Hire For Who They Are, Not What They Know

Nancie McDonnell Ruder
4 min readJun 29, 2021


Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Like many small companies right now, the demand for our services is growing, and we are hiring to keep up with the growth. Please do not misunderstand me — this is an exciting challenge to have and I am NOT complaining! I am particularly excited about this right now because we just received an acceptance from a young woman who was taking my class at Georgetown University in the Integrated Marketing graduate program. She is an amazing young talent, and I am thrilled to have her join our team!

Yet, like the real estate market, the job market of the moment is very active and a bit wild west-y. While there are fewer guardrails in place, the classic needs are still as relevant as ever: each hire is a critical decision, where the individual and the organization want to carefully find a match so as not to waste precious resources on either side. At Noetic when we speak with clients about our training and coaching services, we remind them that a talent loss or bad fit typically costs three times that person’s salary to make a change and re-hire. As Noetic began to grow again and we actively looked at the talent pool starting in 2021, I wondered what we would experience, and I have learned a lot about what it takes to make smart hiring decisions these days, in this climate with this generation of talent. Here are my biggest findings:

Hire for who they are, not what they know. Fit is everything. At Noetic we take our values very seriously and encourage our clients to do the same. Values are what enable people to know who you are and how you will behave, and equally important, how you will NOT behave. At Noetic, we are curious in spirit. If we hire someone who is not naturally curious, they would be quite unhappy here and we would be unhappy with them. We also stand for dynamic positivity. While we don’t expect people to smile every moment of every day, we strive to be constructive and optimistic in all our interactions. A gloomy Gus or pessimistic Polly would be a fish out of water who we would not know how to workaround. For us, we know someone is a good fit when they start speaking about our values and attaching meaning before we even raise the subject. If we have this kind of passion and resonance, we can teach the skills. Hire for who they inherently are, and they will feel they belong. Then, you can invest in skill-building, not fighting cultural dissonance.

Involve your team in the vetting process. At Noetic we used to make hiring decisions only involving a subset of the team. I think I believed it would be arduous to ask our team members to spend extra time speaking with candidates. In this environment, we decided to make hiring a group effort, and I only wish I had thought to do it sooner. The perspective we can gain from the team is invaluable, and the team, as well as the candidate, get the added value of knowing one another as an input to the hiring decision. By the time the new hire accepts, they have already met the full team and feel a part of things. And, the team is inevitably more engaged in helping the new person succeed because they were key to the decision to bring them on. While it may not be possible to involve everyone in a bigger organization, be thoughtful about bringing more, rather than fewer, people into the process. Tactically, this might look like giving them sample questions and a key focus area for their time with the candidate, and then providing a structured way to give their feedback back to the hiring manager.

Understand what they are leaving and what they are trying to find. As mentioned, it is a bit wild west-y right now. Many people are now proactively looking for their next opportunity because their current one has become untenable for them. Many people have felt this way for a long stretch but did not feel they could safely and/or realistically make a change sooner. While this is a perfectly good reason to make a job change, you and they need to get clear on why they are unhappy and what would make them happy. What do they seek and does your firm realistically offer these things?

Meet in person to understand their energy, and your energy together. I am really big on energy: my own, other people’s, and the energy between people. Once you have the data and the due diligence done, take the time to physically meet to ensure the energy feels right all around. Watch gestures, facial expressions, body language…but most importantly, FEEL the person (no not actually! — but emotionally.) Do you feel energized in their presence? Do they seem energized in yours? Do you truly connect? Are you each actively listening, or just waiting your turn to talk? Did you discover something new about them or the world through your dialogue? Did they?

There are 24 hours in a day and we spend a lot of these at work, so it is best if we can spend time with people we genuinely like, respect, can learn from and who challenge us but never in a way that makes us feel unworthy or invisible. Use data to ensure it is a good choice, then feel the connection to make sure you feel that you can happily live in their orbit and they in yours.

Happy recruiting and remember to keep your cowboy hat handy.



Nancie McDonnell Ruder

Owner, Noetic Consulting, LLC; Marketing Consultant: Author, Researcher, Strategist, Trainer