Nobody hits the ground running

“We just want someone who can hit the ground running” is the common refrain for companies seeking to only consider senior-level job candidates. This is usually based on the premise that there just isn’t time to hire someone junior because they need on-boarding, training, and mentorship.

That’s all true. You shouldn’t expect a junior hire to immediately perform at the level of your existing company veterans. Everyone instinctively knows and accepts this.

Where instincts clash with reality is when hiring senior-level people. There’s a natural assumption that someone who was already, say, a lead programmer or designer in their past job will be able to step right into that role anywhere. That just isn’t so. Organizations can differ widely. The skills and experience needed to get traction in one place may well be totally different somewhere else.

Let’s take managerial direction, for example. At Basecamp, we’ve designed the organization to rely on managers of one. Especially at the deep end of the seniority spectrum. This means people are often largely responsible for setting their own short-to-medium term direction, and will only get top-level directives.

That can be an uncomfortable and confusing setup when someone is used to having far more hands-on, day-to-day direction on what to work on and when. The more accustomed someone is to that kind of directed form of work, the more there is to unlearn to mesh with how we work at Basecamp. That kind of unlearning can be just as hard as having to pick up entirely new skills, and sometimes even harder.

Getting the traction that someone would expect of a senior-level hire depends as much on general skills as it does on particular organizational compatibility. But because there’s an assumption that senior-level people should be able to just “hit the ground running”, there’s a bigger risk that expectations won’t be fulfilled quickly enough.

The fact is that unless you hire someone straight out of an identical role at an identical company, they’re highly unlikely to be instantly up to speed and able to deliver right away. That doesn’t mean a particular opening might not be best fit for a senior-level person, but it shouldn’t be based on the misconception of immediate results.