Hiring People Who Can Handle Ambiguity
Some people really like having rules to follow. Others can handle a bit of ambiguity. And a very few are truly comfortable embracing the unknown. I've written before about hiring people with a growth mindset---curious people who are willing to experiment---but embracing the unknown goes a bit further.
In "The New Entrepreneur" Nathan Furr writes:
"Established businesses often tackle known problems that require management, coordination, execution, and optimization. In contrast, entrepreneurial problems are unknown problems that require radical search, experimentation, and flexibility. Rather than a stable organization executing to maximize, a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable business model."
Launching a start-up, or staffing a new initiative requires people who are very comfortable dealing with the unknown. Venture Capitalist Mark Suster, in his blog post "Whom Should You Hire at a Startup?" looks for "young Turks"---people who have something to prove :
"When you hit internal moments of doubt you need the team members who say, "Guys, we can do this! We’re up against the ropes but we’re not down. Let’s dig in." You need team members who do that when you’re NOT there. You need...mafia.
If you have a trade-off between somebody who is more talented but a "bad seed" versus somebody who is very talented (but perhaps less so) who is a motivator---I’d hire the latter any day of the week."
So how do you identify people who can handle ambiguity? (Hint: it's not on their resume). You will not get anywhere with the head-on approach: "Tell me about a time when you had to deal with ambiguity"---that's useless. Instead, I prefer a combination of three approaches:
- During your interview sequence, ask a few deliberately ambiguous questions, and see if they clarify your question, or just blunder into their answer. Someone comfortable with ambiguity will be able to recognize it, and also be curious enough to clarify your question before answering it.
- Make some aspect of your work sample testing deliberately ambiguous. (Please tell me you do work sample testing...right? It's often far more revealing than your interview). Again, you are looking for where they recognize and question their own assumptions.
- Finally, look for a pattern of resilience in their background---of taking calculated risks and then taking responsibility for their results. Some people can't admit failure (or learn from it) and if you can't risk failure, you can't embrace the unknown. You can read more in my post "Hiring People with Resilience."
Do you use a smart phone? Do you read restaurant reviews on Yelp, or search for things on Google? You weren’t doing that 15 years ago, but now it’s a normal part of your day. This on-demand webinar reveals the forces behind changes in candidate behavior, and how your HR practices can catch up.
Watch our On-Demand Webinar: "Candidate and Employee Behavior Changed: How to Catch Up" and learn:
- How to save money on job postings and quadruple your recruiting results
- The social trends that determine who responds to your job postings
- How employer reputation sites like Glassdoor affect recruiting
- Why candidates reject your job offers
Subscribe to Email Updates
Posts by Topic
- Hiring Managers
- Recruiting On Your Own
- Job interview
- Career Advice
- Human Resources
- Job Search Strategies
- Personal Brand
- Job Board
- Recent Grads
- Performance Management
- Job Market
- Job Search
- Career Guides
- Working with Recruiters or Search Firms
- Getting Started
- First Steps For Getting Your Search Started
- Search Firms
- HR Examiner
- Quitting Your job
- performance review