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Recruiting Game-Changing Candidates: An Insider’s Guide

Texas is a top state for innovation. And right at its heart is Austin, a city recently likened to a young Silicon Valley, recruiting job candidates who are “the country’s biggest thinkers.” From Beaumont to Austin to Fort Worth to San Antonio: How can your recruiting efforts measure up at home to some the most evolutionary companies in some of the most exciting industries on the planet?  We posed that question to Tim Hamilton, founder and CEO of custom software developer Astonish Design.  At 16 years old, Hamilton became a game changer himself, founding Astonish Design and expanding it while at the University of Texas at Austin. These days, Astonish Design has its sights set on transforming 100 businesses into industry leaders in the next 10 years. During the process, Hamilton has learned how to (and, at times, how not to) hire innovators.  Here are three top lessons he’s learned along the way.

Have a Game Plan

It’s true that investing in innovation is risky. Worldwide, just 18 percent of CEOs say they’re seeing their investments in innovation pay off.  But among those same CEOs, 93 percent maintain the long-term success of their organization’s business strategy depending on their ability to innovate. Hamilton’s advice on reducing risk when hiring innovators holds an unexpected twist.

“Real innovation comes when engineers and creative professionals are given constraints,” he says. Constraints? Yes. In other words, Hamilton cautions against hiring game changers without a game plan.  “Too many hiring decisions are made reactively. But you really need to answer ahead of time, ‘What does this person need to produce in order to succeed?’ Remember that when rolling the dice, your odds of success are only 1 in 6. When you have objectives in place, you’re not leaving innovation to chance.”

Embrace Discomfort

When describing his approach to risk-taking, Hamilton recounts a childhood experience that occurred soon after he and his family moved to Houston from South Africa. After standing paralyzed with fear on a high dive at a local swimming pool, he retreated back down the ladder to the edge of the pool, humiliated.

“One by one, I watched my friends take the leap that I was too afraid to take. I realized that while jumping off that diving board was scary, I wasn’t the first person to do it and I wouldn’t be the last,” he explains. “It dawned on me that while I don’t have power over much in my life, I have the power to move my skeleton forward off a diving board.”

When it comes to taking the plunge into hiring someone who challenges his comfort zone, Hamilton recites that mantra.

“Don’t fall prey to hiring people just like you,” Hamilton warns. “Instead, look for someone who can push your boundaries. That person may make your skin crawl from time to time – saying and doing things in a way that can make you very uncomfortable. It may not feel good at all. But it can reframe your paradigm which, in the end, can be great.”

Don’t Compromise

Going back to Hamilton’s first tip, once clear objectives are defined for hiring a game changer, seek exactly who you need without compromise.

“You’re going to be tempted to either hire someone who excites you without having a true purpose for them, or to settle for someone who fits some requirements but not others. Resist the temptation to do either,” Hamilton urges.

The key to not settling: Establish a strong candidate pipeline. Enlisting the help of a recruiting partner can help.  Another reason to engage a recruiting partner is to increase your chance of finding game changing candidates who may not otherwise be spotted. As Randall Birkwood, a former director of recruiting at T-Mobile USA, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Corporation, and HR at Intermec Technologies, explains in a recent opinion article, “[Game changers] are sometimes the quiet person who got big results, and didn’t necessarily look for attention. To find game changers you should build recruiting strategies that focus on meaningful achievements at other companies or universities, and then find out who was responsible for them.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts. What have you learned – for better or worse – competing for the top game changers in Texas? What companies do you think take the most brilliant risks when it comes to hiring? Tell us here!

Image credit: luislouro / 123RF Stock Photo

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