Perfect Illusion – The Chase for the Ideal Candidate

I‘ve been in the Recruiting industry for quite some time, and I can tell you there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate for a job. It’s a myth and not a reality. So, let’s debunk this myth together, shall we?

In today’s modern job market, job postings often resemble a wish list more than a realistic overview of the job requirements. They lay out a dizzying array of skills, experiences, and qualifications that the so-called “perfect” candidate would possess. And as job seekers, we often feel compelled to match ourselves to this laundry list of expectations, sometimes to the point of disguising our true selves and our true potential. However, as Richard Branson famously said, ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.’

Studies conducted by renowned job market researchers, such as those at LinkedIn, indicate that recruiters place a higher premium on potential and cultural fit rather than on ticking off every box on their job requirements checklist. Data shows that employees hired based on their potential are often more successful and have a higher retention rate in companies than those who met the so-called ‘perfect candidate’ criteria.

“There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, only the right fit for the unique fabric of your team and organization.”

So, what’s the problem with the ‘perfect candidate’ syndrome? First off, it’s unrealistic. Nobody embodies every skill and experience listed on a job posting. Not to mention, skills can be learned, but attitude, cultural fit, and drive are much harder to teach. Secondly, this unrealistic expectation puts immense pressure on job seekers, leading them to underperform in interviews due to stress and anxiety.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that the emphasis should be on ‘skills-based hiring’ where the focus shifts from degrees and credentials to actual abilities and potential. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) further argues that hiring for potential and a growth mindset could be a competitive advantage for companies in the fast-paced modern economy.

Perhaps it’s time we reframe our understanding of job interviews and the recruitment process. Instead of seeking the elusive ‘perfect candidate’, employers should be searching for the ‘right fit’, the candidate who has the potential to grow into the role and contribute positively to the company’s culture. Likewise, as job seekers, we should present our true selves, emphasizing our abilities, growth potential, and how we can contribute to the company’s mission.

Let me share an anecdote. I conversed with quite a few hiring managers and executives at Amazon. Quite often I would hear about an interview with a candidate who did not meet all the ‘requirements’ of the job posting. However, the candidate’s passion, curiosity, and obvious potential impressed them so much that they all made decision to hire them. Today, these candidates are  top performers and a valuable asset to the company.

It’s about time we look beyond the confines of a resume or a LinkedIn profile. Let’s recognize that the perfect candidate doesn’t exist. It’s about finding the right person for the job, the team, and the company culture. So, let’s debunk the myth of the perfect candidate and embrace a new narrative of potential, growth, and authenticity.

Indeed, the preoccupation with finding the perfect candidate does more harm than good. It narrows the talent pool, hampers diversity, and overlooks the power of potential and growth. Think about Albert Einstein who famously remarked, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This adage rings incredibly true in the hiring realm as well.

For instance, an article by Harvard Business Review titled “Hire for Potential, Not Experience” argues that ‘experience is a poor predictor of future performance,’ and companies should instead look for ‘transferable skills.’ It cites an illuminating research study of 20,000 newly hired executives, where those hired for potential rather than experience were 50% more likely to succeed in their new roles.

Moreover, renowned HR and recruitment consultant, Dr. John Sullivan, aptly points out that over 80% of the Fortune 500 firms acknowledge that they hire for potential. Google’s People Analytics team even emphasizes that “learning ability” is one of the most crucial qualities they look for in new hires, even more than direct experience.

Delving into another anecdote, there’s the story of Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb. When Chesky started Airbnb, he had no experience in the hospitality industry. Yet, he had a vision and an indomitable spirit that propelled Airbnb to become a leader in its field. Now imagine if a company had overlooked Chesky because he wasn’t the ‘perfect candidate’ on paper?

Another remarkable story comes from the tech industry. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was famously fired from his own company, only to return years later to save it from near-bankruptcy and lead it to unprecedented heights of success. This demonstrates how one’s potential isn’t confined to their past performance or immediate skills set but is a continual journey of growth and learning.

To bring it all together, we need to realize that the ‘perfect candidate’ myth is an outdated concept that can potentially limit the growth of both companies and individuals. With the fast-paced, ever-evolving job market, potential and adaptability should be the new parameters. And, as more companies embrace this perspective, they’ll undoubtedly uncover the ‘diamonds in the rough’ that may have been overlooked in the relentless pursuit of the elusive ‘perfect candidate’.

So, in the face of this paradigm shift, I’d like to quote Marie Forleo who said, “Never start a business just to ‘make money.’ Start a business to make a difference.” I believe this should apply to hiring, too. Never hire a candidate just because they ‘tick all the boxes.’ Hire them because they can make a difference.

It’s about time we look beyond the confines of a resume or a LinkedIn profile. Let’s recognize that the perfect candidate doesn’t exist. It’s about finding the right person for the job, the team, and the company culture. So let’s debunk the myth of the perfect candidate and embrace a new narrative of potential, growth, and authenticity.

To conclude, the myth of the ‘perfect candidate’ is just that – a myth. Both employers and job seekers should focus on the potential for growth and the ability to fit into and enrich a company’s culture. So, whether you’re a hiring manager or a job seeker, remember that perfection is an illusion, but potential is real and tangible.

Dennis Ivanov

A Talent Acquisition Architect and an advisor to Executive Leadership on Talent Acquisition strategies. From start-ups to global organizations, Dennis excels in designing impactful solutions that optimize talent acquisition and HR processes. With a competitive spirit and strong communication skills, he fosters continuous improvement and champions diversity and inclusion.

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