By Fortune Editors
August 23, 2011

By Steve Blank, contributor

Companies keep asking me to help them put together a “job spec.” I had them leave with a pie chart.

There must be something in the air. In the last week I met with four separate groups — two start-ups, a nonprofit and and public agency — that wanted to talk either about hiring a senior exec or a senior exec looking for a new job. Having sat through these job discussions as an entrepreneur, board member and now an interested observer, here’s what I concluded:

  1. Decide whether you’re hiring someone to help search for the business model or to help execute a business model you’ve already found (same is true is you’re looking for a job – are you going to be searching or executing?) Are you looking for a visionary or an operating executive?
  2. The job spec’s for the same title differ wildly depending on whether the job requires search vs. execution skills. Founders search, operating executives execute.

If you’re hiring an operating executive (CEO, VP, Executive Director, etc.):

  • Don’t start with the candidate (board member x has a great VP of sales he knows, founder y wants this CEO he met at a conference, etc.)
  • Don’t even start with the job spec

Since I’ve always been a visual guy, job specs with their long lists of job requirements always left me cold. My eyes would glaze over at these recruiter/board wish lists. I wished there was a way to see them at a glance. (Just to be clear this isn’t the entire hiring process, just a way to visually begin the discussion.) So here’s my suggestion: Start with a pie chart.

1. Draw a pie chart.

2. List all the job specs as slices

3. Adjust the width of the pie segments by importance. (Extra credit if you get the current CEO or internal candidate to help you write/draw the slices and weight their importance. Everyone involved in the hire gets to have an opinion on the slices and weights, but the person/group making the hiring decision gets to decide which ones to include.)

4. Now that you have this spec, evaluate each candidate by showing his/her competence in each slice by length

5. Compare candidates

Easy as pie!

Lessons Learned

  • Are you hiring for search or execution skills?
  • Show the job requirements visually as a pie chart
  • Prioritize each requirement by the width of the pie
  • Show your assessment of each candidate’s competencies by the length of the slices
  • Now with the data in front of you, the conversation about hiring can start

Steve Blank is the author of “The Four Steps to the Epiphany,” which details his customer development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Columbia. His book and a longer version of this story can be found at www.steveblank.com

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