Ditch the Laundry List to Hire “Outside the Box”

think-outside-the-boxI’m lying on the beach in Martinique, turquoise water before me and volcanic mountains behind. I have just finished a fine lunch of mussels steamed in white wine, along with a baguette, salad and a glass of my favorite French chardonnay. Not really. I’m actually writing this in my den. It’s raining and I have one ear turned to the Patriots game.

But, if I had a dollar for every hiring manager who said that he wanted to fill his open spot with someone who “thinks outside the box,” I would be on that beach right now! And you, my friend, would not be reading about how to get yourself out of the box when it comes to hiring!

Wanting the “Outside” Thinker But Hiring the “Inside” Way

Here’s what I think managers mean when they describe those “outside the box” employees. They really mean that they…

  • need someone to look at the tasks and products with fresh eyes and energy;
  • need someone to bring new strategies into play and possibly realign resources;
  • need someone who is always “one step ahead,” who can creatively project market potential and future direction;
  • need someone who can be really creative because the budget they have to work with is modest, at best.

I wholeheartedly agree. I applaud creativity and I respect managers who look for, hire and allow people to be creative. (See last month’s newsletter, “The Wisdom of Woody.”)

But what I’ve found, sadly, is that for all the talk of finding the “outside the box” creative person, it’s just that – talk.

In the end, hiring managers write a job description that is more like a laundry list. And then they follow it thinking that they’ll get the best results. The laundry list looks something like:

  • 10 years software product management experience including launch, positioning and messaging
  • 3 years marketing experience with one year in ERP company
  • Experience monitoring program performance in SaaS environment
  • 8 years experience designing marketing collateral and sales programs
  • BA required or MBA preferred

You get the picture. The “outside the box” request has now been fit into a very “inside the box” job description.

If you want to attract an “outside the box” candidate, you’ll have to approach your search in a more “outside the box” way. It’s really not hard. And, it can be lots of fun.

Here are two suggestions to help you get more creative in your search for the perfect candidate:

  1. Tell the Story of Your Company – Creatively: Instead of listing candidate requirements (the list formula), write a short paragraph that describes your company, its culture and how this position fits into that picture. An example might be, “We are a five-year-old company filled with bright people making real headway in the mobile space with our outrageously great products. We have flagship customers. We’re financed by sales and our competitors are starting to wince. We are dedicated not only to the success of the company but also to respecting each other and the jobs we do. That is our #1 value. We need a savvy product marketing person to take our products to the next level and beyond.” You see, when you present yourself in a more creative way, you’ll start the process of looking at candidates more creatively. This type of approach will actually attract a person who is more creative. They can see themselves fitting in, even before they interview with you.
  1. Look Beyond the Credentials: I’m not suggesting you drop the requirements of the job and hire just anyone. But I am saying that if you make a list of requirements and strictly adhere to that list, you are cutting yourself off from that creative thinker you say you want. There are many, many candidates who could do your job who do not line up exactly with your list of requirements. There are many who have excellent skills but not the requisite number of years of experience that you require. There are many who would plug into your culture easily and produce effectively. Unfortunately, you are screening them out with your list.

Thinking “outside the box” begins with you. If you don’t tweak your process and get out of that box yourself, you’ll keep getting more of the same and you’ll never hire that creative, “outside the box” thinker.

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