Are you looking for perfection or potential?

We love to check all the boxes when we're making decisions. Especially hiring decisions. But have you noticed that doesn't always work out? Find out why.

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You have an absolute conviction that you could do the job. You have the core experience, and you’re driven to figure out a solution to the problem. Do you even get to try? Nope.

I’ve heard this story over and over. You probably have, too.

A CFO candidate I know has experience across multiple industries. And he’s armed with a JD to boot. A finance and legal whiz in one package? As someone who’s worked extensively with both sides, I say his 2-in-1 expertise is quite the boon! But he couldn’t land the gig because, you guessed it, he hadn’t already been a CFO at a SAAS company.

I come across the opposite story, too. Less frequently, but often enough.

An old friend of mine was tapped to give input on a job description. She put guidelines in place so that this role could drive the organization to success. But she didn’t stop there. She included specifics that appealed to her and matched her goals. And yes, she had the job before she “had” the job.

I have a theory—yes, a single theory—that explains both scenarios. I call it the “easy answer.”

When choosing who will fill the role, the hiring manager needs to justify person A over person B. Not just to herself, but also to her manager, her peers, the team, and to the other people who didn’t get the job in question. “Because she was perfectly qualified” is the easiest of answers.

This “easy answer” approach goes all the way back to the 1920s. That’s when the concepts of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) entered the workplace vernacular, and phrases like “You’ll never get fired for buying IBM” were used as a marketing strategy.

Today, FUD is at a whole new level with the high volume of resumes (remember the 17.5B resumes submitted in the US in 2017?) and increased cultural expectations of fairness and transparency in recruiting practices.

And yet, whether as a colleague or hiring manager, we’ve all experienced the “easy answer” not work out. Sometimes the person gets bored and moves on. Fast.

f you’re the hiring manager, you want someone to be able to solve problems in the future, justified by what they’ve done in the past. And if you’re the candidate, you want a role where your experiences are leveraged to drive initiatives forward while you also get to learn something new.

As both the “buyer” and “seller” of brain time, we seek out potential just as much as perfection, even if FUD keeps us from talking about or making decisions based on it.

So what do you do if you’re reading this article and nodding profusely?

For those who are hiring – talk to your recruiter about your tolerance level for potential vs. perfection. They’ll be jumping for joy to have that conversation with you.

For those who are applying – I’m working on how to introduce “potential” in the highly automated application process. So stay tuned. But if you’ve bagged an interview, be sure to talk about your potential. It’s as essential as the proof of your brilliance from past performance.

Want to be super brave? Ask, “I’m curious. When you’re evaluating candidates, are you looking for potential, perfection, or both?” Not only will it open up a juicy discussion, but you’re going to get some juicy insight into your maybe-future-boss. Remember, you get to choose the job as much as they get to choose you.

Oh, and those of you staying in a role—have this potential conversation with your manager.

And when you try out my ideas, be sure to tell me how things went. I am endlessly curious about what happens.

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