Hiring from the industry – why Tyrone Willingham is no longer ND’s football coach

When assessing candidates for senior roles, how important is industry and position experience?

When designing hiring specs, how important is industry and position experience? Case in point, I just spoke to a large software company looking for a senior marketing executive. They wanted someone in a senior marketing role from a similar company. Why hire a similar background and experience? In their opinion, it lowered the potential risk (of a mistake). At face value, it makes perfect sense. Or does it?

But is this the best approach?

In my opinion, you need to be open-minded. The reality is that simple facts like where they worked and their title is a 2 dimensional view of a 3 dimensional human being. Let’s look at an example:

He did the very same job for another company similar to ours. In fact, he comes from a highly respected company that commands the same kind of respect we get. He’s proved himself in a tough environment. On paper, he looks like the perfect candidate.

That person is Tyrone Willingham, who was hired by my alma mater, The University of Notre Dame.

Tyrone Willingham

As most of you know, things did not work out. After one good season (10-3), ND had two very poor ones (5-7 and 6-6). Bad recruiting caused ND to dismiss Coach Willingham after only three years. He went to Washington and after four losing seasons, he was let go. He is now officially “retired,” though he’s only 56 years old.

Coach is fine man but poor coach. Bleacher Report named the all time worst college football coaches – Coach Willingham was #2.

What’s my point? On paper, Coach Willingham was perfect. Great academic school. Some nice successes. The low risk choice.

Here’s one other example. A large business intelligence software firm had three reps handling GE. One did vastly better than the other two.

  1. The existing GE rep for our company
  2. A new rep with no GE experience
  3. The GE rep from our top competitor

On paper, we choose 1 or 3. In reality, 2 clobbered 1 and 3. It was not even close. Why did 2 do so well, when 1 and 3 did not?

2 was a very different kind of person. Prepared, creative and diligent – GE loved his ability to solve their problems. 2 was me.

If predicting the future is really that hard, what should we do instead?

I believe you should start with the key success factors that make people want to follow a leader – compassion, caring, trust, honesty, loyalty.

Then look much deeper. How does she interact with others? How passionate is she? How innovative is she? How articulate is she?

When you are ready to cull your list, I suggest you pick some logical choices, but also take a look at a couple of very different candidates. Find 2 or 3 candidates who look really interesting, but don’t have the requisite experience.  Take a close look at a range of choices. It may take a bit longer and cost a bit more, but there is a good chance you might surprise yourself.

What do you think? What do you think about hiring practices today? Love your comments.

Jeff Ogden is President of the B2B lead generation company Find New CustomersLead Generation Made Simple” Check out the online show every Friday at 11am ET, “Laugh and Learn with the Fearless Competitor.” Find New Customers is one of few lead generation companies in New York.

Find New Customers helps companies like yours (with 150 to 5,000 employees and complex products) implement lead generation programs to improve the way you find and acquire high quality sales leads using best practices in online lead generation. Quality leads matter. In fact, a recent study found that sales teams with fewer, high quality sales leads closed more than sales teams with more leads of dubious quality.

If you wish to do sales lead generation online, contact the B2B lead generation experts at Find New Customers. Use the form below to send me a personal note or Leave a Reply to post a permanent comment on this article.


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