Most candidates are looking to grow their skills in their next role. In this article, I’ll explain how hiring managers can often forget this fact when they are hiring for a senior position, causing them to lose out on strong candidates and on valuable time.

Creating an ideal profile

Imagine a manager who needs to find an experienced hire for a key position. It's an important role so they want to decide exactly what skills this candidate will need. They identify functional skills that are important for this role in the organization. They collect the domain skills that are relevant to the technology and product. They think about the soft skills and the types of team- and interpersonal-challenges that the candidate will face. And when all these are combined, they have a comprehensive target profile which we could define as “someone who has successfully done this before".

And then they take it further. We all know that things can change quickly at start-ups. The company could be twice as big in a few months, and it could be at 5x in just a couple of years. So our hiring manager adds a few more criteria. This candidate should be someone who has hired and managed a team 3-5x today’s size. They should have owned a budget of 3-5x today’s size. And they should have already supported a customer base 3-5x today’s size. At this point, we have a future-proof target profile that we could define as ”someone who has successfully done this before at scale”.

Diagnosing the problems

There are two problems with this approach. The more obvious problem is that, in the world of startups where companies are working on innovative solutions, there are very few candidates who have faced the same situation that you are facing. Because of this problem alone, it’s already required that you prioritize your desired skills and prepare to make trade-offs.

But there’s a bigger problem. Let’s assume we could find this ideal candidate: she has already faced these problems before and has been successful at scale.

Why would she want to do the exact same thing again?

If she has other options, what would cause her to accept a position where she will be completely within her comfort zone? And since she is probably already doing this at scale, what would drive her to take on less responsibility at an earlier stage company in the hope of growing back up to the size she is already responsible for today? The answer is that there aren’t many good reasons for someone to want to do this. More likely, this ideal candidate is not interested in this role and will instead be looking at more senior positions.

Finding a better approach

The exercise that our hiring manager went through to understand the desired skills is still valuable. But the mistake was to look for someone who matched all the skills. Instead what this hiring manager should have done was consider “what skills does the candidate need to bring from day one, and what skills can they grow into?”.

There is no objective answer for which skills can be grown into since it depends on the business. These skills could include areas where the manager or another leader would be able to effectively coach the candidate. Growable skills could also include those which are not needed for the business today but may be needed in the future. With this new way of thinking about the hiring profile, our hiring manager can evaluate the growth potential of the candidate rather than requiring that the candidate has already achieved mastery in every area.

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In summary, a hiring manager needs to know the difference between the skills that are required and the skills that can be grown into. If you can do this, you’ll be able to find the best candidate who will bring skills that are most critical to your business and who will also be excited to step up to their next growth challenge.

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Thanks for reading. I'm Colin, a Product Leader with over 15 years of B2B fintech experience (find out more in my bio). I’m currently open to product advising engagements. If you enjoyed this article feel free to connect.

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