Executives in leadership positions typically have high standards for themselves and others. As organizations mature, the expected qualifications of the leadership team also increases. In hiring decisions, potential executives and managers are expected to have the right combination of experience, ability and education to excel at the particular role. Someone selected for a leadership role will also be evaluated and judged by both subordinates and peers. Everyone has a vested interest in making the best hire and the bar is set very high for potential candidates.

As executive recruiters, we are tasked with identifying and presenting potential candidates who have all the attributes that have been identified as important. We are seeking someone who is a proven performer and has been successful throughout their career. Previous success is typically the best indicator of future performance. But what about people who have experienced a setback or even a failure at some point in their career? Effective leaders often express that managers are allowed to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. In most cases, this rule does not apply when considering candidates for employment. Someone who has a short tenure with a recent job or who may have worked for an unsuccessful organization is often eliminated from consideration. A candidate who went through a difficult time and experienced a foreclosure or a charge-off is often rejected. I think this can be a mistake. Is there a perfect candidate?

Obviously as humans we all make mistakes. And most of us learn valuable lessons from those mistakes. The experience typically makes us smarter and improves our ability to avoid similar setbacks in the future. If a chief lending officer has never made a bad loan or chief financial officer a bad investment, they may be ill-prepared when challenges arise.

Certainly a pattern of missteps would be a cause for concern. But I would suggest having a conversation with a candidate who has great experience overall but may have a “blemish” in their professional or personal background. What did they learn from the experience and how has the incident made them a better professional or manager? You may find a valuable employee who has become an adept leader who will succeed in both good and difficult times.

Jim Hansen

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