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Out-of-the-box Candidates


Broadening your hiring process

Where do out-of-the-box candidates fit in your hiring policies and strategy? In this age of talent vs. skills and tight labor markets, the out-of-box candidate will increasingly be a fact of life. It takes some experience and courage to seriously look at out-of-the-box candidates. And, it takes a willingness to be flexible.

Here are five categories of out-of-the-box candidates

Heavy on skills, light on domain / industry expertise

If you can’t find someone from within your industry with a proven ability to do the job as you have defined it, then the most frequent compromise is to consider a candidate from outside the industry, but with a deep functional, or job skills track record. It may or may not be the best decision, depending on your business. It is usually, however, the safest decision.

Heavy on domain expertise, light on functional fit and skills

Another way to go is to bring in someone who is really strong in your business. Industry knowledge, experience, and perhaps superb networks will be the selling points. What they will lack is direct experience in the job you have defined, and perhaps some of the skills required to do the job.

The cross-functional expert

Matrixed and virtual corporate structures and the increasing viability of doing seriously challenging and meaningful work as an independent professional has created a pool of candidates rich in talent and knowledge, but light in terms of occupying a formal role. Their expertise may be in technology, or markets, organizational dynamics, or commonly, some theme or issue conducive to consulting.

Out-of-the-box compensation

Often, your hiring frameworks will be challenged by a candidate who is exactly what you need, except for the small detail that you can’t afford her. Your appetite to acquire this person will depend on the potential ROI, and frankly, the supply of alternatives.

Out-of-the-box fit

There is a lot of good in organizations that have carefully defined their culture and the type of people who fit best. However, that doesn’t mean that someone different can’t make an impact, and perhaps shake things up a bit. Loosening your hiring profile may be the right thing to do, in particular when you find an individual who demonstrates success qualities, and a fit that while different, still lends itself to effective team relationships.

Success Factors

Of course, you are going to want to ensure that there is a pay-off to making an out-of-the-box hiring decision.


In a tight labor market, the benefit may simply be getting the job filled. In general, however, look for an extra reason to be flexible. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is hire for fit. Whether you a bringing in a functional expert, a domain expert, a cross-functional expert, or a high-powered candidate, make doubly ensure that you will be rewarded by an individual that can fit into your organization. Consider the non-compensation price of the candidate. Will the benefits outweigh the costs?

Re-defining the job

Increasing the probability of job success may require some thought toward redefining the job. If you go to the trouble of being flexible, you want it to work. There are 2 things to look at. First, are there any critical skill or knowledge gaps that should be covered? And second, how can you optimize the talents that made the candidate special enough to hire in the first place?

Ensure effective on-boarding

What risks do you, and the new hire face given that a non-standard hire has been made? Gaps in job or industry knowledge? Internal skeptics who won’t accept the outsider? Resentment at the exceptions, or perceived special treatment this individual has received? If you have gone to the trouble of making room for an out-of-the-box candidate, go the extra mile to help smooth their transition into the organization.

Ultimately, you will need to deal with out-of-the-box candidates, in one way or another. They will come to you, invariably, from referrals, from ad response, and from the 3rd party agencies and search firms you use. I believe that with the right support, there can be a lot of merit in identifying and bringing in these kinds of candidates. Food for thought.

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