When I was a senior partner at a consulting firm, hiring was a huge deal regardless of whether it was an entry-level analyst position or the lateral hire of a partner from another consulting firm. Given that we had no real assets beyond people, hiring was more like an acquisition in terms of both positive impact and negative consequences.
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Over my two decades in consulting, it became clear to me that the best consultants to hire were the folks who loved the inherent beauty of powerful ideas and were excited about the impact they could have. One of the best consultants I worked with so fell in love with consulting that she left, got her Ph.D., and became a full-time business school professor at a top-tier school. Looking back, it was no surprise she had a huge impact on her clients and on those around her, including me. She was the very definition of a "superconsumer" – someone who loves a category and spends a lot of money or time in the category. She was such a superconsumer that, as a professor, she became a missionary evangelizing the ideas she felt most passionate about to her students.
The risk of a bad hire was much subtler. We weren't worried about people who hated or disliked consulting. They were easy to spot and weed out in the hiring process, especially once I recognized the tell-tale signs of children of former consultants who were being forced into the field by their parents. The real risk was someone who seemed to love consulting, but what they really loved was what consulting could do for them, such as prestige, money, or a stepping stone to a future career.
I recall one person who avoided projects that were too challenging by cultivating relationships with partners who were known to be easy graders. He knew that when it came to promotions, perceptions mattered as much as facts. He became adept at working the rumor mill. When it became clear that he would struggle to become a partner, he left the industry entirely, having gotten a new job through his exaggerated profile on LinkedIn. He was good at his job, but ultimately a mercenary. Perhaps it would have been better for our clients and our culture if he had never been hired in the first place.
The interview process is typically focused on capabilities, past accomplishments, and culture fit. In other words, two-thirds of the process is focused on assessing skills, whereas only one third is focused on will. I believe we should even the equation by adding passion – specifically passion for the category – into the mix. Passion for your category can reveal how much energy, creativity, and empathy you might bring to the job on top of your knowledge and expertise.
Here are some examples of companies that have found clever ways to include passion in the recruiting mix:
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Test Passion in the Interview
Imagine walking into a pet food company to interview for a finance job. As you are preparing to talk about your finance expertise, your interviewer walks in with a dog.
Per a multi-university study, it turns out that 60 percent of interviewers make up their minds about a candidate in the first 15 minutes. The question is, does the impression you make on the dog count, too? The answer is "yes."
A pet food company I know does this routinely without clearly explaining why. This is a fast-growing company that has more applicants than it has roles for, so the dog's impression helps make decisions in "jump ball" situations. It is also helpful for roles beyond typical customer-facing ones like marketing, sales, or innovation. In fact, the president of the company believes that it works best in finance roles!
Complex, Long Sales Cycle? Hire Your Best Customers
Generac is the market leader in backup generators. In years like 2017, when there is an abundance of natural disasters and power outages, this product is much easier to sell. In general, however, it is a long, hard sales cycle. Imagine trying to sell an expensive product to someone who hadn't previously even known the category existed for a need they may never have!
This is why one of Generac's major sales strategies beyond retail outlets is going through independent distributors. Many of the company's independent distributors are themselves former customers who saw how much better the product made their lives. These distributors can sell through personal testimonial not only the benefits, but also how to navigate both the sales and installation process.
Discern 'Missionary' From 'Mercenary' While Recruiting
This is really hard to do, as you're making a subjective call. Having done hundreds of interviews myself, I think interviews are a pretty random process. You rarely truly get to know the real person on the other side of the table.
That said, I think there are people who are good at interviews. They have the "magic eye" and can spot authentic versus disingenuous people. They aren't afraid to ask hard questions or be confrontational to throw people off.
You can also design a recruiting process that puts candidates into the mix with others. It's easier to spot the missionaries vs. the mercenaries when they interact in groups.
Kevin Ryan, the CEO of the Gilt Groupe, wrote a Harvard Business Review article about building a team of A players. He notes that most people "overvalue the resume and interview and undervalue the reference check." Coworkers are perhaps the best way to separate out true superconsumers with passion for the category from those with passion only for themselves.
Eddie Yoon is the founder of EDDIEWOULDGROW, LLC and the author of Superconsumers: A Simple, Speedy, and Sustainable Path to Superior Growth.