I’ll hire passion over passive any day!

On Friday night I met with Jeremy Langhans (@Jer425 and @bluelabeltalent) and Steve Levy (@LevyRecruits) in Seattle.  During the course of our discussions I made the comment that is now the title of this blog post.  They both shared it through Twitter so here are the thoughts behind the comment.

In 1995 I was a captain in the US Army and Colonel Joe Taylor, the Brigade Commander with over 20 years of experience, was having to sort through several ORBs (Officer Record Briefs) of potential officers who could be assigned to the brigade.  These officers were all majors (a rank above me) and I asked him how he would use these one page summaries to select who would come be part of the team.  He told me that any officer who wrote him asking to be part of the brigade would go to the top of the list, even above officers selected for promotion below the zone.  Being selected below the zone indicates that someone is selected earlier than their peers for promotion.  I asked him why and he simply said, anyone who writes asking for a job will appreciate being selected more than someone who feels they are entitled based on their past experience.  In the Army promotions are based on future potential rather than past performance and he applied this same concept to selecting someone for a role in the brigade.  My experience over the remainder of my career would validate much of what he shared with me that day.

Since leaving the Army I have read several books on employer branding and hiring.  If you haven’t read The Rare Find by George Anders I highly recommend it.  George’s book highlights several case studies of organizations that find great people who don’t necessarily look great on a resume.  After reading this book I spent much time thinking about passionate vs. passive candidates.  I even spoke about this at the ERE Conference last month.

To be clear, I am not saying recruiters should not search for a passive candidate.  There are lots of great companies that are not known by candidates.  This is the role of the employer brand, to create communications that can be used to increase awareness of the organization.  In my mind there is a difference between a person who isn’t looking at opportunities with a company because s/he doesn’t know about the organization or the available opportunities that match their talent and someone who knows and takes no action.  This is where passion comes in.

I find it amazing the companies that ignore the most passionate of candidates because “the best candidates are not looking for a job.”  Let’s think about the big picture here.  Why are employee referrals such a big source of hire and why do they tend to have the greatest longevity with a company?  It’s simple…despite knowing the good AND the bad of an organization they are still passionate about joining.  Their experience upon arrival is what they expect and they go from being a passionate candidate to a passionate employee.

How do you find someone with passion for your company?  If you are a retail company maybe you should turn to your customers.  Someone willing to give your organization their money has a certain amount of passion for your brand.  Next, sell the work first.  The best way to do this is to help someone understand the challenges you need them to help you solve.  Help them see the bigger picture, the things that encourage passion.  Do your job descriptions do this?  Most don’t.

Job Description - Ernest Shackleton

Hiring passion requires long term thinking and an investment in the employee.  In some cases the passionate employee may not have all the skills necessary to perform the role on day one, but they will learn.  Ever see an internal transfer move to a role where they have no experience?  Typically it is passion for the organization that helps them overcome their shortfalls.  However, in my experience, where they may lack some skills on day one their performance at the end of the first year surpasses those of others hired without passion for the organization.

PS.  If you’ve never read the story behind the men hired by Ernest Shackleton I would encourage it.

2 thoughts on “I’ll hire passion over passive any day!

  1. DL-

    In truth, while passion is really important, passion alone without experiences, skills and abilities becomes a slippery slope the higher one goes up in the organization. It really is a balancing act, where the fulcrum is how much risk the hiring manager and company are willing to inject into the hiring process…

    • Steve – I agree there needs to be a certain level of experience, skills and abilities and the variance between those and passion is dependent on the technical requirements for the position. The challenge is finding the person with passion and the demonstrated ability to improve themselves.

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