Dream Team: Finding Unicorns For Hire!

Published on
11 Jan 2022

Walt Disney was told he was “uncreative” prior to founding Disney. Colonel Sanders of KFC Chicken didn’t succeed until age 65.  Judi Sheppard Missett founded Jazzercise after she quit being a professional dancer and was failing as a dance instructor.  She now has 7,500 locations.  What do all these people have in common?  They had untapped gifts – and corresponding weaknesses – which had to be overcome in order to succeed!

But come on – don’t unicorns exist somewhere?  That visionary, focused, perfectionist, fast-mover, who always sees the big picture, but handles tiny, detailed tasks with ease? You can keep looking, but what you’re going to get is more of a chameleon than a unicorn. When you make ridiculous job demands and ask for the best of every personality attribute, you’ll get ridiculous applicants: typically an impostor, an ego case or someone who’s just plain confused about their strengths.

At our company, we decided it was better to be realistic than to keep hunting for unicorns. We have built a whole culture around it internally where we have ongoing discussions about our unique strengths and weaknesses. For instance, our team knows that I wish everyone had ESP and could read my mind but in reality that’s just a typical weakness of a visionary – failure to communicate in detail. Or we discuss how most engineers hate to promise things without all the information, and established that there is a healthy competition between sales and production teams. This open line of communication feeds a culture that pervades our hiring style as well.

When hiring, the goal is to create realistic job descriptions that match the true personalities of the typical people we are trying to hire. Fast-moving sales people don’t have to wade through details and we don’t want them to. In fact, we appeal to their hatred of procedure and rigor.  Analytical and architectural types are not expected to produce deliverables every hour of every day – they need space to think and analyze trade-offs – and we tell them that.  Job descriptions and ads reflect this: Short, goal oriented ads for big picture and fast movers.

Finally, during interviews, we put people at ease.  I tell them about my own weaknesses and those of other positions – about the very real trade-offs of each position and personality.  An then we draw them out by asking questions about how they’d handle seemingly ambiguous situations – to figure out how they naturally react and if they’re being dead honest with us.  And after a year or two, we can catch inconsistencies – chameleons – with regularity.