C.Vs can only tell us two things: the ”what” and the ”where” of an applicant. What they have done in the past and where they did it.
What actually matters in finding the perfect employee, though, is their ”why” and their ”how”. These key traits determine why they do what they do, and how they approach new opportunities or challenges.
As Aline Lerner eloquently put it: C.Vs suck. (Yes, she has quantitative data to back it up).
I’ve given up on C.Vs for anything more than the most basic checks for qualifications. Instead, I’ve found six key traits that I look for in cover letters and interviews. Below you’ll learn more about each trait, why it matters and questions you can ask to test for each one.
Being empathetic doesn’t mean being soft or a push-over. It simply means being able to see things from another’s perspective. Ashoka defines it as “the ability to understand what other people are feeling and to guide one’s actions in response.” Whether that involves aligning with a teammate in a country whom you’ve never met, via Skype, or entering into a tense negotiation from a place of respect and understanding, empathy is the crucial foundation for effective interpersonal relations. It’s the building block of leadership.
Ask: tell me about a time where you completely disagreed with someone about something, and how you handled it.
In The Alliance, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha make the compelling case that the closer the alignment between the professional development goals of an employee, with the strategic interests of the employer, the better off both parties will be. It’s therefore crucial that a potential employee can articulate where they want to go, and how they see their specific role and your organisation as the path to get there This enables you as the employer to be clear if an alliance is possible,where the employee rapidly develops themselves, while still furthering the organisation’s goals.
Ask: what do you want to learn in this role and organisation that you cannot learn elsewhere?
The Stockholm Resilience Centre defines this characteristic as “the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop … to use shocks and disturbances to spur renewal and innovative thinking.” In an economic climate where the only constant is change, the ability to not just recover from disturbances and setbacks, but to actually become stronger from them, is a key skill for long-term growth and development.
Ask: tell me about a time where you almost gave up, why you decided not to, and what you learned from persevering.
- Creative Problem Solving
While a C.V. is a decent — though far from perfect — way to figure out if someone likely has specific skills — particular programming languages for a developer; experience with budget processes for a CFO — this is a backwards-looking analysis. Much more interesting to me than what someone has done before, is what someone will be able to do going forward. And especially in a fast-paced environment, it’s impossible to forecast the specific tasks and challenges that lie ahead. Instead, it’s crucial that someone is imaginative and innovative in synthesising disparate pieces of information, seeing patterns and overcoming challenges.
Ask about a specific challenge you, personally, are facing right now — a challenge keeping you up at night. Give them the relevant facts, then ask how they would go about solving the problem, and what an appropriate solution might look like.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit
If even a decorated Army general believes in decentralised decision-making, it’s sure to be a reality for your organisation as well. With complex organisations, time pressures and limited resources, it’s impossible to make every decision yourself. Therefore it’s imperative to create a team of people who have the agency and self-starting spirit to take responsibility, run with it, and make things happen. One need not be an entrepreneur in the Steve Jobs sense; rather they must be ready to hustle, be creative and not bound by processes.
Ask: tell me about a time you took initiative to do something others were not doing. Why did you do this and not something else?
- Fun and Humour
Welcoming someone on your team means welcoming them into at least 40 hours per week of your life. Life is too short to spend it with boring, uptight, passionless people. And as an employer you get to shape the culture of your team. For me, that means bringing on people with diverse interests, passions and experiences outside of the office. And it also means people who can make a joke, even after a tense budget projection meeting, and be able to balance the stress of work by having outside interests which fulfil them.
Ask: tell me your favourite joke. And, what is something outside of work you are super passionate about?
It may be scary to leave the tradition of resumes and C.V.s behind. But once you do — and instead focus on these six characteristics — you’ll start hiring the right type of people. And more importantly your team won’t just look good on paper —it will be great in real life.
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