Think You’ve Got a Unicorn Problem?

When perfect is the enemy of the good, hire anyways.


I’m a marketer at Lever. Understanding what makes people tick, how teams work together and what’s really at stake is my full-time job. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about how people make hiring decisions — from the very beginning to long past the offer is signed. When prompted, you can easily come up with a laundry list of desirable attributes. But let’s be real, you’re limited by time and reach when it comes to finding the one “perfect” candidate — especially with selective, more senior positions. So when your pipeline is filled with candidates but none are moving forward, how do you help your team move past indecision?

The hard part isn’t knowing what you want, it’s knowing how much more you want A over B.

L.L. Thurstone, father of psychometrics and the “development of psychology as a quantitative, rational science,” grappled with the conundrum of decisions. Thurstone and his team were trying to get people to prioritize the importance of things that were all very good (or very terrible). But they found that people struggled to prioritize a long list of good attributes. So Thurstone created the law of comparative judgment to measure complex issues like people’s attitudes towards capital punishment using a non-trivial set of calculations culminating in this formula:

What Thurstone and his crazy formula is telling you is it’s actually possible to compare two very different things on the same plane. And when you do this, you get a prioritized set of needs (and wants) that will serve as your hit list.

Fortunately, social scientists and great product managers prevailed, giving the rest of us a much more accessible way to follow the law of comparative judgment.

Get clarity. Forget about thinking about your entire list at once and evaluate things in pairs.

By evaluating pairs in silos, you eliminate a lot of the noise that normally exists when you’re thinking about everything all at once. In other words, comparing needs in pairs will help organize what is ultimately a subjective decision.

Take hiring a marketer. In a highly competitive market, almost everything becomes up for grabs while you look at hundreds of resumes. But how do you know what you’re really willing to sacrifice, and which things you should absolutely hang onto.

  1. Create a table with a list of each thing you need along the left side and across the top.
  2. Go through each square and ask yourself, “What’s more important? A vs. B?” Write the winning answer in that square.
  3. Tally up how many times each item shows up on the entire grid.

And, in order of importance, here’s what you really want in your new marketer:

5 Develops Customer Insights ← you want this above all things 4 Proven Self-Starter 2 Managed a Team 2 Writes Web copy 1 Worked at Fortune 100 Company 0 Graduated from top school ← don’t let your team get hung up on this

Break ties by looking at how each pair shakes out. Here “Writes Web copy” and “Managed a Team” received the same number of votes. But when compared in isolation, “Managed a Team” wins out.

Start with your internal knowledge as your source of truth and what’s important.

The good news? You and your team are absolutely the right people to find the best person for your team. You know this because before you even started drafting a job description, you were informally gathering a list of things the team needed and thinking for weeks and months about what you’re looking for. But like all collaborative projects, when beginning a new talent search, getting everyone on the same page on who you’re looking for is a lot of work.

Evaluating that list and solidifying the respective value of each item on your list is a perfect start. In my next blog post, I’ll cover why job descriptions suck and how they do a terrific job of excluding (rather than attracting) great candidates.


Originally published at blog.lever.co.

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