I can't tell you how many times I have talked to an entrepreneur who, when they were on the verge of making their first senior executive hire, would reference their candidate's prior big-name employer or the big-name school they graduated from.

As soon as I hear something like, "They worked for IBM," or "They went to Harvard," alarm bells start going off in my head because those are the wrong things to be looking at--at least as far as job qualifications go. This tells me that the person is dazzled by the resume--which is the worst way to go about hiring someone.

Let me explain.

I understand the temptation for an entrepreneur to want to hire someone who has big-time credentials--especially if you don't have something like that yourself. It feels good to think that someone who worked for a top company or attended a top school would want to now come work for you. It's flattering, humbling, and maybe even a little scary to bring on someone like that.

But the truth is that the person you think you're getting based on that resume isn't always who shows up to work after you hire them. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that more than half of all big-company hires like this fail inside a growing company. Why? Because someone got dazzled by the resume.

What works well in a big company often just doesn't translate into a growth company--where quick decisions and taking action is far more valuable than scheduling meetings and delegating tasks, which is how you are taught inside a big company.

When you're hiring for your C-suite, you're looking for someone who is what I call a "working manager" rather than someone who is just a "pure manager." You can't afford to have someone who isn't ready to roll up their sleeves and jump into the fray at a moment's notice.

But this is a transition that's difficult to make for executives who have been trained inside a big organization--which is why you need to be extra cautious in how you evaluate their organizational fit beyond their resume.

When it comes to evaluating whether a big-company veteran can be an asset to your organization, consider a couple of these creative approaches:

1.      Try and scare them when you interview them by letting them know how few resources--in terms of money and people--as a way to show them that they'll need to be ready to dig in and do the work themselves.

2.      Ask them specifically about any experience they have working in or running smaller organizations--like teams, departments, or even divisions. Look for examples where they took an active role in getting work done.

3.      You can also ask your candidates about projects they were proud to be involved with. You can listen to how they describe their role in that work. Do you hear more about "I did this" or do they share more about how they "managed" or "supervised" the work?

4.      Another approach is to describe a complicated issue inside your business and then ask him or her how they would go about solving it. If their first step is to set up a cross-functional team and convene a meeting, you might have the wrong candidate.

This is not to say that big company veterans can't add value to a smaller organization. It's just that you might get easily frustrated that they don't have your same sense of jumping in, taking action, and asking questions later. The pace and speed of getting to solutions is one of the critical differentiators between small and big companies.

There are people who can make the switch from big to small--but they are rare. And since the stakes are so high with every hire you make, you want to try to get the odds in your favor that when you do make a big hire, that person is going to be a great for for the long term.

So remember: don't be dazzled by the resume alone. There are far more valuable intellectual assets and personality traits you should be looking for.

Published on: Feb 6, 2018