“Candidates who have experienced failure with a back catalog of tales of adversity in their careers are of the most interest to me; in short, I am looking for someone who has failed”, to paraphrase the interviewer’s opening gambit. The occasion was a first interview to facilitate a move from one well established and mature industry into a relatively new, spin-off, emerging tech sector that at the time was still to reach its tenth anniversary as a distinct industry segment.
It was a metaphorical blow to the solar plexus, completely unbalancing my thought processes.
“What failures have you experienced in your career that you can you share with me today?” was the perfectly timed knuckleball follow-up question to the curve ball initially fired at me. You know the one, that tasty looking ball, straight after an invidious first pitch that draws you in too early and too eager, that you invariably fail to connect with, certainly not in a meaningful way. Strike two before you have even had a moment to settle.
There are times in life when you are happy to receive the straight, hard, more predictable fastballs just like you prepared for, and this was one of them. Interviews are forums for extolling one’s virtues and achievements, accentuating the positives, demonstrating a relentless up-and-to-the-right progress, right?
That is what I had come equipped for; a burgeoning list of accomplishments to share. And yet here was this sharply dressed, über-competent, engaging, highly intelligent executive that I was meeting for the first time wanting me to open up, in one of the more vulnerable settings, right off the bat on where I had crashed & burned. At least that is what I thought he sought.
Or did he? It was only some years later that I came to realize and understand that what he really wanted to explore and test were areas where I had crashed & learned. I should state that this interview took place a full decade before an internet of any value existed with meaningful content where some essential research could perhaps have prepared me better and given me more insight to expect the unexpected, but this is another story.
Aside from being very smart, this interview tactic is/was key to unearthing those deeper, intrinsic skills and talents, such as adaptability, resourcefulness, indefatigability in the face of adversity that go the heart of determining the applicability and suitability of a candidate for certain types of jobs. Much more so than an emphasis on the acquired, vocational skills such as qualifications, training, achievements, track record, experience which have traditionally been the modus operandi in recruitment.
Nowhere is this more impactfully needed with potentially existential ramifications than in the recruitment of that first Sales hire, the all-important Pathfinder. Your Pathfinder is undoubtedly likely to be someone who has crashed & learned, perhaps many times over. Vital career experiences that are crucial to unveil for a business founder to hire right, first time, one time.
Fast forward to contemporary times, and I would contend that nothing much has changed in recruitment at all. Overwhelmingly, the vast amount of automation that has been introduced is focused on speeding up the pre-existing methods and processes, not changing them.
Put simply, the problem is this: It is not scalable to interview everyone that submits a resumé to seek out those rare-earth capabilities, like my erstwhile interviewer sought to do. Conversely, the counterpoint is that it is also not possible to discern those deep, intrinsic skills merely by parsing the content of resumés in that hit or miss initial filtering phase. A conundrum.
This is what we at The Right Five have observed and concluded across many years in the field of tech startups. There is much data supporting these observations from the likes of Mainsail Partners annual survey of bootstrapped entrepreneurs. It is no wonder at all that finding the right Sales hire perennially returns as the #1 issue faced in these startup businesses.
By understanding this, The Right Five has identified the need and opportunity to help those hard-pressed entrepreneurs gather this insight, accurately and efficiently. Utilizing technology driven screening our automated system can rapidly identify ‘the right five’ Pathfinder candidates for you to interview out of the morass and minefield of resumés that your exciting business prospectus will attract.
For the record, I got the job and stayed nearly five years which included a trade sale to a well-established corporate. How I fielded the curveballs in the interview is entirely another story for another time, suffice to say I was able to conjure up a left field experience that involved overcoming quite a severe early-stage career setback and adversity in challenging circumstances yet winning through.
Your B2B tech startup is bound to suffer setbacks (and pivots), shouldn’t you be looking for indefatigability in the face of adversity as a characteristic of your first Sales hire?