The Perfect Hire Fallacy – Mad Inventors and Master Builders
Warning: if you’re looking to hire, your perfect candidate does not exist. Forget about the idea of perfection right now. There are no perfect candidates.
It’s something I’ve learned the hard way over the past two years as the CEO at Qwilr, building out a team of Ex-Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and McKinsey talent.
We are living in an age of rapidly increasing commercial specialisation. Fields that used to have one ubiquitous title (aka “Web Designer” circa 2000’s) have splintered into numerous deep sub-disciplines (See: Frontend developer, Backend engineer, UI, UX, IA, DevOps, DA etc. ad infinitum).
So perhaps it’s only natural that when employers are looking to fill a role (especially early on in a businesses’ trajectory) they can fall into the trap of looking for human “silver bullets” – searching for that mythical super employee who will be a rockstar at everything within the field of [Insert Discipline Here].
But the depth and complexity of commerce today means this is rarely the case. The reality is that people are strong in some areas and weak in others. The whole Meyer-Briggs testing philosophy is predicated on the idea that these preferences for processing information tend to be mutually inhibitive (and while I’m personally dubious of the Meyer Briggs tests as anything but a cartoon sketch of a personality, there is some limited scientific evidence for that notion).
So what can you do as an employer?
You should forget about “perfect” hires and start focusing on “complementary” hires. Focus on the pairing-up and composition of complementary skills and mindsets within your business.
Alright, so let’s talk about hiring.
The Perfect Hire Fallacy
The total time investment for making a hire has increased 26 days since 2010, up to nearly 70 days. Especially if you happen to be looking to fill software engineering roles in a world migrating en masse to the web, it’s a long and difficult proposition to find quality talent.
So let’s imagine: you’ve done a stellar job of sourcing candidates. Before even starting the formal search you’ve re-energised your brand and online presence. Then you’ve placed ads on select job hunting portals, tapped your social networks, maybe you’ve put notices in newsletters to relevant online communities, perhaps gone through a specialist recruiter. In response you et a deluge of applications to your @careers inbox, you’ve tracked through your first round of phone interviews, a second round of face to face interviews, maybe even administered a final round of practical testing, and now you’ve finally separated the wheat from the chaff, whittling down your candidates to a select few.
At this point, as an employer, you’ve almost certainly got a high quality group of candidates who each have a slightly different talent profile. Some are great in one area, but weaker in others. And you start to think like Dr Frankenstein: “The candidate we’re looking for has a little of John’s quant skills combined with Sarah’s entrepreneurial energy and communication skills, plus a bit of Raj’s design skills”.
This is the “perfect hire” fallacy at play – because this “unicorn” (a word I wish to expunge from the zeitgeist!) candidate almost certainly does not exist.
You should be focusing on how the talent profiles of your potential candidates will complement your existing team.
A useful broad stroke divider is to think about candidates as either Mad Inventors or Master Builders.
Mad Inventors and Master Builders
It’s something you can see across disciplines, technical and creative, from engineering, to sales, to marketing, to design:
On the one side: folks who move fast and get sh*t done, scrappily, often with sticky tape and hair pins, often breaking things along the way, focused on crossing achieving outcomes rather than establishing sustainable long-term processes. These personalities are highly independent and self motivated. These are your Mad Inventors.
On the other side: folks who dot their i’s and cross their t’s, deliberators, investing time into sustainable pipelines and methodologies, fewer moves, but fewer false ones. These are diligent and detail oriented personalities. These are the Master Builders.
So what do these qualities actually look like? Let’s take a look at a few common roles:
1. Sales & BD
Mad Inventors: Sometimes called “hunters”, they are great at jumping on new leads, deals and closing new business. They love the chase & the glory that comes from the hunt – but they’re sometimes known to gloss over the details and ever-so-slightly over promise to the customer. You need them to get new customers into the funnel – but their focus shifts quickly, and they aren’t always great at retaining those customers.
Master Builders: On the other side you have the “gatherers”, who get called a range of things from ‘Account Manager’ to ‘Customer Success’ and the like. They are great at building a deep and long term relationships with your customers. They can take a customer who buys just one service from you & turn them into a loyal and long term customer, who buys into all the aspects and offerings of your business.
Mad Inventors: Those are great content creators, with a good instinct for the psychology of their market (i.e. what will appeal to and interest their audience). They have a wit and style to their chosen medium, and can turn out marketing collateral quickly. While they may be perfectly competent with the numerical and statistical aspects of marketing, it is not their natural mode. They think about market appeal as a problem of content, not a problem of percentages.
Master Builders: Those who have a strong focus on the analytical and statistical aspects of marketing. They rely far less on their instincts for the psychology of the market, and more on a numerical breakdown of what has generated links, shares and quantifiable results. They tend not be strong content creators themselves, but have a good taste-meter for whether content is likely to capture commercially viable leads for a business.
3. Software engineering
Mad Inventors: Those who are extremely productive in creating working code, but a number of bugs make it into production, with numerous edge cases that haven’t been factored in. How their contribution fits into the wider architecture of the codebase hasn’t received much attention.
Master Builders: Much slower to execute, but many of the possible permutations of user behaviour have been accounted for. The implications of adopting particular strategies or technologies have been carefully enumerated.
Mad Inventors: Those who can execute quickly and create aesthetically impressively work, but fail to appreciate the wider commercial and human-interactive scope in which their work will operate.
Master Builders: Those who execution is often less tangible, they may be less aesthetically showy, but they factor in the vast background of human interaction, and most importantly, the market and commercial context for their design work.
CAVEAT: Before we go any further, I want to be clear that this dichotomy is only a “broad strokes” notion, something to help us mentally model how candidates may fit into the existing talent composition of a business.
The Perfect Complement
So (caveats aside) what kind of minds do you want in the business? The mad inventors or the master builders?
The answer, perhaps predictably, is that you want both. You need both.
If you’re staffed with only mad inventor types you’ll get a hell of a lot done and you’ll get it done fast. But your business could be a house of cards. Predicated on a semi-functional half-baked product or unscalable, untenable sales and marketing processes. You’ll burn brightly to start, but burn out in the long run.
On the other hand, if you’re staffed with only master builders, you’ll have very solid foundations, but you won’t move fast enough, there won’t be enough cycles of iteration and innovation to outpace the competition – the business dies before you hit the inflection point.
The real magic happens when you *pair up* the mad inventors with the master builders. Of course there is an inherent tension there, pairing up opposed modes of execution. But with one mind pushing to execute fast, and the other reining back to laser in on the details, the business is able to move fast and sustainably.
In isolation, both mad inventors and master builders are useful. But together they are powerful. So if you’re in the hiring process right now and find yourself searching for that “perfect” candidate: stop and remember that the Perfect Candidate is a fallacious notion. You should be thinking about the Perfect Complement.
Qwilr is a cloud-based tool to create, deliver and track proposals and quotes. It automates the design and layout of your content and allows your clients to accept, sign and pay from directly within the document.