Hiring for Professional Services? Look for "Fit and Drive" Instead of Skillsets.

Why do we have such difficulty hiring for our professional services teams? 

When we start growing a PS team, we look for people just like us: those who are great with clients but unafraid of the technical side of the business. By definition, we search for technical generalists who can interact with a variety of people, many of whom are specialists in their field. We're the proverbial "Swiss Army Knives" of an organization. 

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We know what skills we have to hire for (it's a wide range). So why is it seemingly so difficult to find people to fill a PS team?

The answer to my problem was right in front of me, and I had to do is look in a mirror. 

We all had to start somewhere. I, for one, started in enterprise software deployment. Some of my colleagues got their start in project management. Others began their careers in development, support or customer success. Very few of us directly entered the world of professional services or consulting. The common thread is unlike many of our colleagues who chose to pursue those specialities, we decided to branch out and learn skills from other disciplines and started down the road to be generalists. By definition, we're a small subset of a much larger hiring pool.

Meaning: There are not a lot of us out there, us professional services people. 

If we manage to find a seasoned professional services generalist, it's a windfall, and we become emboldened to find more of us to bring into the fold. 

Then reality quickly sets in: generalists are rare. We didn't just win the lottery when we hire someone who is adept at professional services, we won the lottery. So how do we solve for this problem?

Over the years, I've developed two key requirements when it comes to hiring into professional services teams:

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  1. Will this person mesh with our culture and our philosophy? Every company is different, but I've always maintained a team culture of openness, honesty, and professional humility. Most of all, I ask does this person align with the ultimate goal of professional services: to be a great trusted advisor to our clients? 
  2. Does this person show a drive to learn and grow? This is a big question because it forces me to look in the mirror. We didn't become professional services people without learning and growing outside our comfort zone, so we should look for others with the same drive as we do. A person who has shown they tackle challenges across a breadth of disciplines shows an ability to take on generalist work

Based on those two key requirements, I successfully built teams with people who are generally not considered "consultants". I was incredibly fortunate to find great colleagues who were once specialists in project management, account management, technical marketing, and customer support. All I asked from my team was for the right mindset and the right drive to grow beyond our specialities, and the skills just fell into place.

Next time you are hiring for your PS team, look in the mirror and ask "Am I hiring for skills, or am I hiring for fit and drive?". I bet you'll find your right teammates once you start looking for the latter.