Hiring the right person for an open position is always complicated. You want someone with the right skills and the right knowledge, but also someone who has an innate…something that will make them a right fit for the long haul. This week we welcome back HBG Senior Researcher Rick Snyder to The Intelligent Edge to talk about a group of people with traits that may just be perfect for your prospect development hiring pool. ~Helen
Back in 2016, I wrote about the one key trait that makes for a great researcher (TL;DR: curiosity). Today I’d like to expand on that topic a bit but take it in a rather different direction; namely, hiring from a subset of the population who seem custom-built for prospect research.
If you were in charge of hiring new researchers, what if I told you there’s an entire group of people who have many of the following traits in common:
- Attention to detail that results in high-quality work
- Many have above-average to superior intelligence
- Fantastic long-term memory and recall of details
- Tolerant of (and even enjoy) repetitive tasks and routines
- Ability to spot imperfections and problems
- Intensely focused
- Superb logic and analytical skills
- Knowledge of specialized fields
- Creative problem solving
- Honesty, loyalty and a desire to do a good job
Sign me up. Where do I find these people?
And what if I added that the following people were/are probably members of this group?
- Isaac Asimov
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Albert Einstein
- Bill Gates
- Thomas Jefferson
- Carl Sagan
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Vincent Van Gogh
You’re kidding, right? I’d hire any one of them on the spot. Can Mozart really do research?
And what if I provided this description of one of the members of this group:
Meet John. He’s a wizard at data analytics. His combination of mathematical ability and software development skill is highly unusual. His CV features two master’s degrees, both with honors. An obvious guy for a tech company [ed. or prospect research shop] to scoop up, right?”
Yes, he sounds great.
And if you were to continue reading…
Until recently, no. Before John ran across a firm that had begun experimenting with alternative approaches to talent, he was unemployed for more than two years. Other companies he had talked with badly needed the skills he possessed. But he couldn’t make it through the hiring process. If you watched John for a while, you’d start to see why. He seems, well, different. He wears headphones all the time, and when people talk to him, he doesn’t look right at them. He leans over every 10 minutes or so to tighten his shoelaces; he can’t concentrate when they’re loose. When they’re tight, though, John is the department’s most productive employee. He is hardworking and never wants to take breaks. Although his assigned workplace “buddy” has finally persuaded him to do so, he doesn’t enjoy them.”
Um, okay. You had me going there for a minute. Now I’m not so sure.
See, John (and each of the members of the group above) has Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Asperger’s, also known as High Functioning Autism, is a neurobiological disorder that affects as many as 1 in every 250 people.1
Along with all of the positive traits listed above, people with AS may also exhibit difficulty in understanding and responding to social cues, make blunt or inappropriate comments, have quirky behavior, and dominate conversations by talking in exhaustive detail about areas of personal interest.
Because of this, they often don’t make it to the job that they more than likely would excel at since, as the Harvard Business Review article cited above also notes:
Although neurodiverse2 people may excel in important areas, many don’t interview well. For example, autistic people often don’t make good eye contact, are prone to conversational tangents, and can be overly honest about their weaknesses. Some have confidence problems arising from difficulties they experienced in previous interview situations. Neurodiverse people more broadly are unlikely to earn higher scores in interviews than less-talented neurotypical (NT)3 candidates.”
Sadly, John and others like him remain unemployed (some estimates run as high as 80%) or stuck in unskilled jobs. Fortunately, there are organizations and companies that have realized the enormous untapped potential of the neurodiverse community. They have noted the strengths many people with AS have that make them particularly well-suited to jobs requiring prolonged focus and attention to detail.
Specialisterne, a Danish tech company with branches all over the world focuses on hiring people on the autism spectrum because of their particular traits, not in spite of them. While acknowledging the possible difficulties in hiring those who are “different”, they feel that the positives far outweigh any perceived negatives and they have embraced neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.
They operate a US-based foundation that has partnered with firms such as SAP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Ford, Microsoft, and others to place people on the autism spectrum in jobs where they can excel by applying their particular talents. I first read about them a couple of years ago and was excited to discover there are companies that actively seek out autistic job candidates.
At this point it shouldn’t be hard to see where I’m going with this: I believe that many people on the spectrum are well-suited to prospect research. Look beyond the bundle of social quirks that are common and you’ll find dedicated, loyal, hard-working people who absorb facts and details like a sponge, are adept at drawing connections and inferences from data, and work with focus and intensity.
I’d bet my bottom dollar that there are a great many people with AS already working in this field. I have a personal interest in this since I myself am an Aspie4. I’ve chosen to write about it here because, like others in the neurodiverse community, I think that it’s something to be celebrated, not hidden or talked about in hushed tones. And since I think that many Aspies walk among us, I want to give a shout-out to them. Unfortunately, I missed National Autism Awareness Month in April and National Disability Employment Awareness Month isn’t until October, so I’m going to shoot the gap.
I’m not arguing that everyone on the spectrum would be a good hire or that you have to be an Aspie to be a good researcher. I know there are many people with AS who would not be able to do this job, but I can say that of just as many NTs.
My argument is that if you are in a position to influence or make hiring decisions, you would be doing yourself and your organization a favor if you could proactively seek out people on the spectrum and give them a shot. It wouldn’t be without its challenges – possible workplace environment accommodations, coaching, help with prioritization, and others – but the upside potential is enormous.
I will be happy to chat with anyone who wants to know more, either through the comments section on this post or in private conversation.
1 Estimates vary. The CDC’s numbers are 1 in 49 males and 1 in 189 females, but it is frequently accepted that women are undercounted because they have superior adaptive skills that allow them to better mask some of the common traits of Asperger’s.
2 Neurodiversity is the concept that those with neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as those with any other human variation. One can argue that Asperger’s is not a condition, but just a way of processing information that differs from the neurotypical majority. As the well-known autist Temple Grandin said, “What would happen if you eliminated the autism gene from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”
3 Neurotypical (or NT): Within the autism community the term “neurotypical” is used to refer to people whose neurological development is consistent with what is generally described as “normal”.
4 That alone doesn’t make me an expert, but I do have decades of firsthand experience with it. I was diagnosed several years ago and suddenly so many things about my life finally made sense, including why my career in prospect research has been such a perfect fit for me.
- Career coaching for individuals with Asperger’s, as well as employer resources
- Organization whose mission is employment for individuals with autism and related differences