The Elusive “Perfect Fit” Employee

mid section view of a man holding his resume

In the midst of our recession, lots of nonprofit jobs have been shed, which puts lots of qualified people on the street competing for a small number of jobs. That has created a buyers’ market for nonprofit employers, and I’m hearing dismaying stories from job seekers that organizations love their qualifications but are holding out for the holy grail: the “perfect fit” employee.

Just recently I got an email from a nonprofit that concedes they’ve met a number of strong candidates, but is still holding out for the perfect fit. They went on to ask would I now give additional thought to their search, to come up with even stronger candidates I may know, as if I held the very best people in reserve when my suggestions were solicited a month ago. “Yeah, in the last 30 days I’ve met three people who are better than all the people I’ve met in my 13 years working around nonprofits.”

Actually, now that I know how particular you’re being, I regret subjecting my initial referrals to your unwinnable contest, and I certainly will not put anyone else through it. You want a second round of candidates, even better qualified than the strong candidates you’ve already seen? Bite the bullet and hire a recruiter. That referral I’d be happy to make.

Better still, stop. Hire one of the strong candidates.

The job I’m looking at has 15 bulleted qualifications and an equal number of sub-requirements. A few are boilerplate, like “team player”, “highly organized” and “effective communicator.” I can’t imagine there are more than a handful of people who meet all these 30 requirements, and how many of those are in transition? How many of those in transition will see this posting? And accept the salary, benefits and location? Give it up. You won’t find the perfect fit.

Businesspeople in a meeting

To go a bit further, and echo advice I’ve given clients, don’t look for a professional fundraiser who has “established relationships within the philanthropic community.” That’s a euphemism for “has a Rolodex” and is appropriate only to a board member search. A professional fundraiser isn’t going to leverage for your benefit relationships she’s made through employment in other nonprofits. That’s unethical and unseemly. When she leaves your employ, would you like her to do that for her next employer?

To those looking for the perfect fit, I say, “Stop.” Your expectations are unreasonable. Hire the best strong candidate you’ve met and let them grow and mature into the position and learn what they don’t already know. Stop looking for the “perfect fit.” Perfection doesn’t exist.

5 thoughts on “The Elusive “Perfect Fit” Employee

  1. No such thing as hiring the “perfect fit” candidate. In order to do that you must have the perfect assessment tool and perfect process to idenify and measure such a candidate. Since that is not possible, and it is not a science but instead interaction with human during the hire process—the best you can hope for is a good candidate but subject to the interviewers bias.

  2. I often hear employers wanting to hire someone who can “hit the ground running” but have difficulty defining what that means for their organization. It might mean someone who is proficient in all the technical aspects of the job. It can also be someone who can grow the position and may not have all of the technical requirements. Sometimes being flexible, having the ability to juggle multiple/competing priorities may be more critical to the organization than knowing specific software packages.

    While the current market has a large number of potential applicants, this should not preclude an organization from being thoughtful of their strategic plan when hiring staff.

  3. As a highly skilled communicator currently on the open job market, I can only agree with your assessment Tony.

    I have applied repeatedly for positions that I’m more than qualified for, and even those I am over qualified for. I’m being told that even higher level candidates with far more management experience are competing against me.

    That may be true, but how many of them are willing to execute daily, or even willing to stay once they find a better fit. If you’re already a perfect fit, which I doubt exists, then what is there to grow into?

  4. That’s significant, Regina,

    Deciding not to apply because you don’t want the hassle of unreasonable expectations.

    Full disclosure: I’m glad Regina works for herself. She manages social media for me.


  5. Trust me. I’ve been through this. In the grand spectrum of things, I’m pretty well-qualified with both a great education, strong transferable skills, a good set of connections, and strong recommendations.

    However, I’ve found that both recruiters and employers seek a perfect fit. You’re right, that it really doesn’t exist. When I’m considering a job, I’m considering how my current skills fit into what they’re seeking, but also how I’ll be able to grow into the position and grow with the organization.

    When I moved back to the States after living abroad, I knew finding work with be difficult with both a recession and having to fit back into a system I’d not worked in for years. The expectations are just really over the top. I understand paying your dues, but now it seems that recruiters don’t want that. They want someone to fill a bunch of expectations that I’m not sure any one person can. For example, I recently saw a job description for a nonprofit I’d LOVE to work for. I also know someone who works for them. She encouraged me to apply but, after reading the job description, I seriously had to ask her where on earth do they expect to find someone that fits that description perfectly? I’ll probably still apply, but I’ve got to admit that if organizations are expecting that they can hold out for a perfect candidate because of the economic environment, that’s really just unrealistic. There are certainly more candidates out there, but perfection? It seems a little juvenile to even expect that.

    I considered working for myself for awhile anyway, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing well now. I must admit that, like the situation I describe above, even when I see jobs that are a good fit for my skills, I usually opt not to apply because I don’t want to deal with unreasonable recruiter or HR rep expectations.

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