Talent Wars: The Passionate Amateur vs. the Seasoned Professional

By Guest Post

The word amateur has gotten a bad rap, so often used to describe ineptitude compared with the focused efforts of the professional. But the root of the word comes from the Latin amare, to love. So, what if we rethink and reimagine our association with the word “amateur” and conjure up images of Olympians, a group of powerful individuals with talent, who strive for greatness purely for the love of their sport and pride in their respective cultures.

This ancient tradition is the celebration of athletic competition, untainted by financial incentives that can occur once an athlete joins a professional league. The Olympics are a showcase of what it means to put it all on the line for the most pure reward imaginable. These athletes train hard and sacrifice a great deal for a chance at glory that comes only once every four years.

When I hire, I am looking for an Olympic Athlete. I am less concerned with experience or  resume bullet points. Instead give me passion, perspective, and someone who believes in the mission.

Attitude is Everything (Almost)

The startup world is about results. We move fast and work hard to constantly perfect our product. Of equal importance is how our attitudes shape our experiences and how we learn from them. Startups get things wrong. We make mistakes all the time and if we don’t have a team that is flexible and agile and also completely willing to embrace the learning experience, we will get stuck. Viewing only negative consequences slows us down, extracting the positive lessons pushes us forward and upward.

Mark Murphy, Leadership IQ CEO and author of “Hiring For Attitude” performed a survey of 20,000 new hires across several organizations. Results showed that 46% of them failed (quit or were let go) within 18 months. Less than one thousand failed because of a lack of technical skill. For a whopping 89% of failures, it came down to attitude. Does this mean that passion and a positive mental attitude are all it takes to do a job well?

Josh Tolan, CEO of Spark Hire, believes that all positions at a startup require a mix of skill and passion .The overarching attitude for the entire company and each individual has to be, “let’s make things better.” A true believer in the company is willing to work long hours and conquer challenges better than the most skilled and experienced employee who isn’t quite behind the team, the vision or the culture and lifestyle.

The Un-Teachable Skills: What to Look For

Many positions require a great deal of experience and technical ability. I’m not about to let a doctor perform surgery on me unless she’s logged some serious hours in the OR. For many roles however, I keep an open mind and focus on the potential I see in each candidate. Skills can be taught, but creativity, insight, articulation and a mind bent toward problem-solving all have to be exhibited during the interview.

Joe Santana, co-author of “Manage IT” uses the example of hiring a help desk assistant. He says, the best person for this job is going be someone who loves to help people, has the ability to listen, empathize, sense patterns and organize processes. They might not have had the specific experience of using the help desk ticketing system, but that can be taught easily.

Paul Alofs, author of “Passion Culture: The World’s Most Valuable Asset” advises leaders to discover the beliefs of a candidate at the interview stage to see if they align with the greater business vision and values. Ask questions about what they love or hope to achieve from their potential career and what inspires them. This is the time to see if their passions are compatible with the ethos of your business.

Knowledge vs Wisdom

Intelligence, in the sense of being a wealth of knowledge, is certainly impressive. But I want a candidate who can think on their feet, accessing what they know and applying it to practical matters.

The smart, driven candidate is the ideal: the kind of person who exceeds expectations by calculating possible outcomes.The resourceful employee will continue to learn and take on new skills. When hiring a full time employee or a contractor, passionate alignment with what we are trying to accomplish is critical. I ask myself will this person feel a sense of ownership over 15Five? Will they feel empowered to make suggestions and ultimately critical decisions?

Of course it is not a cut and dry choice. Carefully consider how difficult it will be to teach any extra skills required, evaluate the talents needed to do the job, and gear the interview towards getting to know your candidate as a person rather than just focusing on establishing if they can do a particular task. Think big picture.

By investing in people who believe in your company’s culture, who are excited to strap themselves in for the journey and are passionate about your business goals, you will gather a team who’ll stay with you through the good and rough times. Together, you can all go for the gold.

What do you think about the passion vs. experience debate? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @15five!

Image Credit: US Army

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