The one where I admit my hypocrisy

Do you consider yourself hypocritical?

In sharing an observation I will confess to you, here and now, I am a hypocrite.

Have you ever read a job advert or a job spec and thought to yourself “I could do that, I haven’t done it before but it’s very like XYZ project” or “that looks really interesting I would love to get my teeth into that” and when you’ve applied for it you were told something along the lines of either

(a)    They were looking for someone who’d done it before

(b)   Yes you’ve done it in X sector but they really want someone with Y sector experience

Now my admission of hypocrisy is having been on the receiving end of versions of both responses above and bemoaned the narrow minded/short sighted/safe playing individual who makes up ‘they’ in those statements, I have said the statements too….I have been ‘they’

*hangs head in shame

In reflecting on this admission, I’ve been thinking about what drove my behaviour. The reasons are numerous but the biggest reason is personal security and it’s akin to the classic statement “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. In covering my own back I hired the person who was most acceptable to those around me and was in the context of my role, the safest choice. The people I have hired have been fantastic, delivered some awesome work and I am fortunate that none of them ever put me in the position of having to justify why I hired them but I do think about the people I dismissed from the process because they weren’t ‘IBM’

The biggest irony of all of this is I work for someone who takes exceptional risks it appointing people into roles they have not done before or outside of the sector the business operates in. You may ask how I know this and I would answer simply “me”. When I was hired into the company I currently work for I had never worked in the sector before and when 9 months in I was given considerable additional responsibilities it was for something I had never truly done before.

I am safe in praising my boss here firstly, because I have already acknowledged to them the risk they took in appointing me and secondly, because it is unlikely they will ever read this. I will however admit in taking on the initial and latter role it didn’t occur to me for a moment that my boss was spending organisational capital, taking a risk or leaving themselves open to challenge.

In considering my good fortune compared to those I have, in the interest of my own safety, possibly overlooked I do feel a hypocrite.

But am I alone or does anyone else want to try the horsehair shirt?



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8 responses to “The one where I admit my hypocrisy

  1. ThinkingFox

    Good post!

    I’m the opposite to you; I can’t recall the last time I hired someone who was “perfect” for a role. In fact I seem to have managed quite well by hiring people who were so “imperfect” that people started referring to my last team as the “Waifs and Strays Department”…

    …and most of those waifs and strays, despite every warning for me not to touch them with a barge pole, have made me very proud with what they’ve gone on to achieve.

  2. Love the post Rob. I think we all have a tendency to play it safe sometimes. Maybe we want “IBM”, maybe the environment expects “IBM”, maybe we’re blind to the potential or don’t feel like taking what we see as a risk.

    But here’s the thing I’ve noticed. When we do take that risk (as hiring managers) we don’t in fact see it as a risk. That’s a perception of someone who doesn’t see the potential, the stretch that’s involved. We see it as a challenge, as something that is meant to work. Not a hire that is risky.

    Perhaps when we are hiring we need to think about what those feelings of safety or risk actually says about us and our hiring expectations. Are we in fact blind to the potential of other candidates.

  3. As an aside I think this is what makes the social media space so interesting when it comes to hiring the “left fielders”.

    To your point though, even the industry I’m currently working in, which is perceived to be footloose and fancy free, I see hiring managers being cautious about who they bring in. Because we all want a safe bet. As you say you have security in knowing you’ve hired someone who fits the mould. I’ve not had to employ anyone to my team directly yet, but would like to think I wouldn’t be looking for IBM.

    Additionally, I don’t believe many folk in this day and age can truly say they are not hypocritical at some point in their day to day life.

  4. Good post Rob. I don’t know if my experience is hypocrisy, but several years ago I made a hiring goof. I let down a guy by recruiting him into a role because he was the best of the rest. I “confessed” to this back in November 2009 – here if you fancy a look:

    Empty seats are better than ones with the wrong person in ’em.

  5. Sigh… I have a horsehair shirt fully tailored to my size. You make some excellent points. The challenge is not so much getting the left fielders through my team (we quite like them), it’s getting them past the hiring managers… I have had many “spirited debates” with managers about how essential FMCG industry experience is for people joining the company… Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t, but I’m always left with the lingering feeling that I should have done more…

  6. The right people on the bus, and the right people in the right seats! Sorry Rob 😉

    Good people can do anything – thats what one of my first bosses used to say. Clearly, there are limits there, but she didn’t mean it literally. She meant that as long as the person had the underlying capabilities/competencies/behaviours or whatever, their experience is largely irrelevant. At the time there was little evidence to back this up – now its very different.

    I recommend having a sniff around website, a company run by @rogerphilby He has done a lot of work in this area and is great at articulating the very situation you talk of and the benefits of avoiding the IBM scenario.

    Having spent a lot of time in hiring, i can safely say that for the most part, hring manager, recruiters and HR folk alike are largely risk averse and unprepared to think outside of the box. Sad but true.

    Great post.

  7. Karen

    Having agreed with so much you say – here I find myself at odds to your view. I can concur that recruiting a new world army often lies in that in which you yourself are not totally sold. But what you describe – to me – is that dawning realisation that captains of industry are not more ‘knowledgeable’ about requirements but have a deep rooted ability to take risks. I will not comment on how you got where you got – but I will say that you are totally ignoring that it was not circumstance or any individual person that chose you – but what you ‘made’ of circumstance. In taking a risk on an individual the only risk you really take is deciding if they have the potential to turn that chance to their favour and your fortune. I trust somone with imagination takes a risk on you soon – you are worth it.

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