Voices

The right fit for your firm may be a misfit

When searching for the perfect candidate, accounting firms almost invariably talk about finding someone with the right fit in addition to the required complement of professional skills. What does “fit” really mean? While it varies to a degree between firms, most people are hoping to find a talented professional who will match the existing team’s style and preferences — a similar mindset, an alignment of ideals, and a shared set of viewpoints.

The idea is to ensure new hires will mesh seamlessly and get along with associates, partners and clients. It makes sense from a purely social standpoint and minimizes potential challenges from a human resources perspective. This strategy also helps to ensure that new team members will share the firm’s culture.

Having worked with dozens of accounting firms over the years, I can confidently assure you that that the culture of any given firm is built around a commitment to exceptional client service, outstanding quality, teamwork, work-life balance, and ongoing professional development. Oh, and don’t forget the firm’s primary differentiator of becoming trusted, long-term partners in their clients’ success.

These are all wonderful attributes; I don’t mean to minimize their value or importance in any way. My point is simply that those “unique differentiators” and “distinctive firm cultures” are pretty darn consistent across niches, scales and geographic regions. So while your firm and its clients are indeed special, they’re not alone by any stretch of the imagination. And every single one is looking for that ideal new hire … the same one.

Yesterday at lunch my friend recounted her experience of being rejected for a great position not because she wasn’t the right fit, but because she was the right fit. The head of HR loved her, and her qualifications are unimpeachable. She thinks like they do and would have made a perfect match to the existing team, so they opted to pass.

My friend, understandably, felt disappointed and resentful that the organization had decided not to hire her, but my response was a mix of sympathy for my friend and respect for the HR director, who realized the organization would benefit from having someone less similar. (Not that the existing team isn’t wonderful — I know some of them and they are brilliant, creative, committed professionals!)

The HR director was holding out for someone who didn’t fit as well, and that’s exactly what your firm needs too. Why? So you’re better able to consider completely unheard-of ideas, view things in a different way, understand why a particular approach didn’t work, gain a feel for the inscrutable behavior of a difficult client, examine processes that “we’ve always done that way,” and generate brand new strategies for success.

Plenty of good firms honestly welcome suggestions for improvement from their staff, but if the entire team qualifies as a “great fit,” are you truly getting a fresh perspective? In the case of my friend, the HR director could have safely hired her and still had the advantages of a novel point of view. She has an uncanny gift (or bad habit, depending on your perspective) for playing devil’s advocate. If it’s possible to see a plan, idea or situation from a different angle, this friend will be the one to explore it.

But that’s not the norm. Most of those perfect fit job candidates are, in fact, too perfect in that they won’t bring you the wealth of ideas and understanding you need to thrive in today’s complex business environment. Diversity isn’t just about age, gender, race or religion. It’s about how we think, learn, approach a situation, and devise solutions to new problems. Serving the needs of diverse clients means your team needs a rich diversity that extends well beyond physical appearances.

If you want to equip your firm for success against the widest range of challenges, look beyond the perfect fit to find talented people who offer your team the perfect misfit. And if you happen to need a great full-time marketer who examines things from unexpected angles, I’ve got your girl.