3 Signs a “Diamond in the Rough” Hire is the Right Hire

March 16, 2015

When hiring, recruiters and hiring managers often have a very specific person in mind. The candidate they want to hire has the perfect blend of personality traits and work experience (and often times they are eerily similar to the hiring manager, right?). On paper, they look like a great fit  and leave little room for doubt.

But, what about the people who don’t look great on paper — career changers, entry-level team members, and established professionals from completely different industries?

Recruiters and hiring managers are hesitant to take a chance on someone who lacks a track record or who doesn’t quite fit the mold of a particular role. But sometimes, it’s important to take that leap of faith - the most important thing is to identify candidates with a strong aptitude for developing new skills and an even stronger desire to learn.

Here are 3 signs you should look for when considering a “diamond in the rough” hire. These are all real stories of how hiring managers took a chance and never looked back:

1. Eagerness to take feedback and learn

Tip nominated by: Carlos Pelaez, national practice leader at Coalfire Systems and co-founder at BluePrint Earth

Helping customers tackle complex cyber security challenges, Carlos Pelaez has to make sure that he hires candidates with strong technical acumen and client service skills. This skillset combination  is tough to find, which is why he has to be very diligent about each and every hire.

Several years ago, Pelaez hired a fresh college grad who, as he puts it, “would have been overlooked at career fairs, resume drops, and new hire rotational programs.”

At first, Pelaez was skeptical about whether the hire would be able to grow quickly enough to succeed at Coalfire. Within six months, however, the new hire defied Pelaez’s doubts.

“The hire learned the technical jargon, but also wove in his innate people skills,” says Pelaez.

Pelaez credits the candidate’s success to a voracious desire to learn. This person took feedback to heart, always making notes of what he did wrong and looking for areas to improve. The hire even shadowed Pelaez on calls and at meetings.

“By listening and constantly doing his best, this person made success part of his daily habit,” says Pelaez. “In the end, hard work and humility drove him to the next level.”

If you’re on the fence about hiring someone with an unconventional background or employment history, look for a different type of track record — a desire to learn, improve, and grow.

2. Strong sense of self-direction and career ownership

Tip nominated by: Olivia June Poole, founder at VINA

When Olivia June Poole was running a marketing team at General Assembly, she hired a new college grad named Amy Curtis, “without even looking at her resume.”

“She clearly exhibited an incredible desire to learn and a lot of energy, but no professional experience whatsoever,” says Poole. “I knew she was the right person for the job after our first interview.”

What Poole noticed about Curtis was her curiosity — a sign that she would be successful in managing her own learning and growth process. Poole’s instincts about Curtis were right.

“On the job, Amy interviewed other people to understand how they approached their work,” says Poole. “She also sought out new challenges and created value-add projects outside her scope of work.”

Within just a few months, Curtis moved from needing a lot of supervision to executing well independently. Within six months, she was able to handle challenging situations with out a lot of extra help. Within eight months, she received a promotion.

“I consider her to be a success not just because she got a promotion and grew a ton in her position, but when Amy got to the point where her role became rote and she wasn't learning and growing anymore, she did a great job of prioritizing her development and seeking a new position that would enable her to grow,” says Poole. “It's easy to stay in a job that is going well, but it takes a high level of maturity, confidence, and drive to leave a comfortable job to seek greater growth.”

As Poole’s story points out, hiring managers should look for candidates who can truly ‘own’ their careers. This early signal can help distinguish ‘diamond in the rough’ candidates from mediocre ones.

3. Dedication to the long-haul

Tip nominated by: Heather Anne Carson, co-founder at Onboardly

As Carson explains, most of her company’s staff has come to her through “unconventional paths.” One of these team members was Crystal Richard, Onboardly’s now director of PR.

“When I met Crystal, she had just moved back to our city after working out of the country and had taken a job as a gambling counsellor in a local casino,” says Carson. “It wasn’t the field that she wanted to be working in, and it was wearing on her — in hindsight, this was a telling sign because she is one of the most positive people that I’ve ever met.”

At this point, Onboardly didn’t yet exist, but Carson still met with Richard to help her achieve her goals transitioning to a career in marketing.

“Even though I wasn’t ready to hire her, I knew that I wanted to help her achieve her goals,” said Carson. “She showed an amazing sense of dedication to achieving her goals.”

Interestingly enough, it was Richard’s dedication that pushed her to turn down the first marketing role that she was offered.

“They underestimated her due to her lack of experience,” says Carson.

Eventually, Carson launched an independent consulting company and brought Richard on as a part time consultant. Crystal became Carson’s go-to person for overflow work.

“I paid her to manage some client social media, do research and editing,” says Carson. “It was a few extra dollars in her pocket at the time - but more importantly: she was gaining experience and earning a reference.”

A year later, Carson and her co-founder formed Onboardly and brought on Richard as one of the company’s first two hires.

“Crystal and I have now been together for more than 4 years, with nearly 3 at Onboardly.”

What Richard demonstrated was a relentless commitment to working her way up. Rather than taking just anything, she waited for the perfect employer. This dedication allowed Carson to trust Richard as one of Onboardly’s best hires. Hiring managers and recruiter should look for similar levels of dedication from their ‘diamond in the rough’ candidates — a trait that may be reflected in the candidate’s past life experiences.

Final thoughts

Hiring managers should feel comfortable seeking out candidates who demonstrate strong potential. At the end of the day, we’re all human — we are all capable of learning and growing. Give someone a chance. He or she may become your next best hire.

* image by Zach Dischner