Why Hiring Losers is a Winning Strategy

Some of the best employees are talented people who came from bad environments where they couldn’t make the most of their abilities.

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BY Robert Glazer - 07 Mar 2018

Why Hiring Losers is a Winning Strategy

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A founder whose startup crashed and burned. A guy who had been laid off twice. An employee spinning his wheels at a company going nowhere. This might not sound like the makings of a world-class management team, but those are the actual backgrounds of a few members of our executive team at Acceleration Partners (AP).

What's more, it didn't happen by accident. Looking for talented individuals in bad situations has been a key part of our hiring strategy for many years. Here's why.

Past success is not always a predictor of future success.

When most companies hire, they look for people with successful track records. They want "winners." And while that's certainly not a bad strategy for finding talent, it does come with a couple drawbacks

Many of those winners have parlayed their success into large salaries, and they will want to be paid based on past performance. For companies with limited budgets, hiring top talent for every open position is prohibitively expensive.

"Success" isn't always what it seems. Remember that a rising tide lifts all boats. Just because someone worked at a hot startup doesn't mean he actually had a hand in creating that tremendous growth. Some people are just in the right place at the right time. Some are even poor performers who managed to catch a ride on the rising tide.

Finding diamonds in the rough is often a better strategy.

Discovering great people with imperfect resumes has been one of AP's best strategies for building the company.

It's the same strategy that the New England Patriots employ year after year. Each offseason, the Patriots skip the bidding wars for high-priced free agents and look instead for undervalued free agents and role players who can step into their system and perform at a high level.

The business world works the same way. There are people out there right now who could do wonders for you--and they're languishing in poor companies or in the wrong roles.

Success is highly dependent on fit.

Everyone has different strengths and skill sets. Oftentimes, diamonds in the rough have performed poorly in past positions because they were being misused. Either their talents were a poor fit for the job, or they offered the company values and ideas that were ignored or discouraged.

One of our recent recruits had just left his job, and we wanted to know why. It turns out he had been trying to improve his former company, and management just wasn't interested in considering his suggestions. He wasn't a great fit for that company, but he's a perfect fit for ours. We love people who are restless and want to improve things--many companies don't.

Remember, an attitude that causes trouble in one environment can often be an asset somewhere else.

A great attitude can trump a great track record.

Sometimes, the true test of someone's character is how they handle things that are not going well or when their back is up against the wall. This is when you see their true colors.

Bad situations create stress, anxiety, and tension. They often generate strong emotions in people, so watch how your job candidate handles these.

When you interview someone who is in a bad situation, listen closely to how she talks about it. The best people will be able to speak transparently and tactfully about their circumstances. They'll also be able to tell you what they could have done differently.

They own their part, speak positively, and don't take a scorched-earth approach to leaving a company.

Rough gems can be the best hires you ever make.

Have you ever quit a job and walked out the door with a smile on your face? If you have, then you know what these employees went through. Working for a company with a toxic culture makes going to work every day nearly unbearable.

When those people later work at a company with a positive culture, they never want to go back. They know that all the money in the world isn't worth the misery of wasting years in a terrible environment. Once they've found a workplace where they're motivated and respected, their loyalty will be beyond question.

In truth, the majority of oubest employees are talented people who came to us from bad environments where they couldn't make the most of their abilities.

Oh, and the guy who got laid off twice? That was me.