By Tim Gould
Every company’s looking to make that perfect hire — and that seems to be getting harder and harder to do these days. So here’s an idea — why not start considering candidates on the basis of personality, smarts and enthusiasm instead of past experience?
After all, you can teach smart people what they need to know. But there’s no guarantee that the applicant with the perfect experience is going to be a great fit in your culture.
One company that’s taken the “diamond in the rough” search approach is Software Advice, an Austin, TX firm that helps businesses find software to fit specific business needs. We recently sat down with SA’s HR director, Bethany Perkins — herself a “diamond in the rough” — to explore how this innovative procedure works.
How did you get hired at SA?
I was working as a bartender and running my own theatre production company. To be honest, working in my passion wasn’t keeping the lights on, so I knew it was time to start looking for a “real job” — a professional job that offered great benefits and pay.
Coming from the service-industry, it was a challenge deciding what kind of job I would both enjoy and excel at. I knew I had the ability to be good in several career fields, but I also knew my resume didn’t exactly tell my whole story.
I saw that Software Advice was hiring a Client Success Coordinator, and thought customer service was right up my alley. I went through the entire interview process, but they ended up offering the job to another candidate. Later that day, I got a call from our CEO, Don Fornes, who said they liked me and would work to find me a home at Software Advice.
A couple of weeks later, I got another call saying they were now looking for a new in-house HR manager, and would like me to join their team. That’s how I went from being a “diamond in the rough” to hunting for them.
How did SA come up with the ‘diamond in the rough’ strategy?
It didn’t begin until several years after the company was founded. When the Client Success Coordinator position was created, it occurred to management that hiring someone with a service-industry background for a client support position wasn’t a big stretch. We ended up hiring a former restaurant manager for the new role.
The first “diamonds in the rough” worked out well, so we started considering other positions we could use this hiring strategy to find quality talent. After evaluating our open positions, we noticed that several of our sales and client success positions were a great fit for people who don’t have previous work experience but demonstrate intelligence, passion, a desire to work hard and an ability to embrace challenges. Because of the early success we had with DITR, we worked to refine the tactic and formalize it into one of our hiring strategies. We haven’t looked back since.
What kind of characteristics do you look for in a candidate?
I look for a history of hard work and achievement. I hunt for candidates who understand that success is the result of hard work. I also look for candidates that demonstrate a passion in some area of their life, whether personal or professional.
We think that the ambition and drive required to pursue your life’s passions are qualities that transfer nicely to our workplace. Another key characteristic I look for is if the candidate takes pride in their work. We don’t care whether they were a bartender or barista, what piques our interest is if they see the value of a job well done.
We also keep an eye out for candidates that are optimistic, have a positive attitude and are looking for a job that is both challenging and rewarding. These natural talents and personality traits can’t be taught.
What role does past experience play?
It’s not always about having specific past work experience. I’ve trained myself to look beyond the resume and read between the lines. I focus less on what company they’re currently working for and instead look for signs of achievement. When we are looking to hire a diamond in the rough, we care more about the skills that can’t be taught — we can always teach the role-specific skills.
OK. So just where do you mine these ‘diamonds’?
It’s difficult to proactively source DITRs in the traditional ways. Resume databases and applicant tracking systems are designed to make it easier to find candidates with specific skills and experience.
One thing we’ve begun to do at Software Advice is hand out referral cards. It’s basically a small card that advertises the fact that we’re hiring. It has a space to write your email and name so that when the person applies they can let us know who sent them. We also pay out a $500 referral bonus to anyone who sends us a candidate we end up hiring.
The referral cards are meant to be given out to strangers who impress you while you’re out and about. Does the barista at your local coffee shop remember your special order and your name every morning? Hand her a card and encourage her to apply. While you can’t search for this kind of talent online, it’s all around you every time you leave the house. You just have to pay attention.
What have you learned?
While looking for DITRs, I’ve learned that there is great talent everywhere — you just have to know how to recognize it. Also, these hires are called diamonds in the rough for a reason. They’re very rare and you’ll miss them every time if you don’t train your eyes to look for them.