Imagine you’re tasked with finding someone to lead your scientific lab or business and you have two candidates to choose from.
The first is middle-aged and highly experienced in leading teams of scientists. This candidate went to the best schools and worked in the most prestigious organizations. They have impeccable references, all in the area for which you need to hire.
The second candidate has none of these advantages and is less than 25. They are well educated and rumored to be brilliant. They display aptitude, but not experience in your field. Their professional career has been mostly spent as a clerk in a patent office evaluating other peoples’ minor discoveries in various fields.
It wouldn’t be hard to decide which candidate to hire would it? The first candidate, a respected scientific specialist, would seem to have everything you are looking for in the post: education, intelligence, and most importantly, field experience.
But if you hired the first candidate and passed on the unproven one, whose skills were more general and harder to ascertain, you were literally passing up an Einstein. Because candidate number 2 perfectly describes the now venerated and brilliant genius in his early years.
Einstein didn’t work in prestigious labs. He conducted his most earth-shattering experiments inside the pure environment of his mind. His limited experience was not on the fast track of scientific prestige but in a patent office where he was a humble clerk.
On the other hand, in these same early years when Einstein may have appeared callow and unready to lead anything, he had already conducted the most groundbreaking experiments in science since Isaac Newton. Albert wasn’t someone you would choose based on the narrow keywords on a résumé that would have defined him.
Would you have had the discernment to identify a diamond in the rough? At Durakis, we often speak of the “Generalist.” These are employees with talent and skills developed in diverse fields or roles that are able to bring their experience to your company. When you take a chance on a generalist, they often outperform someone with equal skills and limited history.
The reason we love these candidates so much is we consider our firm to also be of the generalist vein. Being a generalist search firm ourselves gives us the freedom to search for talent and culture fits from adjacent or oblique fields. And our clients are always amazed at how we’re able to uncover the hidden gems that other firms might never have encountered.
Often, hiring managers are so focused on the slot they need to fill or the strict role of a candidate that they have difficulty seeing the Einsteins in the talent pool. Many companies choose an organization to assist them based solely on the fact that they have found an ocean of the same kinds of candidates in the past. And what they get are exactly that; more of the same.
But I subscribe to the belief that the narrow, vertical expertise of a large, organizationally-minded recruiter is far less valuable than the more subtle skills a generalist brings to the table. A generalist firm, much like our patent clerk above, is the less obvious choice but they are able to see things in a great candidate that others often miss. They do not need to specialize in your industry because they understand the universal needs of all industries and the desirable qualities in all candidates at a higher level. The generalist finds the people who break the mold and transform the organization.
You don’t have to be an “Einstein” to understand Albert Einstein’s story and see the value of what lies beneath the surface. There are recruiting organizations that conform. And then there’s recruiters. The ones who break the mold.