The Case for Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees

Tags: Hiring Job Market start-ups

“Rule 45: No Unemployed Candidates. Always an Excuse. Too Risky. Top-Rated, Currently Employed Candidates Who Won’t Leave… PERFECT.”

With all due respect for your accomplishments, Josh, I disagree.

Our own company, Fishbowl, is neither public nor for sale, but we’ve achieved record growth (currently more than 70% through the last three tumultuous years), regional and national awards for product and management quality, and negligible turnover (under 2%) since we began in 2001. We’ve done all of this by doing the exact opposite of the strategy our Utah neighbor, Josh James, has described.

Consider the strong case for the traditionally “unqualified” hire. Not every company, particularly in the early stages, can afford to hire an established “superstar.” I maintain that most any company, particularly in the growth phase, is better off by discovering potential stars (we call them Champions) in the making and creating a healthy holding environment that allows and encourages them to grow.

But our approach requires the right core ingredients. I’ve honed my skills in identifying the traits we describe as the 7 Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude. I’ve previously written about the “7 NN’s” with my paired leadership partner, Mary Michelle Scott (Fishbowl President) in Forbes and in HBR.

We’re looking for candidates who exhibit these characteristics, and we’re watching the way they interact—their body language, eye contact, whether they are articulate—a good listener—and whether they can express what they feel without feeling nervous. Can they demonstrate strong character traits when asked how they would handle various situations in former jobs or in life? I can sense an individual’s work ethic. We look for someone eager and hungry to learn, which has generally been a good barometer of the individual’s work ethic as well. In 30 minutes, I can judge a prospective hire with pretty much 99% accuracy. Our managers (we call them our “Captains”) have honed these sensibilities as well.

Consider our recent new hire in accounting last week. She came to us from a minimal position at Blimpie’s. She’s a lady who’s smart—highly qualified—was formerly the CFO of a small hospital. But then she got really ill. Then the economy caused her to lose her home. The short sale of her house left her with a little money to work with, but the only job she could obtain was as the manager of a Blimpie’s store for $9 an hour.

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