Team players, energy givers, servant leaders — these are all ways that Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. CEO William McComb describes great potential hires. However, there’s one word that trumps all of those descriptions — unstoppable. In a think piece for LinkedIn, Bill McComb outlines the most effective way to seek out, discover, and ultimately hire ideal, unstoppable job candidates.
This article, How I Hire: Show Me You’re Unstoppable, is reprinted in full with permission from LinkedIn, where it originally appeared.
Every leader’s number one responsibility is incredibly simple to articulate, but enormously challenging to execute: Hire the right people, pick the right team. But like drafting for a professional sports program, or casting a play or musical, hiring and interviewing are enormously difficult and risky tasks. What matters most–experience, skills, or talent? We need to take all into account, of course, but in today’s hyper-competitive and volatile world, my approach attempts to filter and find another attribute–one that is intangible but essential. “Unstoppability.”
Regardless of functional area or level in the organization, the unstoppable candidate embraces risk, anticipates and thrives on overcoming obstacles; whether that’s a bad balance sheet, tough boss or ailing market conditions. They have what it takes to make a team more determined and resilient in the face of today’s greatest challenges: increasing competition, tougher regulations, customer disintermediation, even expiring business models.
Our job as interviewers is to find those unstoppable candidates. Here are five quick tips I rely on to help make it happen.
Energy, please! —You’ve heard the expression—there are energy givers and energy takers. I look for people to join our team that will bring energy, not suck it up. Great candidates always have it. This isn’t about extroverted style—it is about mindset and spirit. In fact, some introverts are bubbling with a secret fire in their belly. Listen for repeated patterns of conquering real challenges. And listen for “victim” language vs. the voice of an unstoppable person. Find out how many obstacles a candidate has overcome in their real world experience. Are they a doer, taking charge, delivering action? Or do they seem buffeted and hemmed in by larger forces?
Seek servant leaders—Unstoppable candidates are team players above and beyond all else. They aren’t out for themselves—they know leadership means being “in service” to others and the company. I prefer to hire leaders that want to make themselves useful to their teams, will manage others without political filters, and are low in “ego needs.” Unstoppability brings with it a certain built-in allergy or insensitivity to politics on the job—they just want to get the job done. Accomplishment and getting things done come first, always.
Take the two-way street—Let candidates interview you as much as you quiz them. The goal is mutual understanding, not selling. The more informed the interviewee, the better the interview. Create transparency around problems, and see how they react. Unstoppable candidates are drawn into the bad news, the challenges.
Bring in your team—No matter how great an interviewer you are, always get a range of opinions. We need trusted members of our team to share their input, even if it cuts against our own take. Often, that’s when the most critical questions about a candidate are brought to light, putting us all in a much better spot to make a smart choice. It isn’t about building consensus; it is about testing multiple chemistries and getting multiple reads.
Drill a well before you need a drink—Start looking for the unstoppables and don’t stop the hunt. Meet people outside the company to learn, not judge. When I switched industries, leaving Johnson & Johnson to join Liz Claiborne Inc. (now Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc.) I knew I had to learn everything I could about fashion and retailing. To do so, I began “interviewing” talented people in the industry. Quickly I accumulated a talent map of the industry. My goal wasn’t to actually hire at that stage, but to know a broad range of leaders at competitors— and to find some unstoppable leaders in my new industry. Some meetings were a waste, sure. More often, insights were shared, friends were made, and a network of potential future candidates was built in the process. I continue to talent map today, well after fully staffing my leadership bench, and always will.
Will doing all this ensure that we always find and hire unstoppable candidates?
Of course not. No simple, infallible test exists. And realize when you are hiring, that you will make mistakes. Also realize that there are horses for courses. No matter how great the candidate, they may not be right for the job you need to fill now.
How much change does the candidate need to drive? Is this a turnaround role, a mild realignment, or sustaining a success? And if you know you’ve met someone exceptional but there’s no immediate fit, make it clear you will be back to continue the conversation—when the right opportunity arises. And when you hire the wrong candidate, be ready to admit your mistake and fix it.
Most important, let these five tips guide your hiring, and you will soon be finding more of what all businesses truly need–the Unstoppables.