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The dating game: Talent acquisition edition

By Matt Poepsel, PhD

A candidate may have a less than stellar resume, but don’t write them off just yet

I’ve been happily married for the past 21 years. Before living a life of wedded bliss, however, I experienced the dating roller coaster like most everyone else. There were first dates, awkward silences, bad breakups, worse pick-up lines, and the occasional “It’s not you, it’s me.” Spoiler alert: It was always me.

A string of exes preceded “The One.” Lest I ever forget, they continue to send my bride Sympathy cards on our anniversary. There’s a story behind each near miss, of course. Whatever the incompatibility or irreconcilable difference, I was Mr. Wrong for them while being Dr. Right for my eventual bride. The same may be true for the job-seeker who’s now sitting across from you.

Hiring managers seeking an ideal fit for an open position often find themselves looking through dozens of resumes, hoping to spot the perfect combination of skills and tenure, education and experience. Every so often, an otherwise promising candidate comes along with a suspicious gap in employment or an abrupt end after a long – or short – job stint.

If you learn that a candidate was “let go” from their place of employment, should this automatically eject them from your selection process? Not so fast. There are plenty of reasons to slow your roll before summarily dismissing these candidates from your pipeline.

Hiring-4.jpgEmployees are jettisoned from their places of work for a variety of reasons. Your candidate may have been laid off due to a former employer’s downsizing or restructuring – a situation over which the candidate had little to no control. They may have been fired by an incompetent manager who was threatened by their skillset, incapable of managing their behavioral requirements or who just didn’t like the person.

Having a frank conversation with your candidate around how they handled this situation could provide some additional insight into their emotional intelligence, or EQ. You’re not just restricted to her side of the story, either. You’re able to explore the results of a behavioral assessment to further identify their drives and needs and highlight the ideal management style required in order for them to thrive in your organization. Ms. Wrong may have the potential to be your Ms. Right.

What if a candidate screwed up and made an honest mistake? Like that time I accidentally found myself dating two girlfriends at the same time. Ok, maybe not like that time, but dismissed employees are human after all. Take the opportunity to understand the sequence of events that led up to the mistake. For example, did they not have the proper training? Was there an interpersonal conflict? It can also be helpful to know how they responded after their mistake and what they learned from the experience. Based on their response, you’ll have a better understanding of how their environment and behavior may have impacted their outcome. With this information, you’ll be better able to determine whether they may actually succeed in your company’s culture.

If an illegal action or gross negligence on the part of the candidate led to their dismissal, of course you need to proceed with caution (if at all). Otherwise, keep an open mind and recognize that a candidate who has been let go by a former employer could still have what it takes to be your next superstar.

To make the right decision, you just need to know what you’re looking for and use the tools to help you ensure that the person sitting across from you is who you need them to be, not somebody else.

Despite my checkered history in the Dating Game, I’m sure glad that my bride kept an open mind and gave me a chance. Three kids, five pets, six jobs, twenty-one years and counting, and we’re still speaking and happily looking forward to whatever comes next.

Finding and sourcing talent is one of the biggest challenges companies face. Our 10 tips for talent acquisition and retention will help expand your field of candidates, attracting better quality talent and getting them to stay. 


Matt Poepsel, PhD is the author of Expand the Circle: Enlightened Leadership for Our New World of Work and host of the Lead the People podcast. He serves as Vice President & Godfather of Talent Optimization at The Predictive Index. He holds a PhD in Psychology, an MBA, and a Harvard Business School Certificate of Management Excellence. Matt has more than 25 years of leadership experience as a software executive and consultant. He’s also a US Marine, an Ironman triathlon finisher, and a student of Buddhist philosophy.

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