Six months. That’s how long my husband and I spent hunting this year for a condo in our fair city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. After so much waiting and hoping, we were getting downright antsy.

Finally we saw a contender! It ticked all of our boxes — a study for me to work in, an open kitchen, close to public transportation, great neighborhood. However, I didn’t have that feeling of, “This is it! I love this place and I have to have it now!”

But there was very little on the market. And we were impatient. So we made an offer. And it was accepted. We were on our way.

Yet as we got closer to signing that mountain of final paperwork, my discomfort grew. I fretted over all the areas that weren’t perfect. The street is nothing special. The home office is tiny. The parking spot is so narrow that you need the skills of a master Tetris player combined with the precision of a high-end watchmaker to park without a scrape.

Fast forward a few weeks. We have moved in. And – surprise – I love the new place! I still know it’s not perfect. But I am happy to have found something that suits our needs. And since my expectations were low, I’ve been surprisingly delighted by many things: The yummy restaurants nearby! The nice neighbors! The kitchen faucet with acrobatic abilities befitting an Olympic gymnast!

And this brings up an important question, whether you are hunting for the right new house or the right new talent for your business.

Would you rather:

  • Think something is perfect, and be disappointed when the pimple inevitably appears, or:
  • Know that something is good enough, and be pleasantly surprised when your expectations are exceeded?

I’ll take the latter. I enjoy delight more than disappointment.

Often when recruiting analytical marketing talent, you’ll face the dilemma of whether to optimize or satisfice.  Optimizing means you hold out for the absolute best fit, even if it takes months and months. And satisficing means you identify the stuff that’s most important and make a move when you find someone with those characteristics.

What I learned from our house selection process applies to recruiting:

  • There is seldom a perfect fit. If there is, it likely won’t be perfect for very long.
  • And that’s OK! Often an 80% fit is good enough to make us very happy. Especially if we trust our ability to identify what needs to be in that 80%.
  • If we look at the place we live in now or the people we work with now, we know they are not perfect. They likely couldn’t survive a perfectionist selection process.
  • The “This is it!” moment may not happen when you first see a place or a candidate, but may happen afterwards, once you have more information. If you are super analytical like me, you may need many data points before making a blanket statement like “This is perfect!”
  • In a market where values are rising, if you wait too long, your purchasing power can drop.

Selecting a new place to live. Selecting new talent. These are high-stakes decisions with big investments of time and money on the line.

We are unlikely to be able to try out a new house before moving in. But we CAN try things out with a candidate before hiring them. Whether our initial reaction to a candidate is ‘Yes!’ or ‘Maybe!’, the best way to get comfortable with hiring someone is to make the evaluation process as real and as close to the actual work as possible. (For more specifics here, see my piece on assessments being more predictive than interviews.)

We can go beyond interviews by giving an authentic preview of the job to candidates and encouraging them to show us their work. Increasingly, companies are paying candidates for short consulting projects before bringing them on full time.

What do you do to ‘try before you buy’ with your candidates? I look forward to hearing your stories.