The Credential Problem

Matthew Goldman, the CEO of Wallaby, wrote an interesting blog post the other day about how his team does not look great on paper. In general the post discusses credentials. I understand the importance of credentials moving forward, but it speaks to a larger point about what the ultimate credential-creator, college, has become (a lackluster predictor of ability). I don’t want to delve into a half-baked analysis of the issues with today’s higher-education system so I’ll lead with my favorite quote from Goldman’s post:
“We all try to paint everything in the best light and in the absence of the time or ability to measure real ability, credentials stand in.”

The above quote describes a fundamental disconnect in today’s recruiting world. While some positions can be evaluated based on credentials, the majority cannot. When I got my first job at a hedge fund out of college, they asked me to work part time (while still in school) for a month and a half in order to get to know me. At the time it was frustrating, but it made perfect sense on their end. They wanted to make sure that I could fit within a small team, and wanted time to evaluate the intangibles and the things that might not show up on paper.

My professional experiences have shown me that the importance in understanding partial intangibles like the way someone thinks, the amount of confidence they have in their decisions, and how they interpret larger scale problems (among others), are much more important than a high GPA at an ivy-league school in a quantitative discipline (the recruiter’s holy grail).

This point gets multiplied even further within the startup ecosystem. Some people can’t see the bigger picture, the larger mission, or the need to scale back/increase their role (or other people’s roles) for the good of the company.

Certain roles require hired guns to fill a specific-type of problem, like Mark Suster talks about within Sales, while others require dynamic thinking individuals that can take the company to a new level. Sometimes the best person for a certain role at a small startup building a team and culture isn’t the one that knows the most, but one that will better the people around them. Often times you meet CEOs that don’t properly evaluate the impact someone can have on their business and their company, but instead worry about the single role that an employee is filling. This can be an incredibly costly mistake on their part.

To end this rant, all of this is basically a long way to agree with Matthew Goldman, and to also say that while credentials may prove that someone can stick with something over a few years (like an undergrad degree does), they often don’t prove much else. If we all are using the blind system of credentials to evaluate candidates, aren’t all previous “credentials” equally as blind as the next? We need to get to know hires better, and if that means an extra week or two in the hiring process, so be it, in the end, you’re hiring people, not positions.

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