Sometimes, It’s About Hiring Someone Who Knows Exactly What NOT to Do

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HERE’S A NEW ONE when it comes to hiring: Could it be that the best person to hire is the one who knows what not to do?

I have hired many people with many skill sets over the years, but believe me, this is not something I have ever screened for. And, that’s why I was intrigued by this recent story in The Wall Street Journal with the headline, Hiring Tip: Find the Person Who Knows What Not to Do.

The importance of knowing what not to do

Confused? I was too, but here is the gist of what they story is getting at:

It’s easy to assume that star employees are the ones who can pick the best course of action when confronted with a business problem. But new research suggests there is a better predictor of performance: a person’s ability to identify the worst solution when given a range of choices.

That talent is evidence of “practical intelligence,” which includes knowing how to avoid pitfalls and potential crises, says Steven Stemler, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University and an author of a paper called “Knowing What NOT To Do Is a Critical Job Skill.”

This is an interesting concept and it has to do with the notion of “situational judgment,” where employees are hired because of their ability to make smart choices from a series of scenarios where the right choice isn’t always easy to discern.

Finding people to keep you out of trouble

That’s because, as Steven Stemler notes, there is a big difference between knowing what the wrong thing to do is, and, being able to avoid that outcome. It’s not as easy to navigate as many people think.

As The Journal story goes on to point out:

People often think there is a linear continuum of best to worst options, says Mr. Stemler. But in real life, the best solutions vary depending on context, corporate culture and other factors, so the choice of a single solution on a test is not all that meaningful.


On the other hand, “across an industry, there seems to be clear consensus about what’s going to get you in trouble,” he said.

Improving your hiring batting average

Here’s my take: The big takeaway I get from this WSJ story is how terribly important it is to know exactly what skills you need when hiring for a specific job.

Yeah, yeah, I know — it sounds incredibly simplistic to say that, and a little crazy too. What kind of recruiter or talent manager would hire someone without having a good sense of the skill set needed for someone to be successful?

Actually, this problem is more common than you think, and it is one that drives a lot of recruiters crazy.

The actual hiring manager — the decision maker in the hiring food chain — sometimes fails to be completely clear on what is needed, and it can leave the recruiter in a situation where they are sending over good candidates for review that keeps getting spiked because they don’t have some unknown quality that the hiring manager hasn’t made anyone else privy to.

Believe me, this happens because I have seen it happen on a number of occasions.

Hiring? It’s just a big crap shoot

It’s always a big crap shoot when you hire. Sometimes, the very best person who excelled in one job just doesn’t do the same thing in a very similar job in a different company. It’s a reminder — again — to get lots of people involved in the hiring and interviewing process, and to think long and hard about what someone you hire needs to bring to be successful.

The more you think about this, the better you’ll hire. You’ll never be perfect, of course, but the more thoughtful you can be, the better your hiring batting average will be.

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