Everything I Know about Recruiting I Learned from Duck Hunting
My grandfather Cam Shortts was a great businessman, but he was an even better hunter (with superb recruiting skills).
He owned a successful hunting and fishing lodge in northern Ontario, an amazing place where I spent many, many days in my youth. It was a lodge that was frequented by corporate big wigs – CEOs, CFOs and COOs holed up there on their vacations.
And it was “up north” nestled on the shore of a shimmering lake with that great man that I learned everything I needed to know about recruiting.
No, Gramps wouldn’t drag out his old business school texts to the duck blind. Instead, his methodical, precise approach to hunting taught me valuable lessons I’ve carried with me ever since.
Grandpa knew exactly what kind of ducks he wanted before he set out to hunt—mallards, blue-winged teals, and wood ducks. But more importantly, he knew what kinds of ducks he didn’t want. Namely, fish ducks who are renowned for tasting downright terrible.
It’s an approach many business people don’t take when “hunting” for candidates. Sometimes, hiring the right Chief Operating Officer, marketing executive, sales personnel or even a CEO for that matter, is about NOT choosing someone who will be bad for the company. Businesses focus so much on what they want, they don’t consider what they don’t want. Before the recruiting and hiring process begins, you should absolutely list all the traits you would love to have in the ideal applicant—e.g., years of marketing experience, ability to travel, an MBA, with exemplary prior experience as a Chief Operations Officer, etc.
But then, think about the traits you absolutely don’t want. Your list might have things like avoiding candidates who appear to jump from job to job far too often. Or people who have worked for a company you don’t respect, or even candidates who smoke. I know of a CEO who gave the keynote speech at a COO training seminar just because he wanted to scout a COO he could make his 2nd in command. And believe it or not, he wrote off most of the COO candidates for being late to the training seminar because they were brushing off training as a unimportant experience!
Grandpa was so focused on getting the ducks he wanted, there were many times we’d go home without having fired a single shot (not an easy task for a 14-year-old who really liked to shoot!) He always said he’d rather leave without a single duck then leave with a bad one.
This lesson rang true when I was involved in hiring for a key senior position. I won’t name the company, but I will say is that we were recruiting for a Chief Operating Officer who could transition a company through difficult times. A director and I traveled to Boston and whittled 150 resumes down to 16 candidates. After multiple interviews with each of them, both my colleague and I couldn’t pinpoint one that blew us away. And despite the pressure to hire for the role, both of our guts said “no” so we flew home empty-handed.
Knowing what kind of ducks he wanted was one thing, but Grandpa’s ability to pick them out when most everyone else couldn’t even see any ducks in the sky was amazing. It’s a skill he honed over years of hunting (he did own a hunting lodge after all) and it’s a skill I’ve picked up after hiring hundreds of people in my career. CEOs, Chief Operations Officers, CFOs, you name it, and I have hired them.
Nearly anyone can gloss over their weaknesses with a fancy resume or well-crafted cover letter. But once you get that candidate into an interview, it’s easy to see right through their bluster and unearth the real candidate (for better or worse).
Huddled in our blind, waiting patiently for the birds we wanted – those are the memories I will always have of my Grandpa. These are also the lessons that have helped me with recruiting awesome employees throughout my career.
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