I love building teams. Whether it’s helping friends at a startup find the key players that they need to grow or hiring people for my own team, one book I recently read entitled “The Rare Find” takes a contrarian approach to hiring that I wanted to share a few lessons learned. It was recommended by a long-time friend/VC, Nathan.
The book introduces the concept of “jagged resumes” as something hiring managers should focus on when looking for talent. Jagged resumes are people who may have taken a not so direct path to get to where they are today.
They do not tick off all of the traditional checkboxes such as brand-name school, prestigious internships and well-admired employers. It makes sense intuitively because if you’re looking for greatness, you have to look where other people aren’t looking.
As the book recommends, one way to find these people is to look at your own background and pattern matching from there. For example, it could be a shared university course that is known to be the most grueling, a love for tinkering with electronics/computers at a young age, or a hustle mentality (the proverbial kid who not only set up lemonade stands but was able to persuade his friends to come work for him), etc.
The reason you want to find people with jagged resumes is because when you’re hiring, you should be aiming not just for good and risk-mitigation (which is the default mode at many large companies), you’re looking for great.
Another point that resonated is to look for heuristics. The best basketball scouts can be watching thousands of young recruits a year and miss out on a few key players, but by and large, they have honed in on some ways to identify promising players that go beyond the stat line.
Having been a basketball lover since the age of 5, I can’t agree more with how one of the top scouts looks for winning players. The heuristic he employs when watching a game is to microscopically scrutinize a player’s attitude during a timeout or when a ref makes a call that a player doesn’t like, how does it affect the player? “Watch that player more closely on the next play, especially if he accidentally dribbles the ball off his shoe. The best players will regroup and shrug it off. Other players can’t do that. Their temper will get hold of them. You have to take them out of the game for a few minutes.”
The last thing that resonated with me is that the definition of work ethic differs across every industry and job function. It’s easy to forget this and to impart the virtues of one job and apply to a completely different job. I’ve found that this approach tends to be misguided – for example, applying an athlete’s type of work ethic to a job that doesn’t require the same level of competitiveness or manual training. Everyone wants a coworker that works hard. But ask yourself, “what does working hard really mean in the context of the role that I’m hiring for?”
Being an analyst at an investment bank, is actually about working long hours and having attention to detail. In complex sales, working hard doesn’t necessarily equate to that, it’s more about developing a work ethic towards studying everything about the product, your competitors’ product, and how your offering solves a customer need. In engineering, working hard means being efficient with your time and shipping code.
The reminder here is that when you’re hiring for your next role, keep in mind what work ethic means in the context of the job and look for candidates that signal positively towards this definition.