I've developed quite the cynicism lately to hiring for company pedigree over the actual credentials and savvy of the candidate. A couple of weeks ago I wrote, "It's sad when you love the company more than the candidate", with the hypothesis that since we're human, we're hopelessly flawed when it comes to our bias.
Especially in hiring... More on the equivalent of recruiting/talent "beer goggles" from Louis Gray:
"In Silicon Valley, the measurement of success and failure can be extremely visible. "Oh. He worked at Google..." says one person in hushed tones to a friend. "And that guy? Let's just say he's on his fourth startup in six years."
But the company name, and the headlines that covered that company's activity over the years, never tell the full story. You don't always know if the person was liked and trusted by their employees. You don't know if they put in 14 hour days or 6 hour days. And you don't know if there was anything they could have done in their role that could have changed the outcome. It's no secret that companies big and small have elite employees, pedestrian employees, and laggards, be they those on the Fortune 500 or ones you've never even heard of.
In a time when the economy is in decline and unemployment is rampant, here and elsewhere, these rapid judgment calls are no doubt having profound effects. How do you explain your way around product failures, hostile takeovers and missed sales quarters? Should the guy whose company chose to go public three months before the market crashed, when yours didn't, giving them $100 million in the bank, and him a nice Mercedes, be considered a better talent than you? Should every former Google employee have a leg up on every former Yahoo! or Ask Jeeves employee, for example?
Watching some industries very closely, it can become clear that people, no matter their role in the organization, will claim the success of their company as their own handiwork. Paraphrasing from a recent release, many of which you've likely seen, a company crowed last month upon getting a new Sales VP, "Prior to joining, (this individual) previously served as a Senior Vice President at (company), where he was responsible for growing sales revenue from $hundreds of millions to $billions." But in the last twelve months, I had actually seen others of this company's alumni report that it was they who had been the driver for the same growth - generating the same similar press release."
Plug in the companies you know in your metro. You know who's well regarded and who's not, and you're influenced by that. As far as the Sales VP above? You might want to consider a question like, "Walk me through a contribution that you specifically made (not the team, you solo) to that revenue trend line".
Then listen closely for the glittering generalities. They'll be there, trust me. It's up to you to follow up hard, and in doing so, give the candidate without the pedigree a chance in the game.
Maybe you need less Ivy and more Community College in your talent pool. Everyone needs to take off the beer goggles from time to time....