Why hiring the not-so-obvious choice is often the best decision

During my career, I have interviewed hundreds of people for a variety of jobs, probably like most of you.  No matter what position or company I was hiring for, one of the most important factors I have always considered is whether the candidates bring different and diverse experiences to the roles—and that they are passionate and excited about those experiences.

The fact that a potential team member spends time taking classes in circus acrobatics, playing the cello, collecting movie posters, or performing standup comedy not only has the power to make our work environment more fun and interesting, it can also act as a critical complement to actual work experience, delivering very profound value to the organization. Especially in my work, diversity is important to serve our clients. Considering different perspectives leads to more creativity, new solutions to problems, and even breakthrough ideas.

Cello player: Diversity of experience

I’m not alone in this point of view. Stephen Covey noted in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Strength lies in differences, not similarities.” And at no time in the practice of brand management has this been truer. In an era where differences and individuality reign supreme, homogeny is out. In fact, sameness is a serious limitation to innovation and creativity.

Agile solutions result from diversity of perspective

We all know the world of business has changed radically. Celebrating similarities and actively reinforcing cohesion used to be the norm for businesses as they sought to create deliverables efficiently, quickly, and on a mass scale. This led to valuing employees with like backgrounds and similar professional experiences.

But today, more than ever, too much sameness in any company or organization is a serious barrier to being (and staying) in touch with the market and customers’ needs. Consumers no longer want products and services that are mass-produced and genericized. And companies that place value on employees who view problems and solutions through the same lens are finding themselves left behind and out-innovated by the competition.

Diversity in the workplace

This has never been more relevant than in today’s global environment, where every company must be agile enough to thrive in an environment of constant change. In reality, every business competes globally, and with that comes opportunities to learn and reach new customers. Even if limited to a local market, all companies face unexpected competitors and disruption from outside their region. Brands must be able to thrive in the global marketplace while ensuring local relevancy.

Looking beyond cultural diversity

Many companies are focused on creating teams that reflect diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnic group, and age. And for most organizations, this effort to advance the diversity of its employee base continues to be an active and prioritized work-in-progress. In fact, C-level attention to diversity is common among a growing number of global companies today. Twitter has formally tasked its senior level executives with goals to ensure its workforce is increasingly diverse. Another example is HP, which has clearly and emphatically communicated the importance of diversity in staffing and leadership among its various agency partners.

LinkedIn app

There is also an opportunity to look beyond cultural diversity by attracting employees with varied interests, expertise, backgrounds, and abilities. At LinkedIn, the company no longer considers just candidates from top universities with computer-related college degrees. It has created an internship program for passionate, driven people who don’t have a formal technical background or college degree to participate in coding boot camps, which provide them with the necessary practical skills. In other efforts to culturally diversify, some companies are spending the time and money to become more effective at obtaining employment visas that permit transfers between international offices. This produces a deeper, richer talent pool by enabling companies to look for employees beyond country borders—and attract employees that may have interest in working in multiple locations or regions over time.

Diverse experiences and passion are key candidate differentiators

When I am hiring (which is always), I often value unique experiences even more than a specific professional requirement, particularly if the candidate can bring a different perspective to the team. I find that our teams are at their creative peak when a wide range of viewpoints, experiences, and knowledge is represented.

Interviewing for diversity of experience

Today, differences are championed. People want to be treated as individuals—and brands that embrace this within their cultures will be those that succeed. Diversity, at all levels, opens the company to new possibilities and audiences.

The next time you are hiring, ask the applicant: What life experiences have influenced you, informed a unique perspective at work, and contributed to your successes? Or, even more simply, you might ask: What is something you are passionate about and why?

 

This piece was first published on LinkedIn Pulse (18 October 2017).

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