Total Business – Employing People on Aptitude Rather than Skills

Written by Karl Binder on January 23, 2012

Somehow I seem to have found myself onto numerous databases belonging to countless recruitment agencies since I am constantly flooded with emails promoting the skills of persons X and Y. This is not how I ever recruited staff though. In the last year we’ve had quite a few changes in the stickee team as we’ve expanded and added different services and directions to the company. In 2011 we Ben joined us to looks after SEO and social media, Ed joined us to take care of web software, Wayne joined as a dedicated account manager and Melissa joined the team as a designer. When I consider how we came to choose each of them, and how I would describe their role its not that simple. I guess the answer that would please the recruitment agencies would be that I identified a specific role with specific skills required, advertised for expert A, interviewed candidates then employed the most qualified person. However, when running a small business in our industry it doesn’t happen quite like that.

First of all, what’s so different about ‘our industry’…

Well I expect every industry to be different, but ours is one that is different from one day to the next. When people ask me what stickee does, the lazy answer is to mumble ‘web design’. The actual answer is much less clear, its something along the lines of ‘development of software for online business optimisation’. Yet when I say stuff like that people ask me ‘what’s that?’ and I’m forced to mumble ‘web design’ once again. The reason I mention this is that due to the changing nature of our industry, and the speed at which both the technology and the user’s expectations of it change, the roles of the team have to change on a regular basis. So employing someone who is simply an expert in PHP or System admin or something along those lines and nothing else might serve us well initially, but could in all honestly be a redundant post several months down the line. A constantly changing team would not serve anyone very well.

So job roles change, the nature of the business is constantly evolving, so where does this leave me when it comes to employing people?

How have I approached it so far?

In the last five years we’ve had nine team members, spread out at various times, and eight student placements. All but two of those team members have joined because they were recommended or had worked with us before, in one capacity of another. Five of them joined when we weren’t even looking for someone specific, but we recognised a person that could add value to the company. Instead of looking for a specific skill set, we look for people who are well suited to best serve the business and our clients.

What I look for on a CV…

First of all I hate CVs. 90% of Cvs tell you nothing about the person behind them. OK, so they do contain valuable information about previous experience, skills and areas of expertise, which are useful. But I need more than that. Anyone can learn how to write code, I would say anyone can learn how to design. The key is the willingness to learn and the ability to do so. This dictates how long it will take for someone to learn something new and whether or not they’ll stick with it to get there at all. As an employer running a small business I cannot afford to employ people who are unwilling to learn new things OR who will take too long to do so. If someone is unwilling to learn new things then as the company evolves and the job role changes they will be left working in an area that no longer suits the business, if they take too long to learn new things then by the time it’s learnt it’s time to move on and learn something new anyway.

So I look for:

  • Aptitude, a readiness and quickness in learning
  • Love what they do, have a passion for their job
  • Flexibility
  • Desire to continually try something new
  • Recognition that their job role can and will change
  • Existing skill set

Total Business? Total Football…

I’ve called this post ‘Total Business’ based on the theory of ‘Total Football’ which was an influential tactical theory pioneered by the Dutch football club Ajax. The theory was that the team was made up of such flexible footballers that any player could take on the role (or position) of any other player in the team. Now I’m not saying that every member of the stickee team could do the job of any of the rest of us, each of us have our specific areas of expertise, but there is cross over in all our skills. Constantly there is something new to learn, be it a new piece of software, a platform, a service or an emerging technology, as they come up someone in the team needs to learn it. For example recently myself and Ed have been developing iPhone applications to compliment the web software that was already in development. This time last year I would not have known where to start.

Employing people rather than skills

If I had to sum up my employment strategy in a catchy little sound bite I would say I always looked to ’employ people, rather than skills’. This effectively means if the person’s attitude is right, they have a willingness to learn and an ability to do so, don’t get disheartened and give up quickly and realise that their role is one that is constantly evolving, I would employ them over someone who was the finished product in one particular area of expertise. This is what has happened in the past and has served us well, and now I have a team of highly skilled individuals who all compliment each other well, but also have the ability to change and start something new if (as has happened in the last 12 months) the company needs to change once again to adapt to an ever changing business environment.

Take a look a Nick Booth’s post on Skills in Birmingham..