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When the right job applicant looks wrong on paper

Hiring great—but unusual—employees means overlooking typical red flags. And sometimes it means looking for those special markers.

The fidgeting applicant’s resume showed frequent job changes. Then he asked to work from home—70 percent of the time, to start. And as for dressing for success, fugeddaboutit. With so many red flags, such an employee would stand zero chance of being hired by the average hiring manager at the average company. But therein lies the rub. Companies striving to go beyond the merely average are increasingly likely to ignore such warning signs and evaluate applicants more deeply in search of the genuinely—and differently—talented. 

“The right people look wrong,” said Melissa Swift, senior client partner leader, digital advisory North America, at organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, at the 2018 MIT CIO Symposium. In a panel discussion, “Creating a Digital Culture,” Swift said the new mindset that’s needed requires looking at resumes differently. Instead of rejecting an application because of frequent job changes, a hiring manager should consider employment jumps as a potentially positive sign. 

[ Also read: Designing a hiring practice for autistic IT staff ]

“Do you want to bring in disruptive talent, understanding they will leave in a short period of time? It requires a real mindset shift,” said Swift. Even in a short tenure, the edge delivered by the person could pay significant dividends in the digital realm, where innovation can transform an industry overnight and catapult an also-ran into an industry leader. By the same token, failure to innovate can doom an erstwhile high flier to a quick oblivion. 

“Fast-moving companies can take your business away in weeks,” said Andrei Oprisan, vice president of technology and director of the Boston Tech Hub at Liberty Mutual Insurance, who was also on the conference panel. Key talent can come from strongly motivated individuals seeking a career change, Oprisan said, noting that in his talent quest, he has helped enable some lawyers to become coders. 

“The difference between good talent and average talent is 100 times,” said Tanguy Catlin, senior partner at McKinsey & Co., during the same panel discussion.

No cookie cutters please

When you find one of those special people, do not try to fit them into a cookie-cutter role. Rather, “create the environment to fit the person,” said panelist David Gledhill, group CIO at DBS Bank.  

Some organizations are seeing the light and thinking differently. Approaches range from consciously ignoring age and gender to actively seeking autistic individuals in the quest for neurodiversity. 

The State of Hiring: Learn how 101 IT execs find staff for critical positions and cajole in-demand tech specialists to accept their job offers

Autistic individuals are just one flavor of the differently abled and exceptionally talented, says Dr. Lawrence Fung, director of the Stanford University Neurodiversity Project. “Take Andy Warhol in art. If someone with his kind of mind could work at a tech company, the company could benefit a lot,” he asserts. “Steve Jobs was really good at designing. If you put creative people in a tech company, you never know what they might do.” 

Finding the right “wrong” people takes the ability to question stereotypes and a willingness to buck conventional wisdom that has taken root in many organizations. For example, says Swift, if you are hiring a software engineer, the stereotypical ideal might be a 27-year-old white male from the West Coast, preferably one with a difficult personality. In such a case, the “wrong” person might be an older woman from the East Coast with good social skills. 

An open mind is a good starting point, but changing corporate culture is also necessary. 

“A lot of companies want a new breed of talent, but if they are still measuring success in the old ways, then it will look like a failed experiment,” said Swift.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.