Final Four – Who wins: Experience, Education, Attitude or Aptitude?

With the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament decided, everyone is analyzing all aspects of the remaining four teams.    No one is looking closer than the odds-makers in Vegas.     Legacies will be decided, fortunes in wagers will be made or lost, and office pools around the country will be awarded to those who accurately filled in their brackets.   From 68 teams, only 4 remain, with the final two games to decide a champion.

Like many others, I picked Kentucky to win it all.   But, I only accurately picked 2 of the final four.   It is hard to know how a young athlete will perform in stressful situations.   It is even harder to predict how they will play against teams and defenses they have never seen.   For this reason, having a perfect bracket is nearly impossible, with odds of picking every winner at almost one in a billion!

In the business world, picking a winner from a stack of resumes is even more challenging.    A hiring manager often has 68 choices, but the information about each candidate is not as easy to analyze as the mountains of data one can look at to fill in a basketball bracket.   In fact, the hiring manager usually does not even see all the players, only viewing the projected final four.   The other 64 have already been eliminated based on a screening process – usually done by HR.    To make it more challenging, a hiring manager has to pick the winner without ever even seeing them play the game.   Imagine picking the NCAA champion at the beginning of a season, without seeing any games, without knowing the players, and only having a piece of paper describing the team’s physical attributes, background, and test scores.

When I talk to hiring managers, I usually ask them to describe their most successful team members.   I nearly always hear them describe someone who has a great attitude, is a team member, a creative thinker, accepts responsibility, diligent, hard-working and smart.    Yet when I ask them about the person they would like to hire they often describe someone who has an MBA, 5 years of industry experience, XYZ certification, and has managed successful projects.

So, managers often try to pick winners based on experience and education.    In fact, this is probably the only thing one can accurately measure based on a resume.    But, in my experience, the real winners are the candidates with the right attitude and aptitude.

Obviously, a winner needs to have some experience and some education.    However, for our company, I value “soft skills” and potential significantly higher.    In other words, I don’t put a ton of emphasis on whether a candidate has gone to a particular school, taken certain classes, gotten specific technical certifications, or worked at certain companies or in specific industries.   More importantly, I want someone who will fit in our culture, has the aptitude to learn our business, works well in a team, and will go above and beyond to satisfy our customers.    And, I think most companies would benefit from selecting winners based on these criteria rather than on resumes.

Kentucky often gets criticized for not having experience – having players with talent who jump to the NBA after one year.   It is said that they haven’t learned the game as well as their opponents, and due to playing so many freshmen and sophomores, they don’t have the experience of past tournaments to thrive under the pressure of the Final Four.   While all this may be true, no team in the land has beaten them this year.   They have trailed 5 times this season in the final minutes, and every time have had the confidence to stage a comeback.

When scouting for talent in the business world, I would lean towards picking “Kentucky” candidates.   Experience and certifications would be nice, but I would take the candidate with the best aptitude and attitude.   Those are the skills that make for a winning team.

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