Do You Hire for Confidence, Comfort or Capability?

In the software industry, we toss around terms such as “Holacracy,” “meritocracy,” and “collaborative environment.” We claim to hire for skills. That’s not what I see.

I see hiring managers hiring people just like them (mini-me’s), people who went to their schools, make similar life choices, and are roughly the same age. That’s because these people talk the same way. Too many people call this “cultural fit.” No, it’s not. It’s hiring people you are comfortable with.

How can you tell if you are hiring for confidence or comfort?

I agree, it’s nice to be comfortable with people. And, you can get that comfort if you hire for capability. Hiring for capability will even get you to cultural fit. Here are some ways to know what you are hiring for:

What you doYesNo
You have a job analysis, where you wrote down the essential personal qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills.
You have behavior-description questions that help you see what a candidate did, not thought about.
You have an audition to see a candidate perform work that's relevant to the open position
You're not so stuck on specific job descriptions; you are open to what the candidate can provide.

What if you do some of these things, not all? Here’s how I see this work when people hire:

  • When you create a job analysis, you go through the difficult thinking about what’s essential in a human being for the problems you need to solve now. You think about and decide what capabilities you need.
  • When you use behavior-description questions, you ask a candidate to tell you about the work that person actually did. This shows you their capability in many dimensions.
  • Auditions help you see how people work, especially if they work with people on the team to solve a problem.
  • If you want to increase the team’s general capability, you might be open to what a given candidate can provide you.

It’s easy to be wowed by a candidate’s confidence. It’s easy to look for someone comfortable, who might be just like you. It’s a little different to find someone with the capability to increase everyone’s throughput.

7 Replies to “Do You Hire for Confidence, Comfort or Capability?”

  1. I consciously tell myself that I want discomfort in my life. Only by being uncomfortable will I grow as a person, and as a professional.

    1. Peter, the discomfort you allude to is that of learning. Thanks for mentioning that.

      I often think of my learning. When we hire, I like to think also about how the team can learn together with this new person’s capabilities and possibilities.

  2. I liken “affinity hiring” to the notion of voting for the candidate you’d prefer to have a beer with. Yes, you’ll spend a lot of time with the new hire, but that’s not what you should optimize for.

    Good cultures evolve. Choose positive disruptors.

  3. I think auditions should be outlawed. I know, strong reaction. A recent audition with (a major, famous company that I won’t name) asked me to submit a writing sample. They asked question, I was supposed to write answers. The questions were about problems the company was having. They wanted job applicants to solve their problems for them with no compensation. If you didn’t play along, you were dropped from consideration. That is a bribe (give me something or I won’t interview you). Again, strong reaction, but that is my experience with auditions.

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