Avoiding the Trap of “The Perfect Candidate”

Suresh Marur

ex VP of Engineering at Smarsh Inc



How do you make the perfect hire for an open position? Oftentimes, managers become fixated on the job description. They draft it out, describing the role and what skills they need, and then try to find an exact match.

The challenge with that: you look at things only from your own perspective. Okay, this is what I need. Does this person fulfill all of these requirements? If you really step back and think about it, though, if the person is already qualified to do everything that you want them to do for your company, there is no growth incentive for them to actually make the move and to join your team. There will be nothing for that person to learn.

I encourage managers to not always be looking for the “perfect” fit. In fact, look for a person who has a need to learn these skills and try to determine whether or not they have the potential to fill the role. They should bring enough to the table for you to work with, and, in six months to a year, they should be able to become the person that you need on your team.

Actions taken

I use the analogy of a Lego set. You don’t want to go out and buy a set that’s been built already. You will use it for the purpose that it was built for and then explore new ways to combine the pieces to make interesting things. Similarly, when you bring a new person onboard, you’re not just hiring this one person in front of you. You invite a journey into the fold. With this notion in mind, you will understand that you are able to do many things with this candidate. You don’t want to confine them to one purpose. You want to develop them into somebody comfortable taking on many different identities within the team. This will help them to evolve in their career.

Realize that, as a manager, you should always be looking to hire for growth. If you find somebody with a demonstrated ability to grow and you have the ingredients needed to facilitate this, that’s the person that you should be choosing.

What I typically do: you get the best sense of a candidate by letting them ask the questions during the interview. As hiring managers, we can often dominate the conversation with our own. The best insight for potential will be the questions that the candidate asks themselves. Give them the context and listen to what they want to know more about. You will be able to see how advanced their ability to think independently is. Then, you can work through the relevant answers, negotiating or engaging with the questions, and perhaps asking them what they think some of the answers are.

I have oftentimes seen that the questions a candidate will ask about the challenges associated with a role reveal more about them than anything else. The answers that they give will show you what they know and what their experience is. The questions that they put on the table give you a much better idea of where they are on their journey. What do they think that the problem is? Why do they think that this is important?

Some managers think that they need a person with all of the answers. Guess what? Nobody has all of the answers. If a person has the ability to admit when they don’t know something, that gives space for everybody in the room to come together and to find the solutions collectively.

Lessons learned

  • Avoid instantly choosing a candidate who has all of the checkboxes marked. There will be no learning potential to entice them to come onboard. There is also no incentive for you to help or to coach this person.
  • As a manager, you need to understand that there is no such thing as the “perfect” hire. You will not find one.
  • Focus on the why. Why do they want to join the company? Find somebody who is not just looking to step into a new job. Find somebody who is interested in beginning a new leg of their journey.

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Suresh Marur

ex VP of Engineering at Smarsh Inc

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