The Case for Hiring Imperfect Job Seekers

Regardless of its size or stature, an organization’s success is almost completely dependent on what its employees are capable of. Similarly, when it comes to managers, the most important decision they can make on a regular basis is who to allot a particular task or assignment.

That is why companies and hiring managers and small business operators spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on sourcing, assessing and shortlisting candidates. Every potential employee is thoroughly scrutinized, rigorously tested, background checked, and even judged by their social media behavior.

Some HR departments go so far as to undertake personality assessment examinations in order to get a better idea of a candidate’s “cultural fit”. The cumulative effect of all these data points means that companies should, in theory, find it easier to identify job applicants made of the right stuff. Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence suggesting that forensic analysis and examinations are leading companies to hire better individuals. More importantly, what exactly should the right stuff mean?

Redefining “The Right Stuff”

In 1961, 11 men were recruited by the U.S. Navy to undertake feasibility tests for human spaceflight in Florida. At a time when the ability of an astronaut to withstand the pressure and dangers of space was still unknown, these 11 men were put through innumerable tests for the better part of a decade. Ultimately, none of them got to experience the wonders of spaceflight; they never even had a chance to make it because of a single common trait: All of the men were deaf.

It was long assumed that, since spaceflights demand tremendous levels of physical and mental resources, only the strongest and smartest astronauts would be fit for a trip. But things have changed since then. Qualities like strength, smarts and adaptability come in many different forms.

Deaf people, whose inner ear is damaged, are ideally-placed to avoid the debilitating effects of motion sickness in space. NASA’s $19 million expenditure on a Russian toilet for the International Space Station in 2008 would be unnecessary if people dependent on ostomy bags were chosen to serve as astronauts.

In emergencies involving a lack of light, blind astronauts would quickly identify the source of the problem and deal with it, instead of acclimatizing to the dim light or smoke obscuring their view like able-bodied astronauts do. In fact, the future of space travel might soon be the exclusive domain of people with disabilities.

So, does identifying “the right stuff” mean entertaining the presence of a sprinkling of “the wrong stuff”?

Two-Thirds Qualified, One-Third Eager

The best candidate to hire is not one who is fully-qualified; it is one who is only two-thirds qualified, and about one-third eager. Eager to succeed, eager to catch that one big break, or eager to repay the faith placed in them by a hiring manager or recruiter. In other words, hire a candidate who is willing to break down barriers, push past limits, and achieve the impossible.

Unlike their perfect counterparts, imperfectly qualified candidates always remain aware of the shortfall in their skills, are obsessed with eliminating that gap, and are always looking to add complementary skills to succeed. The world constantly judges those who are unworthy, those who are found wanting. Such candidates are especially aware of their environment and are eager to take constructive criticism from peers. They are aware of the doubters in their team, and are hell-bent on proving negative perceptions wrong.

The people that are best placed to make a positive contribution for a company, or society, are those that eagerly embrace and nurture a growth mindset. The ideal motivators for such an individual are not necessarily money, renown or good feedback; they are the eagerness to challenge oneself, to grow, and to expand their skill base.

Finding the Right Imperfect Candidate

It is important to find candidates with a balanced amount of “the right stuff.” Too much and they wouldn’t be as eager to embrace a growth mindset, resulting in complacency; too less and the job would end up draining their confidence and, eventually, break them down. Hence, two-thirds qualified candidates are right in the sweet spot.

So how does one identify candidates belonging to that sweet spot?

Simply put, applicants harnessing a growth mindset exhibit specific markers or tendencies which sees them chasing certain opportunities — opportunities that tend to develop every aspect of an individual’s life. Ask candidates to highlight a job they held in past where they were at least one-third unqualified, and how they overcome various obstacles to go on and succeed at it.

Discuss the mistakes they made, how they bridged a knowledge or skill gap, and the sacrifices they made to succeed in the long-run. These are the topics to explore if one intends to find an imperfect job seeker with “the right stuff.” And hire them.

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