Bet on the Jockey not the Horse

It’s an ancient rule of horse racing, a successful gambler bets on the jockey, not the horse.   Same thing is true for making a successful hire:  Bet on the candidate, not his company.

I don’t remember from which investment company he was coming, but one of their top producers was “stolen” by a competitor.  Whatever this fellow recommended turned to gold.  And he could sell it to anyone.  He was at true “ice to Eskimos” salesman.

Then he started at his new firm.  He bombed.  Why?   Because at his previous place he had a great team backing him up.  They knew each other.  They understood each other.  They were the back office; he was their public face.  They were a team.

Employers have to beware that they are not hiring the public face of a great team.  And candidates have to put prospective employers at ease by telling them exactly who, or what, they will be hiring.

“I vs. We”

The best way to deal with this is by what I call, “I vs. we.”  Employers are not looking to hire a team – unless, of course, they are interviewing everyone at the candidate’s company!  Prior to becoming an executive recruiter I was a fundraiser for non-profits.  Whenever I would interview for a new position I would begin with these exact words:

“I’m a fundraiser and I believe I’m a good one.   I’m also good at marketing/promotions and can back these statements up with stats.  But I’m the guy ‘selling’ other people’s programs.   I recognize that I have been lucky to be the public face of excellent programs created and implemented, for the most part, by others.  So there is a very important ‘we’ in my career but I am going to focus only on what I have done during my career.”

OK, I probably never said it that well, but you get the idea – and so did the employers who were interviewing me.

Interviews are no time for modesty; they are a time for professional bragging.  So by all means brag, but never take credit for other people’s work and always recognize their contributions.  But beware: Always strike the right balance between crediting colleagues (which, except for showing you’re a team player, may worry a prospective employer), and taking credit for your own contribution to the team’s successes.