The Three Cs of a Gig That Fits
Experience has taught me there are largely three things that matter in getting to yes on a hire. Anything less and both sides are settling. Settling is a precursor to the inevitable. Get all three, or don’t make/take the offer.
Character in my mind is a priori. If someone is not of solid character, nothing else matters because the first time something goes wrong—likely less than fifteen minutes after they fill out the forms in HR—they will be faced with a decision: cop to the wrong and seek help in righting it, or bury it deep in the corporate sewer. I read once where a smart boss told a new hire, “If you blow it and you tell me, we have a problem; if you blow it and don’t tell me, you have a problem.” If both human beings are of sound Character, a visible shared problem is always better than a hidden solo problem. Character is honesty, integrity, the whole shooting match. Fail that test, don’t turn the page.
Competency closely follows Character, a good deal less ethereal but equally measurable. Do you have the experience and learning to at least approach the tasks you will need to handle? If the job involves math, you must know what an equation is. If the job requires sales in a language other than your own, you probably should speak that language (unless you are specifically advised otherwise, in which case you probably should speak it anyway to rise above the pack). If someone asks you how you did this or that in your last job, you must be able to tell them, with specifics. A forensic accountant is not a nuclear engineer—you just can’t fake either one of those. Don’t try.
Compatibility (sometimes known as Chemistry) is the human connection. This is the one you can’t measure, validate or pre-sell. It’s a gut check. You know it usually within seconds of meeting the person on the other side of the desk. At the highest levels, it is a bridge of trust, where two people decide on a first impression that they possibly can work together, and then in subsequent meetings commit to the notion that they probably can work together. There is mutual respect at the levels of Character and Competency which allows Compatibility to be possible, and it most often expresses itself in easy conversation, unforced give and take, and with some luck a common sense of humor. Compatibility is the bond that lasts through the greatest of hardships, pulling leadership teams together in hard times and allowing the grandest of celebrations in good times.
Let’s presume at almost any late stage of hiring you are going to be out of the running if you haven’t met the Character and Competency hurdles. How important is Compatibility? It’s everything.
You simply aren’t likely to get anywhere near a final decision without Character and Competency, and in the final rounds, presume that this has become a level playing field, because it probably has. All final candidates are likely good candidates. Now the hirer and candidate both have to decide if a finalist is going to fly. That decision in almost all circumstances will be based on Compatibility.
Why do I share this? Because increasingly I am sourced as a reference for senior level candidates, but I can only help a recruiter or hiring manager and the candidate with the first two items, Character and Competency. Honestly, by the time they get to me, everyone involved has pretty much figured that out. References checks are not entirely perfunctory, but they aren’t far off. Sure, if you lied a reference can serve you up, but then you shouldn’t be a final candidate anyway. The real challenge is Compatibility, and that is entirely up to you. Don’t downplay it, don’t dismiss it as vapid politics. Acknowledge that human beings want to put themselves in the best of all possible situations knowing that the worst of all possible situations will emerge on a moment’s notice. If you have to fight a war, you want the people on your side to be on your side. The interview process is where you find out if that is possible. Be aware of it, accept it, prepare for conversation that addresses it. Compatibility is the determining factor in a hire; that is something you just can’t fake, certainly not in the long run. You want pain, try being in any hierarchy without compatibility.
Remember, most people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. Get this right at the hiring stage and everyone will be a lot happier and more productive, creating opportunities that are Built To Last.