You should hire three-dimensional people who have depth, breadth, and length. I am not a fan of the prevailing belief system among hiring managers that you have to make a trade-off between technical depth and breadth of interpersonal competence for example. I cringe when I hear a hiring manager say something like “the guy can’t manage his way out of a paper bag, but he is so technically brilliant, we had to hire him.” Why do we feel we have to settle for people who are one-dimensional or even two-dimensional. You need to look at candidates differently, almost like wearing 3D glasses, to find three-dimensional people.
Depth means that a person has worked in an area of expertise to a degree that they have learned not only the subtleties of that area, but also the limitations. Not only are they technically competent but they understand how that competence can blind them to other perspectives which may be just as valid and sometimes complementary. Sometimes depth is acquired through years of study and advanced degrees, but just as often it can come from intensive and all-encompassing experiences that are compressed but extremely rich in the number of learning cycles the person has been through in a given time period – think of active military duty or Peace Corps for example.
Possible interview questions: “Tell me about an area of competence where you think you are an expert and how you developed that expertise.” Now tell me what you see as the limitations which that expertise might place on your ability to see other perspectives.”
Breadth means that a person makes connections easily across boundaries, for example, across areas of expertise. Breadth is associated with interpersonal competence because the ability to make connections with people who have different perspectives often stems from exposure to a broader range of experiences. This helps you put yourself in someone else’s shoes more easily. Breadth doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of depth. In fact, the ability to apply expertise in a wide range of environments and with different kinds of people is often what creates meaningful depth.
Possible interview questions: “Tell me about an experience or project where you worked with people who have different expertise from yours. Now tell me how their perspectives were different from yours and why.”
Length means that a person has the ability to sustain a commitment. It does not necessarily mean that they have more years of experience per se. It is often easier to see length when a person has decades of work experience as there are generally more opportunities to make and sustain a commitment. However, when someone says they have “ten years of experience,” you always want to figure out whether that is the same year of experience ten times or ten years of different, useful, and meaningful experiences from which the person has learned valuable lessons in depth and breadth.
Possible interview questions: “Tell me about a commitment you have made, either professionally or personally. How have you sustained that commitment in the face of changing demands or new challenges?”
So the next time you are looking at candidates in the hiring process, put on your 3D interview glasses. Instead of just adding up the years a person has been practicing a particular set of skills, look across all three dimensions and go beyond the easy (and sometimes unreliable) shorthand for qualifications. Take the time to find the people with real depth, breadth, and length. You can build a great company culture with people who understand the limits of their expertise, can connect with people easily across boundaries, and deliver on their commitments.