A few days ago, a customer of Dynamite Jobs called me seeking advice. On his desk he had two resumes and a dilemma.
“Both of my options seem good,” he said, “but I can’t decide who to choose.”
He went on to describe the candidates:
“Candidate number one could be plugged into the job and perform from day one. But they didn’t seem particularly passionate about what we do specifically, so I’m just not sure they would stick around for the long term. They seem colder and more professional.”
“Candidate two, on the other hand, couldn’t be more excited for the position, and even uses the products we create and thinks they’re great. But I’d have to train them up on fundamental areas, like their writing ability.”
I’ve been in this situation so many times that I’ve given it a name: “The Charisma Trap.”
The Charisma Trap is when a job candidate shows a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the position in a way that resonates deeply with the entrepreneur. This enthusiasm manifests in compelling ways: the candidate is a true believer in the company’s purpose, the candidate is passionate about future prospects and in the companies potential, the candidate has a demonstrated interest in the products and mission of the company.
In short: the candidate couldn’t be more excited to go to battle with you.
In the often isolating grind of running a business, this is music to an entrepreneur’s ears.
But herein lies the trap. A candidate’s enthusiasm and competency in selling themselves to you for this specific position can easily be misinterpreted as competence for the job itself.
The Charisma Trap misleads us into overvaluing job candidates who show enthusiasm for the outcomes of an enterprise rather than its inputs.
It’s easy for inexperienced candidates to fall into this specific pattern of selling themselves based on how cool the company’s mission is simply because they are often naive about what goes into fulfilling that mission. I was guilty of this at my first corporate gig working for a prestigious sporting goods company. I thought, “How cool it is that our products are known worldwide by extreme athletes and that our CEO flies around on a private jet?”
What I didn’t know then is that what paid for the jet and the big TV endorsements was piles and piles and piles of perfectly organized bills-of-ladings from our factories in Asia. There was nothing sexy about it. But it’s what made the business run well and created the profits.
It’s probably the case in your business too. At the end of the day, you do something amazing – deliver a sexy product, help your customers’ revenues grow, etc, but the way you get there is probably less sexy: you focus on details, you fill out the spreadsheets, you make the cold calls, and you make hard decisions regarding your customers.
The Charisma Trap can be particularly problematic when you’re hiring for remote positions. This is because the lure of living and working anywhere is so strong that candidates can express extreme and unprecedented effort and enthusiasm to convince you to offer them a life-changing opportunity.
The entrepreneur who called me still had a final interview to do with the two candidates. I encouraged him to avoid the Charisma Trap by minimizing the weight he placed on pure enthusiasm for his company’s outcomes and culture and focussed on getting to the core of what a candidate can bring to the company, customers and mission.
Here are some tactics to avoid overvaluing naive enthusiasm:
1) Don’t underestimate enthusiasm and drive, just try and figure out where it’s coming from. Your company needs candidates who have a long and burning motivation to do the type of work you need to get done rather than a short term “OMG this is amazing” hot-one-minute enthusiasm. For candidates who aren’t great at the charisma vibe, and for whom you have concerns about them sticking around, try to dig to the core of what is motivating them to join your company.
2) Take the time to have the types of conversations you’ll have in the day-to-day running of your business. What discussions and projects are at the core of how you drive value? Try and have those during the interview process. It might start out quite general: “Tell me about a time you’ve helped a company grow in the past?” But use that standard question as a way to dig in deeper and explore what direct input they had. Get the context and details, and workshop the past problem as if it were an active one in your business. Using a scenario they should be familiar with is often more productive than trying to have a conversation about your current business challenges.
3) Determine, in your case, the difference between things that can be trained and taught, and things that can’t. It’s difficult, for example, to improve the quality of thinking a candidate can do – both through writing and verbally – in just a few short months or years. Do your best to dig into this strength specifically since more information about your business won’t generally change a candidate’s ability to critically engage with ideas to the level you require.
These boil down to the following maxim:
Don’t mistake enthusiasm for a job position as enthusiasm for, and the aptitude to do, a job.
Instead, weigh enthusiasm shown for the type of work that you’ll need to get done by how they are walking (working, thinking) not by how much they are talking (enthusing, being complimentary).
If you focus on this ‘true enthusiasm’ for the work, you’ll better your chance of finding a teammate whose work will endure.
It’s the walk, not the talk, that’s going to grow your company.
PS, we made 50 successful placements at Dynamite Jobs in 2018, our goal in 2019 is to be making that many every month. Get in touch with us if you need hiring help!