It is amazing to me the number of candidates who submit resumes that reflect a life and a career with no apparent mistakes or disappointments. This is the result of an evolving body of career management advice that recognizes recruiters are expected to deliver the best of the best. So, resumes are constructed to gloss over any, and I do mean any, employment hiccups.
The problem is that we may be missing the best of the future leaders. I am not making the argument against outplacement counselors, nor am I saying that executives who have screwed up should not be fired, or even deserve a second chance. What I am arguing is that ruling out candidates during the initial resume review because of a short tenure or an employment gap to avoid having to explain to their client why a particular candidate was included in the list of potential hires, misses the mark. This is a reflection of a flawed recruitment process in search of something that does not exist: the perfect candidate.
Making mistakes, or experiencing an unfortunate career misstep, is the messy and painful part of learning important leadership lessons.
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When I ask candidates to describe their biggest career mistake, it is always surprising how many are flustered and/or act as if I had just committed a major faux pas in the asking. If they successfully mask their irritation, many times they provide an example so trivial, or off point, that it is completely lacking in substance as a leadership learning experience. A leader who has screwed up, who feels the pain, and understands the consequences, is less likely to repeat that or a similar error. They are also more willing to support a promising subordinate who makes a stinker decision that fails in a very noticeable way.
As we begin a tumultuous transformation of healthcare, there will be more than a few leadership casualties. This is going to be a horribly complex and deeply difficult process that will require an ever-changing set of leadership skills. Not everyone can or will be able to adapt in a particular organization or a certain leadership role.
A former client once told me not to interview anyone who was not a sitting Chief Operating Officer or Vice President of Operations, as if that was some guarantee of ability. I wondered if that meant I should not talk to him if he was suddenly in a similar situation. Ironically, two months later, he was terminated.
Candidates should not be eliminated because they made a mistake. We all make mistakes. The important question is what did you learn from the experience? Candidates should be fiercely scrutinized against relevant performance criteria and quantifiable evidence of their ability to meet the deliverables, not their current employment status.
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