Past Performance is Relative

A week into my social job hunt and I’m having some interesting conversations.

The online community has been awesome, giving me some great exposure and alerting me to opportunities. So far the lack of a physical CV has not hindered me, but I accept that it is early days. I won’t write too much about what is happening so far, except to say that my new style blog has attracted many views and some interest. The ‘Watch Me Being Interviewed’ page has been particularly useful for anyone interested in knowing more about me.

And one potentially very exciting opportunity has come, slightly from leftfield, yet certainly demanding of my attention!

Once the conversations start, inevitably we talk about my past roles, what I have achieved and where I have added value. That is no different to any interview in any sector I guess. Yet I have always wondered why the importance of the past?

Is previous experience the best indicator of future performance?

On this site, on the ‘Living CV’ that I have tried to create, I do talk about the past…but then I also want to give a strong indication of where I am at the moment and where I would want to go in future. And that may not always be directly relevant to where I’ve been.

These thoughts have been given added impetus over the weekend by the ‘removal’ of Roy Hodgson as manager of Liverpool FC. I’m sure that most jobseekers would have looked at this and thought…

They hire the best person they can find, supposedly the best fit for the job, and six months later he’s not capable of doing the job…

Roy Hodgson was hired on past performance. He was the Manager of the Year for last season and seemed a shoe-in for this particular role. Except he wasn’t, because…

Past Performance is Relative

The achievement that got him the Manager of the Year accolade was to take a small, unfashionable club, one that have never won a major trophy, and take them to their first European Final. A really good achievement…but is that the right platform to take on the redevelopment of one of the game’s most successful clubs ever, with numerous trophies and European titles, where there is an expectation of success?

Realistically no…but then many did think he was the best man for the job. They completely overlooked the different cultures, structures, expectations and standards of another workplace.

So when I talk to people about what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved, I also like to put them into context, and see how they would relate to the company that I’m talking to. And I also want to talk about where I’m at and where I want to go, how my skills may be able to complement the structures, processes, aims and goals of another business.

What are your experiences? Have you ever hired the wrong person based on past performance…or taken the wrong job because the goals and expectations didn’t suit your strengths?

6 thoughts on “Past Performance is Relative

  1. I am glad you wrote this post Mervyn. Basing selection process strictly on past experience of an applicant is wrong. It is not the past jobs which will prove his/her capabilities to take a new role, but rather what the candidate has to say about his/her potential now. Question is what you can bring to the organization and how would you like to make a positive contribution towards your new job. It is not simple shifting of all previous experience into this new one. It is also about what you have never done but have it in your repertoire anyway.

    This is the second post where you questioning traditional ways of people resourcing and I like it very much. It is also very much about management of change in common practice and we all know how naturally resistant people are if it comes to change. I believe some best companies start to realize benefits of unconventional methods and that more and more organizations will be increasingly flexible too. At the end it is however also about individual approach of each of the recruiters.
    I hope you will keep contributing to the positive change of what didn’t quite move into the new age yet.

    Good luck with your quest.

    1. Thanks Peter, I think it comes back to the ‘Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills’ mantra…too many businesses see recruitment as a quick fix, often because it’s a distressed purchase. There has been a notable shift to finding people who are close to the ‘finished article’ rather than those with potential.

  2. I really really like this piece as I do believe that employers get blinded by the past success of someone rather than looking at individual person, their qualities and whether they they will fit in to the companies culture.

    Although my position of hiring for the company I work for is still relatively new, I have seen some shocking hires that left no long after starting. Reasons for hiring was that “they where the biggest biller” – yes is a very different culture and when you looked deeper they were given the warmest desk to work on, so to then hire them for a “developing” or “new” desk with high expectations…you are setting them up to potentially fail. Another was “their life experience shows that they are a fighter and relentless” this person ended up moving branches, fabricating stories about their health/family life/work activities and eventually being dismissed.

    I know that you can not always get it right, but to just look at past experience does not and will not always mean they are going to do the same for the hiring company. Its what they are looking to do next, how they will go about it and what skills/experience they will bring with them that is important.


    1. Thanks Natalie, some very valid points. After spending time in Recruitment to Recruitment I can echo what you say. Previous billings and evidence of working in a targeted sales environment were the 2 paramount factors, with little attention paid to the different structures, support and culture between different companies.

  3. Mervyn

    This is a thought provoking argument and likely to throw HR competency based professionals into a flat spin!

    There is the argument that all experience is relevant in your job search – experience = wisdom. Knowing how to position what you have done in the past so that it is contextual and appropriate is what is important in the interview and demonstrating soft skills or the “how” you have done can be a great differentiator. .

    One of the big screening criterion that is missing for me in most interviews, is figuring out whether the candidate is motivated to do the job, in that environment. By understanding what is important to you at work and how you like to work, you will be able to transcend the past and focus on the future if that is what is more important to you.

    For example: 1 person will be motivated to move away from trouble, and not have bad things happen – they are motivated to troubleshoot and problem solve. Another person will be motivated to move towards goals and achievements. This is just 1 motivational pattern out of 14 that both candidates and interviewers would be much wiser knowing about!

    Good luck with your job search, Katherine

  4. Hi Mervyn. What you are doing with this site is fantastic. Just wanted to add a little to your ‘past performance’ debate and (not surprisingly) use more football industry analogies.

    Plymouth Argyle, with tight budgetary control, achieved two promotions in three years, rising from the bottom of Division 2 to the comparatively dizzy heights of the Championship thanks to the leadership of two men, Chairman Paul Stapleton and Manager Paul Sturrock. Just before promotion to the Championship, the ‘facistas’ of recruitment, football agents (and my apologies to the very few ‘good’ agents)tempted Sturrock away (headhunted) to the promised land, the Premiership, and a lucrative contract with Southampton. As with Hodgson the dream for Sturrock lasted half a season.

    Sturrock went on to manage at Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon. Argyle’s replacement for Sturrock, Bovbby Wiiliamson lasted just over one season before two successive managers destined for the Premiership, Pulis and Holloway came and went.

    This is where the story now becomes relevant again. When Holloway left Stapleton turned to his old friend Sturrock. Their history together was 100% succesful. But time changes the dynamic of any company. There had been changes in the Boardroom affecting the dynamic between Chairman and Manager, Sturrock had seen life where the purse strings had been loosened and following industry trends crowd numbers were dwindling.

    Sturrock’s second term at the Club was a disaster. Relegation and overspending have left the Club on the verge of administration. The man who had given the Club their greatest successes had failed miserably.

    Corporate culture as well as people change. In situ people often change with the culture, or the culture changes with the people. Recruiters must have an in-depth knowledge of their client and the culture, the people and their plans for the business. Recruiters must also really know their candidates, not just a series of one hour interviews where the all the candidate does is talk about past performance at a rival company. Personality Profile helps a little, but experienced recruiters do have a ‘gut feel’ and this needs to be developed.

    The bottom line remains paramount, especially now – Recruitment is an industry, not a social service so the commercial benefits of new ways have to be proven, but if anyone can do this I am confident that you can Mervyn.

    I wish you every success in finding your ‘perfect role’ and please keep in touch.

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