How to Hire a Unicorn

Imagine you are hiring a communications leader to implement a new internal communications strategy for your organization. Executive leadership wants a trail blazer who can push the envelope and engage employees using the latest and greatest technology tools. There’s a definite expectation of what this candidate’s skills and experience will be – which, let’s face it, is a bit unique and rare – and is often described as a “unicorn.”

Now imagine you are the candidate being considered for this role. As you learn about the opportunity, you are excited because the challenges ahead will be meaty and the team is comprised of smart, talented communicators that will keep things interesting and fun. But as you hear about the new strategy that you would be expected to lead, you can’t help but ask – “why?”

The “why behind the what” is often a question reserved for people who are already in an organization, have established the trust and confidence of their leaders, and are not seen as “nay sayers” but rather as thoughtful inquisitors who ensure strategy aligns with business goals. If a candidate were to question the strategy during the interview process, the result may not be well received.

So when hiring, how can you help a prospective “unicorn” candidate understand the “why?” so you can have a meaningful dialog to determine the right hire – and get them excited for the role?

Know the answer

It sounds obvious, but the first step is to truly understand the answer to the question yourself. Seek understanding from the leadership team driving the change and/or push for specific tools or technology. What are the business goals they are trying to achieve and how will this new strategy help them achieve them? And from there, how will the person in this role contribute to achieving those objectives?

Seek patterns

When seeking a trail blazer, the likelihood of finding someone with exact experience is small. Trail blazing, by its very nature, means it may not have been done before. So instead of interviewing someone for specific “been there, done that” qualities, seek someone who has a pattern of behavior for trail blazing. For example, as you walk through the person’s experience, look for stories of being an early adopter of technology and trying new things – even if they failed – and influencing up and across organizations to take risks to achieve desired outcomes.

Set expectations

As a manager of people, you already know that you have to set clear expectations for your team if you want everyone to be on the same page. By starting that expectations setting process in the interview stage, you are more likely to make a hiring decision based on someone who can meet the goals. The more clear you are about what success looks like, the more likely you will have conversations about how that person will help you achieve your goals moving forward, rather than just talking about their past.

Hiring someone with an uncommon combination of skills requires a little more thought from your end as a leader. A trail blazer will be willing to push the boundries beyond “the way things have always been done” — which means your interviews may challenge you to be open to the possibilities and getting out of your own comfort zone. The pay off is recognizing that unicorn when you see one.

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