How Recruiting Won The Super Bowl By Targeting “Wrong Fit Candidates”

Credit recruiting with winning the Super Bowl because every Tampa point was scored by recently recruited players plucked from “wrong fit” situations. Yes, each of the 5 Buccaneer players involved in scoring every winning team point during Super Bowl LV. Surprisingly, each individual was recently released from their previous teams because of a lag in their performance. Fortunately, Tampa’s recruiters noticed that a lack of skills did not cause the recruit’s performance lag. Instead, the primary cause was a “bad fit” in the areas that the player required to be a top performer. So, once placed in a Tampa position that was a “right fit” for them, they almost immediately became top performers without the need for any significant additional development. In recruiting, I call them “wrong fit” candidates. 

And of course, they are extremely valuable, because recruiting them provides an immediate performance boost. To get that boost, you need to do little more than simply place them in an already existing “perfect fit” position on your team. A “perfect fit” is defined as the set of job factors that perfectly match the previously identified factors as those that drive maximum performance. The recruiter’s role is simple: find top performers that are underperforming because they are currently placed in a “wrong fit” position. And then, find and place them into an existing “right fit” position at your firm. 

These Tampa Recruits Became Game Changers When They Moved From A “Wrong Fit” To A Perfect Job Fit Situation

Yes, you can say that recruiting won Super Bowl LV. For the first time in NFL Super Bowl history, all of the winning team’s points were scored by players that were not even on the team during the previous season. Fortunately, Tampa recruiters were able to help each one of these five recruits to move away from a “wrong fit” job and directly into a right job fit situation on the Tampa team that perfectly met their performance requirements. As a result, these new recruits’ performance skyrocketed both during their first year and the playoffs.

Tom Brady – this QB was released by his last team because they considered him to be over the hill. Only two teams expressed any serious interest in him. However, he thrived, and he was a perfect fit in Tampa because he needed their already existing powerful offensive line to protect him. He also accepted their offer because of the team’s willingness to add at least two world-class receivers (Gronkowski and Brown).

Rob Gronkowski – this world-class receiver retired from his previous team because of age and burnout. Most teams thought he was washed up. And he stayed retired until Tampa recruiters proactively drew him out of retirement with another chance to play with his close friend and longtime quarterback Tom Brady. The tandem continued to set records because they were so familiar with each other. The new job was also a perfect fit for Gronk because it allowed him to increase his contribution to the team. By fully utilizing his strong blocking capabilities further strengthened both their passing and running attacks.

Antonio Brown – multiple teams released this world-class receiver because of his seemingly unsolvable behavioral issues. No one wanted him. However, he thrived and fit in Tampa because he rejoined his close friend and peer mentor, Tom Brady, who was willing to watch over and keep him on his best behavior.

Leonard Fournette – this running back was performing so poorly that he was cut by one of the worst-performing NFL teams. However, he thrived and fit in at Tampa because of their powerful offensive line and Tom Brady’s powerful passing attack. Both opened up opportunities for his more successful and harder to anticipate runs.

Ryan Succop – his last team, cut this aging 34-year-old field goal kicker after a season-ending injury in 2019. Because Tampa had a designated kickoff specialist, the Tampa opportunity was a perfect fit for Succop. It reduced the aging kicker’s workload, and it allowed him to focus on kicking field goals.

What Are The 4 Factors That Define A “Wrong Fit Candidate?”

I recommend using a definition of a “wrong fit candidate” that includes these four factors. Use these factors to identify which “wrong fit candidate” to target and recruit.

  • It’s clear they have above average skills – don’t even consider them unless it’s clear that the candidate has an above-average skill set that they have previously utilized on the job. 
  • They have a performance record with only one recent downturn– the candidate should have a record of above-average growth and job performance in each of their jobs. Except for the last one where their performance weakened.
  • They know which factors have caused their recent performance to weaken – when asked, the candidate can explain that their recent performance downturn results from an inappropriate job fit. And because they know the specific situational factors that have the highest impact on their performance, they have already identified the primary situational factors that need to change in a new job for their performance to turn around.
  • They have extremely high future expectations for themselves – it’s clear that they have maintained high expectations for themselves and others. They are driven to show everyone that they can turn around their performance slide in a better fit opportunity.

The Many Reasons Why You Should Recruit “Wrong Fit” Candidates”

Fortunately, there are many benefits associated with recruiting wrong fit candidates. They include:

