position. I want to know what things every candidate I present absolutely must have in their background. Could you stack rank them for me?"

Hiring Manager: "By the way, Heather, great outfit and you are very smart and popular too. Anyway, all candidates must have an MBA from a top ten school and they must have at least 5 years experience from X, Y or Z company. I know they have good talent, because I used to work at each of those companies"

 Ugh, this is a huge risk to companies and I'll tell you why:

1) Recruiting from only specific schools and programs keeps you from hiring the best. I'll argue that there's no direct correlation between an education from a specific school and success in business (do I have to remind you that Bill Gates never graduated from Harvard?). Granted, companies recruit heavily from top programs, but it's the work product that makes someone the best. Can someone achieve leadership in their industry or functional space without that pedigree MBA? You betcha. I see it here all the time. On the flip side, could someone who has a degree from a top school lack the ability to function well in a work environment? Yep (that's one of the reasons we do phone interviews). I'd take someone who worked hard to get through a so-called tier two school over someone who went to a tier one school, but to whom everything came easy.  

2) It closes the door to diversity of perspective. If you hire a bunch of people who who have very similar profiles, their paths are likely quite similar (think about an MBA with enterprise product management experience, for example). Then consider someone who got to the same place in their career via a different path and think about the different experience they bring to the table. That diversity of perspective could be extremely valuable in a product feature strategy discussion, especially if your customers aren't a bunch of MBAs. The more different perspectives the better (as long as they somewhat represent your customer base)!

3) Focusing on pedigrees keeps you from focusing on what's really important: getting the job done. At the end of the day, you are hiring someone to do a job (and hiring for long term growth and potential). So using interview tactics to uncover who would be the best at doing that job (behavioral interviewing techniques) are key. I'd like to see companies hire people who just have the best skills that are needed for the job, plus the ability to grow. Companies have a tendency to over-hire, especially when there are an excess of candidates on the market. When the economy turns around, the candidates leave for jobs that better match their experience level (mark my words, it's coming). I'd rather hire someone who is challenged by the opportunity to grow in their role. They get more done and are happier doing it.

4) Sometimes the hiring managers don't know how to write good job descriptions. What is top of mind for them are the things they have experienced themselves. Help them write a better description focused on true "requirements" (in my opinion, requirements should start with the words "ability to"). It's just a matter of educating them on the talent market. Recruiters, you are the pros. Be a consultant to your clients rather than an order taker.

5) Let's be real. A good recruiter is going to present all strong candidates that they feel can do the job anyway because that is the right thing to do for everyone involved. This isn't selective hearing. We hear you, but the job requirements are taken with a grain of salt. They are guidelines (so the answer to the question "are the degrees listed in the job description absolutely required?" is no, as far as I am concerned). So why not really get that out in the open during the discussion of specs and focus on what is truly important. For example, 1)what are the competencies you want me to look for? strategic thinker? plays well with others? and 2) what will this person need to be able to DO in the job?

I can usually talk a hiring manager out of focusing solely on "mini-mes" ("so are you saying there's nobody in your organization that is successful that does not have an MBA from a top 5 school?"). Really, I think it's the fear of the unknown that makes a hiring manager want to hire someone similar to themselves. Now let me just say this: there's something to be said for someone that has made it through a competitive degree program or several years of work at a competitive company and the chances of finding great talent with these achievements is probably higher then elsewhere and that is why I recruit from MBA Alumni programs and top companies. But I just don't think that those are the only people that can do the job. And therefore we need to dig in further to understand what the true "requirements" of any job are. Too often, the recruiter take the job description at face value. The best question the recruiter can ask (or the hiring manager can ask themselves") is "Why?". Why does the candidate need to have a certain degree from a certain school? Why do they have to have experience from a certain company? Why do they need to have a specific type of domain experience? Why this many years in the industry? There could be good reasons. But I just don't think that recruiters take the time to challenge their hiring managers and understand those reasons enough. And because of this a great hire can be overlooked.

I'm just saying.


Comments (9)

  1. Jason Davis says:

    Very good. I think the recruiters who are successful know this and the ones who are struggling with a lack of production need to understand this.


  2. David Carter says:

    I agree. When I left MS after 11 years.. there were a lot of mini me’s running around. I think its not a liability if you are a very process driven company, but when you are trying to get big… AND stay innovative its a must.

  3. Stephanie Tate says:

    I hear you and agree whole heartedly!

  4. Anonymous says:

    While perusing some of the Joel on Software discussions, I saw the pointer to “Mini-me” syndrome…a major hiring risk for companies. Heather discusses her concerns:

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just noticed this on the catch-all blogs.msdn.com and thought it was pertinent to some of the discussions we’ve had in the past on here.

  6. I have a question about career path and Microsoft. In my imagination, Microsoft is the top of the heap in its field. If someone goes there directly from school, does she stay forever? Or do Microsofties move around just like other people? I’ll note as well that many recruiters view employees who stay somewhere more than five years as dead wood.

  7. Heather says:

    Mike, I think movement is important. It prevents stagnation and shows that a candidate’s skills are in-demand. This kind of movement, within a company, is totally cool. So if I saw a candidate that was with a company for a number of year, but in different types of impactful (not a word, I know) roles, I would see that as a plus. I would worry about whether I could get the candidate, but I’d do what it takes to find out.

    At Microsoft, as far as people hired right from school, I’d say it’s a mix of people who stay and move up and people who move on. First, like other great companies, you have to perform to stay. Here, you also have to grow to stay (and grown could mean a lot of things…moving up, trying new roles, expanding the scope of your work). We do have several VPs here that joined Microsoft our of college. Until last year, we didn’t hire new undergrads for marketing, so there’s less of a legacy on the marketing side as on the technical.

    There are people that join us out of undergrad, stay for a few years and move on to something else. Some people want to strike out on their own or want to get into different product areas.

    We do have lower attrition numbers than most companies (sorry, I don’t have any figures to quote offhand), but the amount of internal movement opens up new roles that keep us busy here in recruiting.

    Good question…thanks for asking

  8. pippip says:

    Excellent browsing have the to

  9. Linda says:

    I’ve just been letting everything pass me by lately. I’ve more or less been doing nothing. Not much going on lately. I can’t be bothered with anything recently.

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