Have you ever wondered what Pride and Prejudice has to do with talent acquisition? No? To be honest, I’d be surprised if you had.
As you read through this post, you might-well find the Pride and Prejudice parallels odd coming from a man known widely as “bigtalljohn.” But I shamelessly admit, perhaps nudged by several of the female influences in my life, I have read and enjoyed Jane Austen’s literary classic and I think there a few great takeaways we can learn from the tenacious Elizabeth Bennet.
There’s a scene in Pride and
Prejudice where Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy list all the qualities of an
accomplished woman. She is a woman who carries herself with style and grace,
mastered in the arts of music, singing, dancing, drawing and the modern
languages. And, of course, she’s an avid reader.
Hearing this description, Lizzie Bennet retorts, “I never saw such a woman. She would certainly be a fearsome thing to behold.”
This same problem exists in many organizations when it comes to hiring new talent. It’s every hiring manager’s dream to find the perfect candidate – someone who not only meets, but surpasses all the prerequisites, who is ready to take off on day one without any training and continues on as a performance superstar.
The problem, as Lizzie says, is that perfect does not exist. There has never been a perfect candidate and there never will be.
As Ira Wolfe says in his article on ERE.net, “The best any manager could hope for is the candidate who has many of the essential skills and experiences, lots of potential, a willingness to learn and develop continuously, and is engaged with and by the culture.”
The problem with ‘perfect fit’ syndrome
Many organizations fall prey to the perfect fit syndrome – finding a candidate that checks every skill and experience box on the job description. This is leading to negative consequences for organizations and job seekers alike.
In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal revealed that it is taking companies 25 working days to fill vacant positions – a 13-year high! In extreme cases, positions are never filled. This is especially stark with high unemployment rates that are still recovering from the 2008 global recession.
It’s tempting for hiring managers to point the blame at the poor quality of job applicants, although this is totally unfair. Like Mr. Darcy’s pride and Lizzie’s prejudice, this is a two part equation. Add in the growing epidemic of recruiting passive candidates, i.e. people already working in the industry who will theoretically require less training, and job applicants are left feeling disillusioned and hopeless.
Hiring for cultural fit, not perfect fit
The existing skills and experience of a job candidate are only part of the equation. Managers need to be held accountable for finding high-potential candidates AND developing them to their full potential. Being a people manager includes coaching and developing your employees and helping them grow in their role, and in their careers, at your organization.
The other part of the equation that can’t be overlooked is culture. The effect of congruence, i.e. the fit between personality and organization has enormous impact for both organizations and employees.
A meta-analysis conducted by Kristof-Brown showed that employees who felt aligned with the values and goals of their organization had higher job satisfaction and identified more with the company. These employees showed superior job performance and reported they were more likely to remain with their organization. What does this mean for your organization? Happy, engaged, and productive employees who are more likely to stay with the company over time and work hard to help achieve organizational goals.
With this in mind, even the applicant who appears most ‘qualified’ can perform poorly if a good cultural fit is lacking. Take Mr. Wickham for example. He ticked off all the boxes of what Lizzie thought she wanted in a man: He was handsome, charming and amiable and they quickly developed an attachment to each other. However, in the end, Wickham’s shallow values would have proved disastrous matched with Lizzie’s cleverness and sensibility.
Ensuring a new-hire happily ever after
It’s time for organizations to give up on the perfect fit syndrome. I’m not suggesting in any way that companies lower their standards. Setting a high bar is essential – your organization shouldn’t settle for a Mr. Collins. But the height the bar is placed at needs to be realistic. Taking the time to find and invest in high-potential candidate who will flourish in your organization’s culture is best way to secure a happy, productive, long-term work relationship and ensure a happily ever after (almost) as epic and enduring as Lizzie and Mr. Darcy’s.