The Franken-Candidate Dilemma

Jim had just interviewed six people and was giving us feedback on them, “I liked various aspects of all of them, but each one had a weakness in some area.” Jim told us he really wanted to find someone who combined each of their strengths. “I’d love to see someone with Jim’s enthusiasm and Lisa’s analytical skills,” he pondered that a moment then added, “Ideally they would also have Brooke’s subject matter expertise and Lauren’s curiosity.”

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Jim was fantasizing about creating some entirely new, entirely perfect candidate from an amalgamation of the best aspects of all the other candidates. I call it the “Franken-candidate dilemma.”

A similar problem occurs when you’ve had the privilege of working with someone truly remarkable. When they leave the organization, it’s easy to become fixated on finding someone with the exact same rare combination of skills, as in, “Find me someone just like Sally.” But you can waste months trying to find another receptionist with a flair for accounting, or another brilliant salesman who actually turns in his sales reports on time. Business owners often want to hire someone like themselves, when of course, people with those same entrepreneurial attributes are all busy starting their own companies … not looking for employment in yours.

The “Franken-candidate dilemma,” the “find me another Sally” fixation, and the “find me another me” approach all suffer from the exact same logical fallacy—overgeneralization. They all assume, “If there is one person like that, there must be many people like that.” And like Captain Ahab, hunting for the white whale can drive you mad.

So how do you know when it’s time to keep looking for more candidates, and when it’s time to choose from the candidate pool in front of you? It comes down to three factors:

  1. What is the ongoing cost of leaving the position unfilled? There is a real cost to leaving most jobs open. Know what you are giving up by delaying the hire of someone new.
  2. How likely is it that you will find your perfect Sally, ””Mini-Me,” or “Franken-candidate” in a reasonable period of time? (Ask yourself this question, “How many people like that have you ever met in your life?”) Are you doomed to spend several months in a potentially fruitless search for something that may not exist? And if you get lucky and somehow find another Sally, are they so rare that you will be held hostage to them because of the extraordinarily high cost of replacing them in the future? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to simply reorganize the work, so you no longer require your receptionist to handle accounting?
  3. What, exactly are you giving up by “settling for” someone who lacks one of your desired attributes? How does that cost compare to the cost of leaving the job vacant for months?

High performing organizations usually do a terrific job of balancing these three factors–and here is how they do it. 

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