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Hire for the slope, not the y-intercept

Over the past fifteen months, I have interviewed close to fifty candidates looking to be hired for a product management role.

When hiring for any role, the role comes with a job description which translates to a list of skills that a candidate ought to be tested on during the hiring interview process.

Many companies make the mistake of defining the job description in terms of the y-intercept, that is what is needed today. If you draw a graph of the skillset needed to perform in that role today, the interview process is designed to identify where the graph of the skillset that the candidate possesses intersects with the skillset needed graph. And if it intersects above a certain pre-defined threshold, then the candidate makes the cut and is hired.

This can possibly work alright in companies that are not growing much and foresee business as usual for the coming quarters, if not years. Because, when the company growth is slow, then the y-intercept (where the two skillset graphs intersected above) remains above the threshold for a fairly long time to justify the hire made as being good.

But in fast growing companies, especially startups that are growing at 100% year-on-year or even earlier stage startups growing that much quarter-on-quarter, the y-intercept will fall below the threshold needed for the role in a matter of months or weeks. This means that the hire made is soon unable to perform at the level expected of her.

And this is no fault of the candidate, because they were simply not able to grow their skills at the same pace that the company grew at.

Which is why, while hiring, I always look for the slope rather than the y-intercept. Of course, the y-intercept is still important, but the slope matters a lot more in the longevity of the hire remaining good for the company.

This means that it is vital to assess whether the candidate has the potential to learn new skills at a pace as quick as the company needs her to.

This can be seen among founder-CEOs that step down after their startup starts to scale, only to be replaced by more experienced CEOs. This happens because the founders had a lower slope than what was needed to match the company's growth.

This makes the likes of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg all the more remarkable as they have been able to constantly scale their skillsets along with their companies to still remain active CEOs to this day.

On a note closer to you and I, when we see the company bringing in experienced people from outside rather than promote us, we ought to consider that as feedback that we aren't growing our skills fast enough to match the growth of the company and look to rectify that. On the other hand, if we find that the slope of the company is lower than our own to offer us meaningful growth and learning opportunities, then it is time to look to a place that does offer it.

PS: The same strategy applies to life partners too. Find someone for the slope, not the y-intercept.

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