Recruiting a Ninja

by Meghan M. Biro on October 1, 2009

Ninja

In this downright weird economy it can be hard to find the humor in a career search, but it turns out humor is a great teacher. Here’s a story about a square peg and a round hole – and what can be learned from finding a way to make a square-peg prospect’s personality fit with the round culture of the hiring company.

I was heading a retingency search for a VP-Technology for a cloud services start up with 45 people. In developing a search strategy to guide the selection, I worked with the CEO to define the position: skills, educational profile, past experience, management style, all the many attributes of ‘culture fit’. After a long meeting where we crafted a job description and a better sense of their authentic employer brand – and in which I privately thought, “I hope Jesus Christ is looking for a job,” I headed off to my favorite coffee shop to regroup.

As usual clusters of animated people gathered around power outlets debating the benefits of various technologies. One man, sitting off in a corner, was watching the nearest group with a smug smile on his face. I sat with a latte to simply watch the fun (I love to people watch).

Midway through a heated discussion of security in the cloud, the lone guy – dressed like a hard-core software ninja in ponytail, Birkenstocks and shorts – leaned towards the group and launched into an explanation of cloud-based spam, phishing and virus protection approaches. I realized, as I watched him work the small crowd, that I had found our candidate. My 3-D vision told me he had the technical chops; although he was wardrobe challenged, he mesmerized the group he addressed; and he had self-confidence and a touch of arrogance – all attributes we were looking for. I picked up my latte and asked to join him.

In an interesting hour’s discussion I extracted more information: Jake had a wry sense of humor, was looking for a job, spent a lot of time alone developing software, and needed a brush-up on his social skills. The next task was to convince my CEO that we had our VP-Technology.

After looking at dozens of resumes and enduring interviews with people who were well qualified on paper but lacked the certain spark of the guy in the coffee shop, the CEO agreed to interview him.

Of course Jake showed up for the interview in sneakers, jeans and someone else’s logo polo shirt. He asked challenging questions and displayed impatience when he didn’t get the straight answer. He bluntly told the CEO what he thought about the company’s website, its product claims, and then offered three areas where he thought he could make a difference. In meetings later that day with the start-up’s technical staff he was greeted with suspicion which quickly warmed to acceptance as it became apparent he not only knew his stuff, but was advocating for positions the staff thought were right but hadn’t been able to socialize with the senior team.

It took a bit to convince the CEO – we still conducted a selective search using all the ‘right’ methods, including job advertising on the internet, new media, contacts in my private network and more – but nowhere did we find the flash of brilliance + something unique this guy had. I was able to convince the CEO that Jake’s lack of ability to dress well and his challenging interview

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style were actually pluses – because he had the right technical skills, a certain edgy charm, and credibility with the technical team.

It turns out that every career search demands that we challenge our assumptions and remain open to possibilities. Hiring processes are essential but creativity and that 3-D sense I mentioned are just as important. Each search comes down to people hiring people. The ability to see the various angles and gifts of each candidate – while keeping a sense of humor, and looking beyond the square hole/round peg trap – can mean the difference between the right hire and a long-term staffing retention issue.

Tell us how your intuition or spidey-sense has helped in a job search – and let us know your thoughts on humor!

Guest Blogger: Meghan M. Biro, founder of TalentCulture, is a globally-recognized expert in talent acquisition, creative personal and corporate branding and new media strategies that accelerate talent acquisition.

Photo Credit, R’eyes

  • http://www.ResumeGuru.com/ Robert Dagnall

    Meghan,

    Great story, and it underscores that whatever expert systems and technologies might be deployed, there’s no substitute for insight. Can’t take the human out of human resources.

    Now I’m wondering: how can we increase the likelihood of seeing/striking that “spark”? Chance encounters at Starbucks are a pretty low-percentage method :)

  • http://www.ResumeGuru.com Robert Dagnall

    Meghan,

    Great story, and it underscores that whatever expert systems and technologies might be deployed, there’s no substitute for insight. Can’t take the human out of human resources.

