Lessons in Hiring from “The Graduate”


To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we thought it would be fun to pull some lessons in hiring from a classic romance.

Hiring someone is the same thing as starting a professional relationship with that person, so it’s important to be sure you’ve found a good match. If you believe that you need one thing from a hire, but actually need something entirely different, then the chances of this professional relationship’s success are very slim.

Let’s take a look at a young man, Benjamin Braddock, (young Dustin Hoffman), who has no clue what he needs from a partnership, but decides to partner on up anyway. This is not the right way to approach hiring, but “The Graduate” is basically one huge “what not to do” example, both in romance and hiring.

Because Benjamin didn’t know what he needed, he partnered with the first available candidate, believing that her experience would be the answer to his directionless life. It wasn’t until Benjamin met Elena that he knew what he really wanted and needed from a partnership.

Unfortunately for Benjamin, his partnership with Elena’s mother was now keeping him from pursuing the sort of romantic partnership he’d wanted all along.

Lessons from the Graduate: How NOT to Hire

In hiring, you should always keep the end goal in mind: the job, the person who will do it, and how that person will get the job done.

Benjamin had no plan, no clue as to what he needed, and ended up in a partnership with a bitter, callous person who wasn’t interested in his need for companionship. Even worse, this faulty partnership was standing directly in the way of forming a partnership with someone who would be able to help him with this need.

Now, the “needs” that you have for your next hire will be much different than Benjamin’s, but the principal is the same. If you enter into a professional partnership with someone who isn’t quite right for the job, this so-so arrangement can be standing directly in the way of making the hire you actually wanted.

No matter how desperate the circumstances, settling in a hire, or in love, results in partnerships that will never stand the test of time. In order to enter into a partnership that works for both employer and employee, you should know everything that you need from a hire, before you go searching. Additionally, you should know how to tell the difference between someone who can do the job (Mrs. Robinson) and someone who should do the job (Elaine Robinson).

Don’t hire like Benjamin. Go in with a plan, look for the qualities that the hire will need and make your move when you’ve found the right person.

Know What You Need

Benjamin needed a special someone. You probably need someone who is an expert on a computer language that you’ve never heard of. When making a hire, it is always best to focus on what needs to be accomplished in the job first and foremost. Then, when you have a complete profile of the work being done, start to create a profile of the perfect person to do this work.

By profiling the work and the person who could fall in love with your job, you will be able to tell the difference between an acceptable hire, and the hire that will make a big difference in the role. It all starts with knowing what you need:

First What
  • What objectives will be waiting for the hire on their first day?
  • What are the skills that are most closely related to the success of the hire?
  • What separates someone who can do the job, from someone who should do the job?
Then Who
  • What sort of person can you envision loving this work?
  • What sort of person does your job and candidate profile ask for?
  • Who in your company is most familiar with this kind of work?
  • Who has done this job the best in the past and what made them great?

Know When You’ve Found Someone

Benjamin did one thing right, sort of. When he realized that he was actually in love with Elaine, he tried to cut things off with Mrs. Robinson. Then, (you decide if this is creepy or romantic), he made an unannounced trip to visit Elaine in College in Berkeley, to woo her into marrying him.

There were a few problems. First, Elaine wasn’t happy about the situation with her mother. Neither was Mr. Robinson.

When you’ve made a hire who isn’t satisfying your professional needs, making a clean break can be difficult, especially if they’ve been doing a decent job at the job.

But you don’t want someone who is decent. You want the best possible person for the job, someone who will make the most of the role and make a difference in your company.

When you suspect that you’ve made a Mrs. Robinson hire, someone who can do the job but not someone who should, document the ways in which the hire does and doesn’t meet the requirements of the job. Over time, collecting this data will be the backbone of your case to fire this person. Once you have a collection of evidence that demonstrates that a hire was a mistake, you can begin steps for making a hire that should be on the job.

In the meantime, you should reach out to your personal and professional networks to search for possible matches. Referred candidates are much more likely to: be hired, perform better on the job and stay in the job for longer. By reaching out to your employees and colleagues with your job profile and your ideal employee profile, you may find that you’re already connected to a great person for the job.

What You’ve Got
  • Where is the average performer failing to make a difference?
  • How is the work being done? Why/how could it be done better?
  • What is the single biggest reason that you need an excellent person in this role?
What You Want
  • Which skillsets are most valuable for a great hire to possess?
  • How would a great hire do this job?
  • In addition to these skills, which personality traits and experience will indicate that you have found an Elaine Robinson level hire?

Make Your Move

In the Graduate, Benjamin waits until Elaine is getting married to make his move. You, on the other hand, shouldn’t try to make such a dramatic or poorly timed move.

In hiring, it is always best to move as quickly as possible, both for your own sake and your applicants. An extended hiring cycle means more money and time on your end, but it also can result in a whole lot of frustration and uncertainty for your applicants.

If you wait too long to make your move, it is very likely that the bright, talented candidate that you wanted to hire, was hired by someone else.

When you’ve identified a great person for the job, don’t wait for a sign from on high. The longer you wait to make your move, the more likely they are to receive an offer from another interview or a counteroffer their current employer.

When you make your move, you should be sure to tailor your offer to the desires of your top choice for the job.

Making Your Move

Your job offer will need to speak to their professional desires. Remember, you both need the arrangement to work beautifully.

  • What does your top choice for the job want from their next job?
  • What is the course of their career path?
  • Can you give them what they want?
  • How can you sweeten the deal?

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