Careers: Avoid the Pedigree Pitfall

Is an applicant’s professional pedigree a predictor of his or her success with your company? Yes AND no. Some things, such as educational background and related work experience, can obviously be very important to a candidate’s success. However, companies can also get more caught up with the pedigree than they do with the actual candidate and that can lead to a bad hire.

A lack of related experience is often seen as a negative, but if the candidate is a natural athlete (figuratively) and he or she has a consistent pattern of success at previous positions, there’s a good chance that person will be able to hit the ground running. Of course that doesn’t mean someone with no prior analytical skills can jump in to a job as a number cruncher without missing a beat. But just because someone hasn’t had a chance to manage people, resources, or processes, doesn’t mean that he or she couldn’t do a great job if given the right opportunity. And who are we kidding? Is there really that much difference between a minimum of five years of experience and seven years of experience?

On the flip side, a great background doesn’t always equal a great hire. During the interview process, it’s critically important that you make sure candidates are 1) who they said they were on paper and 2) a great fit with your organization. It’s easy to overlook red flags during the interview process when you’ve already sold yourself on the candidate based on his or her background.

Screening hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants sometimes forces us to rely too heavily on pre-defined profile as a way to narrow our list of possible candidates. As a result, we miss out on great talent. Instead of worrying about who fits into a neat little box, companies should spend more time worrying about who brings the most to their organizations, regardless of pedigree.

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (

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