    Now I’m wondering: how can we increase the likelihood of seeing/striking that “spark”? Chance encounters at Starbucks are a pretty low-percentage method :)

  • Dorothy Dalton

    Great post Meghan and really reflects so well on you as an executive search specialist to get beyond the “copy and paste” recruitment culture that line managers quite often look for! Way to go for sticking out with a candidate you believe in! Sounds as though Jake is headed to do a great job!

  • Dorothy Dalton

    Great post Meghan and really reflects so well on you as an executive search specialist to get beyond the “copy and paste” recruitment culture that line managers quite often look for! Way to go for sticking out with a candidate you believe in! Sounds as though Jake is headed to do a great job!

  • http://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm AJ

    One of the best posts I’ve read on recruitment/hiring — great story. I loved the humor throughout (‘wardrobe challenged’, lol). Not only stepping out of the norm, but having that 3-D vision to recognize talent that may be a possible hire is a creativity we can all learn from. So, recruit that ninja and fit that square-peg in the round hole…you just may have found the talent to take your company to the next level.

  • http://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm AJ

    One of the best posts I’ve read on recruitment/hiring — great story. I loved the humor throughout (‘wardrobe challenged’, lol). Not only stepping out of the norm, but having that 3-D vision to recognize talent that may be a possible hire is a creativity we can all learn from. So, recruit that ninja and fit that square-peg in the round hole…you just may have found the talent to take your company to the next level.

  • http://www.linkup.com/ gl hoffman

    Great story Meghan. You are the quite the story teller, which is probably another reason you are so good at your main j ob. Well done.

  • http://www.linkup.com gl hoffman

    Great story Meghan. You are the quite the story teller, which is probably another reason you are so good at your main j ob. Well done.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @RobertDagnall Hello Robert. I appreciate your comments.

    I’ve spent my entire career proving systems and technologies wrong somehow. I fully embrace + love (!) all the tools that increase the likelihood of connecting with the “right” candidate i.e. social media, etc but there will never be a replacement for the human + judgment factor that comes from having insight into the true concept of corporate culture + human behavior nuances. We may not have been inclined to interview Jake if I simply accepted his resume at face value. Chance encounters can and do happen, especially if you cast a careful eye and know where to look. You are correct that this scenario is most definitely not the norm. What’s the norm have to do with this? People are complex :)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @RobertDagnall Hello Robert. I appreciate your comments.

    I’ve spent my entire career proving systems and technologies wrong somehow. I fully embrace + love (!) all the tools that increase the likelihood of connecting with the “right” candidate i.e. social media, etc but there will never be a replacement for the human + judgment factor that comes from having insight into the true concept of corporate culture + human behavior nuances. We may not have been inclined to interview Jake if I simply accepted his resume at face value. Chance encounters can and do happen, especially if you cast a careful eye and know where to look. You are correct that this scenario is most definitely not the norm. What’s the norm have to do with this? People are complex :)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @DorothyDalton To my friend Across the Pond – thank you. The copy and paste philosophy is very tempting for recruiters who are motivated by fees and view placing people into new careers as a market competition. My wish list = the recruitment industry (enormous topic alert!) will continue to make strides toward being viewed as strategic business partners.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @DorothyDalton To my friend Across the Pond – thank you. The copy and paste philosophy is very tempting for recruiters who are motivated by fees and view placing people into new careers as a market competition. My wish list = the recruitment industry (enormous topic alert!) will continue to make strides toward being viewed as strategic business partners.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @AJ Hello there AJ – thanks very much. I’m happy to contribute. Do I have some stories to tell…Learning a continuous process + storytelling is just plain fun :)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @AJ Hello there AJ – thanks very much. I’m happy to contribute. Do I have some stories to tell…Learning a continuous process + storytelling is just plain fun :)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @GLHoffman Thanks much GL. Your recent post on the real-life walk of entrepreneurship is nothing short of inspirational + poignant. Always an honor my friend.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @GLHoffman Thanks much GL. Your recent post on the real-life walk of entrepreneurship is nothing short of inspirational + poignant. Always an honor my friend.

