Why talent will only take you so far in business

February 3, 2015, 7:45 PM UTC
Courtesy of Derek Lidow

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “To get ahead in business, is it better to have skills or connections?” is written by Derek Lidow, author of “Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises.”

As a professor of leadership and entrepreneurship, I hear this question a lot. While I encourage my students and mentees to develop their talents, I also remind them skills will only take them so far.

Let me explain. In theory, how well someone does in a job is dependent on two things – performance of a defined skill set and cultural fit. In my experience – as a former CEO and entrepreneur building a global company from scratch – most bosses and managers are not specific enough in their requirements and vaguely suggest they want someone with experience and someone they can trust. The term “experience” is the all-embracing word used when they cannot clearly define the skill set they are looking for. And “trust” means finding a person who will fit within the culture that the boss has created.

And this is where the problem lies: a majority of managers and organizations do not know, or do not take the time, to understand what they specifically need from a job candidate in terms of skills. For example, I remember when my VP of Operations came to me asking for a new hire. When I asked him what type of candidate he is looking for this what he said: “I need someone trustworthy and who can successfully manage a 50-person team.” However, what he actually meant (and should have said) was this: “I want someone who understands logistics, can lead a team under stressful circumstances and believes in our management philosophies.” Such specificity would have narrowed the pool of candidates, allowing us to focus on those who are actually qualified.

However, even when managers are able to specify the qualities needed for a certain position it is still difficult to judge how successful a person will be never having worked with them before. This is when managers may result to hiring someone they know and trust – depending on the level and qualifications of the position.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: To get ahead in business, is it better to have skills or connections?

To get ahead in business, why connections matter by Christine M. Aylward, Managing Director of Foresite Capital Management.

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