Hiring for fit: how to choose the right executives

Hiring for fit rather than technical ability is becoming more usual in organisations with a deficit of particular skills.

hiring for fit

Whereas once it would have been impossible to gain an interview without ticking every box on the job description, it is increasingly common for companies to recruit people who fit cultural parameters and have leadership or other desired capabilities but lack technical skills. 

This is not the result of goodwill to all, nor even of high employment figures adding flexibility to the labour market. It demonstrates a real lack of skills in the UK workforce, not least STEM-related and technology in particular. Additionally, companies are finding that a significant number of graduates have been educated for jobs of which there is a surplus, not for those where there is a deficit. Rather than going offshore, as would have been the reaction a decade ago, many companies are taking a more strategic approach to the problem: assessing people based on their core skills then re-educating them with on-the-job training.

The pros and cons of hiring for fit

The undoubted advantage of this approach is that many people will stay longer at companies whose values are, they feel, closest to their own and who have invested in their development. The counter is that with high house prices, cost of living and the millennial drive for accelerated achievement, a much higher proportion will leave these companies once trained.

It has the concomitant disadvantage of initially higher costs per hire, taken over the mid-term. This expense is measured not only by the time training takes but in the investment needed to have staff capable of training others to the highest standard. Additionally, in the short term, companies will still require people of high technical ability to do the job while new staff are being trained, thus incurring further expense in temporary or contracted staff.

How to recruit with ‘fit’ in mind

The additional complexity of the recruitment process is significant: how are candidates measured against one another if not by technical ability? We have found that companies intending to pursue this must first have absolute clarity about the culture, working practices, behaviour, attitudes and, of course, skills that would make someone a success in the company. 

Once a candidate chosen for fit has begun work, the induction and learning process must be a great deal more thorough than had he or she been selected only on technical ability. Should the candidate receive insufficiently detailed and rigorous training, the chance of failure, or of being so uncomfortable in the position as to seek a different job, is vastly greater.

There is also, as noted before, the danger that once the candidate has reached a high technical level, s/he will take another job using those new skills. This risk is unavoidable to a degree, though a positive, supportive workplace in which success is both recognized and rewarded will go a long way to mitigating against it.

Conversely, there will be a great deal less work required to help the candidate acclimatize. This is, after all, why s/he got the job. Be careful not to neglect this, though. Even someone closely aligned with a company’s culture and values need time to learn the social codes and navigate the hierarchical pathways existing employees take for granted.

This has always been the process of appointment for some leadership roles. Indeed, it can be strongly argued that no CEO ever has the full technical ability upon appointment.

Our essential points when hiring for fit are:

  • Ensure you have utter clarity on the triangulation points of culture, working practice and attitudes from different levels within the company.
  • Once defined, train the above into the organisation and into those who bring talent to you. 
  • Be prepared to spend time and money training your new employee thoroughly to ensure retention and success.
  • Don’t take acclimatisation for granted. Even the most natural fit will need the occasional guiding hand.

If you’re looking to make an executive hire, why not speak to our team today? 

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