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Should You Hire Risk Takers?

August 11th, 2017

Imagine you face two candidates during your final round of interviews. Both have credentials that meet the requirements of the job, but the two have distinctly different personalities. You can see this based on their self-descriptions as well as their personal track records.

Candidate X is rule-follower. If you ask them to do something, they’ll do it, no questions asked. They won’t attempt anything risky; from speaking up in a meeting with an untested idea, to floating an off-the-script maneuver with a client during a pitch meeting. If it hasn’t been done before, they’re not interested. If there’s any chance it could bring harm to the company or their own career— even if the harm is minimal and the move might also bring great benefits— the answer is clear: no thanks.

Candidate Y is a risk-taker. They’re open to new ideas, unafraid of new suggestions, and willing to try anything that might boost the company bottom line or further their own prospects. Even if there’s a chance the move could backfire, they’re in. They seem to travel with a parachute at the ready; if something goes wrong, they’re prepared to pull the cord and switch to plan B… even if there is no plan B.

So which candidate would you rather hire? Here are a few things to keep in mind before you make this challenging decision.

Do the mental math.

Take a close look at the specific position and determine how often this employee will take responsibility for high stakes decisions. Often? Or once in a blue moon? If the “risks” this role entails come with minimal consequences or very low odds of disaster, why hire a candidate who can’t bend or try new things? In this case, hire the risk taker.

Consider the lightning.

When a thunderstorm happens, the odds of being hit by lightning are famously low. But when that one unlikely bolt hits the mark, the results can be utterly terrible. In a reverse scenario, the odds of catching a cold are famously high—we’ve all caught colds before and we surely will again. but when it happens, we sniffle for a few days and move on. These disparate odds and differently weighted consequences factor into our willingness to avoid these two fates. If your risk-taking employee makes one mistake, could lives be lost? If so, hire the risk-averse candidate.

Consider your culture.

If neither of the thought exercises above prove helpful, consider the personality match between your candidate and the coworkers they’ll be called upon to trust— and vice versa. In an office full of risk takers, a Steady Betty might not be comfortable and might not fit in socially. In an office of dormice, a risk-taker might feel stifled or underutilized. Keep in mind that diversity benefits everyone (including the company), so for the smartest move, maintain a well-balanced mix of risk approaches.

For more on how to make a hiring decision based on personality, turn to the staffing and management teams at Merritt.

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