  1. “Wrong fit” candidates are among the top five quality of hire sources – unfortunately, most companies don’t track the quality of hire. However, if you do, you will likely find that the source of “hidden gems” ranks among the top five sources in quality of hire. They are referrals from top-performing employees, returning boomerang top performers, exceptional silver medalists, wrong fit candidates, and candidates that have everything but the job title.
  2. “Wrong fit” candidates have the potential to perform at a high level almost immediately – because they have above average skills and they have already been a top performer. So, even though their recent performance record may be spotty. With the right fit job opportunity, these candidates are capable of quickly transforming into top performers.
  3. There is a significant volume of wrong fit candidates – because an employee’s manager and their work environment play such a strong part in a talented worker’s performance. I estimate that as many as 20% of qualified job seekers fit under this “good person, but wrong fit” definition. So, realize that these wrong fit candidates are not that hard to find. 
  4. Individual wrong fit candidates are not very difficult to identify – because they are in a performance rut, most of these individuals are active job seekers. And that makes them easy to attract. Also, they can be easily spotted in a stack of resumes because they have above average skills, and until recently, they have a track record of strong performance. They can also be identified during interviewing and the reference checking process.
  5. You don’t have to change much – in most cases, you only recruit the individual when you have an open position that is clearly a perfect job fit. So, there is little need for restructuring, job redesign, or changing the culture. 
  6. The competition for wrong fit individuals is low because most skip over them – because many recruiters and hiring managers are scared away by their recent failure. The number of companies that formally recruit “wrong fit” candidates is relatively small. The most prominent recruiting obstacle is successfully changing the minds of hiring managers. Each one understands the business value of considering someone that has an obvious downturn in performance on their record.
  7. Their salary costs may be lower – because they are currently experiencing a period of low performance. They aren’t likely to be just seeking a bigger paycheck. Instead, they are more likely to be looking for a chance to prove themselves again. So, they will likely be easier to close, and they may require less guarantee compensation.

Actionable Tips For Identifying And Assessing “Wrong Fit” Candidates

Once you adopt the goal of targeting candidates that are currently in wrong fit jobs. The next most important step is to choose between the various available approaches for identifying “wrong fit” candidates. After narrowing your list down to a handful of wrong fit candidates, you need to determine their “right fit factors.” Finally, decide if any of your existing job openings are an optimal fit for each candidate.

Action steps for utilizing resumes for identifying “wrong fit” prospects and candidates

  • Look for a recent performance dip after a history of top performance – examine their resume and LinkedIn profiles to find if they have a recent one-time dip in their current job performance. If there is no dip in performance, they are probably already in a “right fit job.”
  • Look for exceptional skills – assess the candidate’s skill set in their resume and LinkedIn profile. Because the ideal candidate will generally grow their skills even when they are in a “wrong fit job.” So their skills should be impressive and continually improving. 
  • Look for candidates from well-branded organizations in turmoil – specifically look for prospects that have recently worked at organizations with a strong recruiting brand. And from that list, look for employees from companies that have recently experienced significant turmoil. A great deal of internal turmoil makes it less likely that most employees will be working in a right-fit job.

Action steps during the interview for identifying “wrong fit” candidates

  • Ask them if they know the underlying causes of their recent performance lag – ask them directly if they have studied their recent performance lag. And if they identified the major on and off the job contributing factors. Be wary if they overly whine about the causes or if they universally blame others.
  • Ask them if they know their wrong fit and perfect fit factors that impact performance – the ideal candidate will already be well aware of the set of factors that positively and negatively impact their performance. So ask each candidate during the interview to provide you with a ranked list of them. Then, use this list to determine if any of your open job opportunities currently contain most of their “right job” performance factors and none of the “wrong job” factors. 
  • Ask them what they will need to excel in this job – ask them directly if they were to get the job,  list the five critical things they would need to succeed. You will need to be cautious if they include any key job factors that realistically can’t be provided by the organization.
  • Ask them to identify their preferred management styles – a manager’s preferred style is essential when determining job fit. Why not ask candidates directly during the interview to identify the top three management styles they work under best. And then use this preferred style list to determine if any of the open jobs have a manager that uses the selected styles. 
  • Ask them to describe their “nightmare team culture” – many candidates are more familiar with the negative factors in job fit. So, ask them during the interview to list the negative elements of a nightmare team culture. Use this list to ensure that you don’t offer them a job in a team where those negative factors are present.

Additional action steps for identifying “wrong fit” candidates outside of the interview 

  • Run Them through a “How to best manage me exercise” – outside of their interview process, ask them in an exercise to identify their ideal and worst-case management approaches in all key management/employee interaction areas, including their preferences in the key interaction areas of communications, meetings, performance metrics, recognition, employee development, punishment, and rewards. Use their interaction area preferences to determine if any of your open jobs is an optimal fit for them. Alternatively, you could use the “best manager I ever knew” exercise or “your dream job” exercise to get them to list the ideal approaches that the best managers should use with them.
  • Verify their optimal fit factors with their references -when checking job references with their current and former managers. Specifically, ask each reference to force rank the factors they consider to be candidates’ key factors that drive or limit their performance. If the candidate is an employee referral, be sure and take the time to explore what the referring employee believes to be the candidate’s ideal job fit factors.

Final Thoughts

In my experience, a primary differentiator between a good and a great recruiter is their ability to regularly identify high-quality “hidden candidates” that most recruiters would miss. In this case, the hidden candidates are highly skilled recruiting targets experiencing a performance downturn merely because they are currently in a “wrong fit” job. Excelling at this recruiting approach has a high ROI because it allows a recruiter to find explosive potential prospects. The only thing that the recruiter must do to release that potential is to ensure that any job you offer them already contains all the positive and none of their negative performance factors. 

If you’re still unsure about the viability of this recruiting approach. Simply think back through your career. Make a note of how many times your performance dropped off solely because your position’s job fit factors suddenly changed. And how easy it would have been to turn around your performance if you were simply allowed to tweak even a few of your “job fit factors.” 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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