Don’t Let Resumes Prevent You From Hiring Great Leaders

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Resumes suck as assessment tools. They’re rigid, formulaic and biased; a single sheet information prison from which a true understanding of a candidate’s capabilities and fit shall never escape. Combined with the fact that we’re conditioned to read resumes for all of six seconds, all you really get out of strong resume is where John Smith worked, and what he wants you to believe he did while he was there. Without an alternative, however, we’re forced to remain slaves to the resume and all of its gaping flaws, for better or worse.

I do have a solution, though. While it won’t fix the resume, it does provide a complement that rounds out the whole interview process by helping to substantiate a rational decision on who to extend a job offer to. It’s a 90 Day Plan.

The 90 Day Plan is a powerful hiring exercise that validates both a candidate’s technical knowledge and, most importantly, HOW they think, which helps you get a better understanding of how they will ATTACK challenges. These two qualities cannot be measured through the standard CV, yet they’re elemental for success in a fast growth technology businesses — or any other business — that likes to “Think Big. Speak up. Get it Done” as we do here at Sailthru.

We have all candidates for director-level positions who pass the first round of interviews (roughly 5%-10% of candidates) to complete a 90 Day Plan before arriving for their second interview. We intentionally give very little guidance to the candidate on how to complete the exercise. The guidance we do give is, “Assume you got the job. Now, what do your first 90 days look like?” If they faint or become exasperated, you know you have a problem right away — and it’s good to catch this before any more time is wasted, both for you and the candidate.

Here’s what the 90 Day Plan accomplishes, and how this approach is used at Sailthru as we seek out the very best leaders:

1)   Forces the candidate to operate in a situation where there is limited data or historical context, giving you great insight into how they can handle similar instances in the workplace. The pace is breakneck at high-growth SaaS companies, if they need every little detail ironed before they can start to work, they probably won’t stand a chance.

2)   Determines whether the individual leans towards strategy or tactics, or has a good balance of the two. This is where we identify who has a vision for the future and who is capable of making that happen, and in the rare cases, those who can do both.

3)   Surfaces how the candidate approaches challenges – from the bottom up or from the top down. We highly value effective problem solvers, and couldn’t imagine hiring a great leader who wasn’t one.

4)   Showcases their written and verbal communications skills in action by having them present the 90 Day Plan in their second round interview. A truly great leader should be an established communicator, and breaking away from the standard interview questions with a presentation gives them the opportunity to wow you (or prove that third interview is not necessary). We look to determine how potential leaders respond to feedback; ones who defend their approach while also being able to incorporate new ideas win.

5)   Tests the candidate for their desire and drive, while weeding out those who aren’t up for the challenge. If they are serious about the role, they’ll actually create the 90 Day Plan and really try to blow you away with it. One of the coolest things that could happen is that they build their own plan without you even asking for it (hire them right away).

We only use this for senior leadership roles but it could be tried out for other staff roles. I caution though that you will probably experience more mixed results with staff levels that do not require the level of planning and associated execution required of director-level team members and up.

In our experience at Sailthru, every leader that executes a killer 90 Day Plan goes on to produce tremendous results for our company and their respective departments. They walk in armed with an action plan and are focused on building the knowledge needed to iterate, execute and win. I encourage all companies and hiring managers vying for top talent to try out our second-round 90 Day Plan requirement to see how those matches stack up against resume-only hires. I guarantee you will experience higher employee retention, satisfaction and results.

This post is part 2 in a three part series on hiring for an amazing leadership team, you can view part 1 here. Stay on the look out for part 3 where I’ll be discussing what a ridiculously fantastic 90 Day Plan looks like!

David Blanke is the COO at Sailthru. Before joining Sailthru, Blanke led a business intelligence company at the Financial Times/Pearson. He enjoys chess, astronomy and camping. Follow him at @davidmblanke.