  • http://alyssamilner.com/ alyssa

    that was an awesome story. very entertaining, I was so involved in the story I forgot where I was.

    Great job, I will be checking out more of your stories.

  • http://alyssamilner.com alyssa

    that was an awesome story. very entertaining, I was so involved in the story I forgot where I was.

    Great job, I will be checking out more of your stories.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @alyssa Thanks Alyssa, so glad you enjoyed. From an initial view – you have quite a multi-dimensional personal brand. Sounds great.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @alyssa Thanks Alyssa, so glad you enjoyed. From an initial view – you have quite a multi-dimensional personal brand. Sounds great.

  • http://www.sanerapdc.com/ Alicia Arenas (@AliciaSanera)

    Fantastic post Meghan!

    What really struck me was that you were willing to step away from traditional recruiting strategies. You looked for talent outside of regular channels and that helped you see the perfect candidate.

    Congratulations!

  • http://www.sanerapdc.com Alicia Arenas (@AliciaSanera)

    Fantastic post Meghan!

    What really struck me was that you were willing to step away from traditional recruiting strategies. You looked for talent outside of regular channels and that helped you see the perfect candidate.

    Congratulations!

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @AliciaSanera Thanks very much for your insights. Fancy meeting you here :)

    My strategy for talent acquisition typically employs a mix of ideas + solutions based upon corporate culture + vision goals. I do not believe there should be a “one size fits all” approach to selecting the right candidate – it’s a finely honed blend of art + science.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @AliciaSanera Thanks very much for your insights. Fancy meeting you here :)

    My strategy for talent acquisition typically employs a mix of ideas + solutions based upon corporate culture + vision goals. I do not believe there should be a “one size fits all” approach to selecting the right candidate – it’s a finely honed blend of art + science.

  • http://www.careertrend.net/ Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

    Love the idea of ‘challenging assumptions’ and noting another’s ‘flash of brilliance!’

    VERY nice article, Meghan. My respect for you and your insight is deepening, daily!

    Regards,
    Jacqui

  • http://www.careertrend.net Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

    Love the idea of ‘challenging assumptions’ and noting another’s ‘flash of brilliance!’

    VERY nice article, Meghan. My respect for you and your insight is deepening, daily!

    Regards,
    Jacqui

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @ValueIntoWordsJac So glad to hear Jac. Respect is a two-way street that leads me straight to Kansas City. :)

    I heart Jake’s victory. It’s so important to challenge assumptions – you just never know where the next career + life opportunity lurks. Dig those 3-D googles out + stay open-minded to the possibilities.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @ValueIntoWordsJac So glad to hear Jac. Respect is a two-way street that leads me straight to Kansas City. :)

    I heart Jake’s victory. It’s so important to challenge assumptions – you just never know where the next career + life opportunity lurks. Dig those 3-D googles out + stay open-minded to the possibilities.

  • Traci

    Great post Meghan, it gives one hope that people can see through some of the pretense and often out dated “characterizations” even in this challenging market. Key to a great hire…an open mind and some vision.

  • Traci

    Great post Meghan, it gives one hope that people can see through some of the pretense and often out dated “characterizations” even in this challenging market. Key to a great hire…an open mind and some vision.

  • http://www.blogging4jobs.com/ Jessica Miller-Merrell

    This is not only a great story but an indicator of the new world companies and candidates are entering. As social media and technology become even more important, these kinds of creative, quirky, and qualified types will be goldmines for companies that have the vision and ability to overlook superficial characteristics like dress to find a quality candidate. Keep up the good work.

    Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR
    http://www.blogging4jobs.com

  • http://www.blogging4jobs.com Jessica Miller-Merrell

    This is not only a great story but an indicator of the new world companies and candidates are entering. As social media and technology become even more important, these kinds of creative, quirky, and qualified types will be goldmines for companies that have the vision and ability to overlook superficial characteristics like dress to find a quality candidate. Keep up the good work.

    Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR
    http://www.blogging4jobs.com

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @Traci Thanks much Traci. Hope will prevail + creativity may just be the difference between innovation and recruitment business as usual.

    I enjoy my Birkenstocks (I don black patent leather) :)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @Traci Thanks much Traci. Hope will prevail + creativity may just be the difference between innovation and recruitment business as usual.

    I enjoy my Birkenstocks (I don black patent leather) :)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @Jessica Miller-Merrell Appreciate your comments Jessica. Stories are dedicated to the wonderful + interesting people (personalities) I have encountered through the years.

    You are so correct – there will always be great value in finding + connecting with (key phrase) the elusive “passive” candidate.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @Jessica Miller-Merrell Appreciate your comments Jessica. Stories are dedicated to the wonderful + interesting people (personalities) I have encountered through the years.

    You are so correct – there will always be great value in finding + connecting with (key phrase) the elusive “passive” candidate.

  • http://www.thejobawfultruth.wordpress.com/ Jennifer Bruton

    Great story about sticking with a candidate you believe in. Some of the greatest things we can do for our clients is point out that looking past the superficial can pay off big time.

  • http://www.thejobawfultruth.wordpress.com Jennifer Bruton

    Great story about sticking with a candidate you believe in. Some of the greatest things we can do for our clients is point out that looking past the superficial can pay off big time.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @JenniferBruton Thanks Jennifer. Sometimes you have to stick it out for clients + career seekers. Agree, let’s move beyond the superficiality to learn + connect.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @JenniferBruton Thanks Jennifer. Sometimes you have to stick it out for clients + career seekers. Agree, let’s move beyond the superficiality to learn + connect.

  • http://sourcepov.wordpress.com/ Chris Jones

    Great post Meghan. Intuition and 3-D view are critical. The moral of the story to me: how do we create more opportunities for serendipitous connections like the one at Starbucks that you shared above? Is that where Twitter and related forms of social media can begin to transform paper-based recruiting?

    Looking forward to hearing more – I definitely think you’re on to some important themes.

    Chris (@SourcePOV)

  • http://sourcepov.wordpress.com/ Chris Jones

    Great post Meghan. Intuition and 3-D view are critical. The moral of the story to me: how do we create more opportunities for serendipitous connections like the one at Starbucks that you shared above? Is that where Twitter and related forms of social media can begin to transform paper-based recruiting?

    Looking forward to hearing more – I definitely think you’re on to some important themes.

    Chris (@SourcePOV)

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @SourcePOV Thoughtful comments, thanks Chris. I’m a proponent of 3-D analysis as it simply creates more opportunity for connection. Yes, Twitter + other forms of new media are serendipitous, particularly at the first level of connection. This is definitely one valuable touchpoint to recruiting in the world of new media as opposed to the “paper-based” submittal method.

    IMHO, savvy talent acquisition strategy will continue to benefit from a multi-dimensional approach to sourcing talent. We certainly have more connection options now; it’s about maintaining quality standards along the way. Exciting times.

  • http://twitter.com/MeghanMBiro Meghan M. Biro

    @SourcePOV Thoughtful comments, thanks Chris. I’m a proponent of 3-D analysis as it simply creates more opportunity for connection. Yes, Twitter + other forms of new media are serendipitous, particularly at the first level of connection. This is definitely one valuable touchpoint to recruiting in the world of new media as opposed to the “paper-based” submittal method.

    IMHO, savvy talent acquisition strategy will continue to benefit from a multi-dimensional approach to sourcing talent. We certainly have more connection options now; it’s about maintaining quality standards along the way. Exciting times.

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