Hiring Managers are The X Factor


I have a secret that only those really, really close to me know; a secret that could impact my career, my hire-ability, my social life, etc.   I, like millions of Americans, am addicted reality TV.  My DVR is full of unwatched episodes of Project Runway, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, ABDC (if you know this one you are an addict too), and yes, The X Factor. After watching the first few episodes of The X Factor is struck me as uniquely strange that two of the most influential talent scouts in the music business could have such polar views on the talent they were judging. I know in many cases this juxtaposition is created for drama and ratings, but with Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid we are looking at two intrinsic, very distinct views on talent. The more I watched the two of these talent giants argue it became clear that while both are great at what they do, they are both looking at talent (recruitment) in very different ways. As I often selfishly do, I turned this public display of differing opinion into an internal thought process about the various views of hiring managers in regard to talent and their similarities to the judges on The X Factor. 


Paula Abdul – I wanted to start with Paula because while she is often looked down upon for her flighty behavior, the persona she displays is one that often is mirrored in hiring managers. Sure, she may be a little out there, but when she see’s what she is looking for she isn’t afraid to stand up and shout about it. This CAN be a good thing, when hiring managers are excited about the caliber of a candidate. Hiring managers need to not only be evaluating the candidates; they need to be selling too.  This CAN also be a bad thing when hiring managers stand up and shout about it, metaphorically speaking, during the interview process. Unlike The X Factor, the prize  =from a real world interview isn’t pre-determined and written in a contract for all to review. If a hiring manager pulls a Paula you can bet the candidate will be empowered to make a more aggressive play during negotiations.  Smart candidates will know they have the upper hand, and will use it against you.  Unlike reality TV, there is no audience vote to throw a monkey wrench in the process.


Simon Cowell – Simon is a talent scout in the truest sense of the word.  He isn’t looking for polished performers who are ready to step into the spotlight day one.  Simon is looking for the real goods that come from deep inside a truly great performer, that no make up or dance moves will be able to enhance. Look at the two greatest Idols, Carey and Kelly, neither looked or acted the part when they won, but they had “it” inside and Simon knew it. Some hiring managers are really good at looking for the “it”, not the polish.  They look for things between the lines of the resume that they know will help the candidate be great.  They see talent as what it is, a special natural ability or aptitude, not a dog and pony show with a great resume.  These hiring managers make rogue decisions that seem to fly in the face of expectations, and more times than not they are right. 


L.A. Reid – L.A. on the other hand is a talent promoter. He doesn’t look for innate talent, he looks for polished show ready performers who will sell. He see’s someone that requires work and growth as not talented, instead of just un-developed. L.A. hires great talent, he makes people tons of money, and is no doubt amazing at what he does. It is just a different approach than his counterpart Simon. Hiring managers like L.A. want a candidate that checks off all the boxes from the job description on day 1. These managers expect their candidates to have the sizzle it takes to win them over right away. These managers are often times more impressed with the presentation than with the substance. Again, they see great talent and many times make the right hiring decision; they just go about it in a different way. 


Nicole Scherzinger - The fourth member of the cast, Nicole, is the current talent evaluating other talent. Often times hiring managers have risen through the ranks and are looking to hire people with a similar drive, skill set, background, etc.  Nicole’s experience makes her a good judge of what my sell today, like her albums, but her limited experience gives her the foresight to look long term at the talent in front of her. Many hiring managers are just looking to fill the job, like Nicole. The best hiring managers are looking to fill their own job, so they can move up!


So, which type of talent scout/hiring manager are you? Better yet, which of these mentalities best suits the needs of a hiring manager? I personally believe that matching the hiring manager and the job requirements to The X Factor persona that best fits will help to optimize the hiring process. Sometimes we may need to hire like L.A and find a Rock Star who has all the polish the world who can come in and make an impact right away. We, like L.A., are sometimes willing to trade attitude, ego, and expectations that come with the glitz for the short-term impact.  Other times, we MUST hire like Simon and look for the talent that is right there below the surface, just waiting to be discovered and developed.  And once we have identified that talent we must be committed to helping them develop and grow.  These are the folks whose passion, determination, and production is still untapped and who can grow exponentially given the right circumstance.  Look what Simon was able to do for all the Idol winners, but especially the biggest ones.  And yes, sometimes we do need to pull a Paula for a candidate or two to make sure we close the deal, and sometimes we need to be like Nicole and compare everyone we see to ourselves. The point is L.A. and Simon are both great at evaluating and hiring talent, but their requirements are very different.


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Comment by Tim Spagnola on October 5, 2011 at 10:26am
Kirby - first off your secret is safe with me. Like you I am a reality TV junkie, but I see we differ in our DVR lineup. Now you have me interested in checking out X-Factor. I always watch these programs and try to pull out ties to recruiting. Although I still struggle with accomplishing this task with Storage Wars. I think you summed this article up very well. I feel at times all of the traits shown by these individual judges are warranted by hiring managers. Although if I had to take a guess- there are a lot more L.A. Reids in the world. I feel the Simon approach for some might be considered risky, even though it might present the most to be gained. A entertaining read- thanks for sharing.


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