How Not to Hire for Digital Health

Alex Gilbert shares his insight on recruiting digital health professionals.

First published: 1 May 2019 | 5 min read
Author: Alex Gilbert

When I first started speaking to candidates about ‘digital health’ five years ago, 1 out of 10 people were interested and the rest thought I had gone stir crazy. Today, digital health has ushered in a new age of healthcare innovation with an immense amount of technology-driven change, including over 325,000 health apps on the App Store and over 245 million wearables set to be sold in 2019.

Since I joined Huma over two years ago, we’ve grown tenfold in headcount and established new offices on two different continents. Although I have left the Talent team to focus on growing our Life Sciences business, the path to today’s talent strategy has been fraught with mistakes, but also amazing learnings, discoveries, and breakthroughs. They say you should learn from the mistakes of others — below are some I’ve learned the hard way.

Don’t hire for experience.

Hire for interest and passion.

When hiring, most people would consider the first step to be filtering through applications to find which candidate has the most experience in the field. But how can we hire for experience in an industry that’s only just begun to exist?

For Huma, the answer has been finding those with the most passion for our industry and interest in their field. Often, the hardest workers are those we’ve given an opportunity because they have something to prove. What they lack in experience they make up for in a continual thirst for knowledge — keeping us ahead of the curve rather than behind.

Being an optimist, I’m a firm believer that you can teach anyone to do any job provided they have the right level of motivation. Given all of the new training resources we have, the difficult thing to teach isn’t the task: it’s the passion. It’s impossible to teach someone to love your company and what it does.According to Deloitte, only 12.3% of US workers are passionate about what they do. So if you’re truly committed to hiring the top employees in the game, shouldn’t you focus on hiring that 12%?

Don’t hire for culture fit.

Hire for values, and build a culture around those who exemplify them.

Every single person I’ve spoken to involved in Talent speaks about the paramount importance of ‘culture fit’. The reality is that culture is extremely difficult to define and is a constantly evolving embodiment of the individual synergies of a team. Each new member contributes something novel. Many startups spend a lot of time creating powerful statements about what their culture is and what it means to them as an organisation. More often than not, this culture ends up being far more hypothetical than real, which is why it’s so difficult to identify in prospective hires. A culture that is too strong can also serve as an excuse to hire those that think and act in the same way you do, perpetuating a comfortable uniformity that is the antithesis of creative innovation. The most valuable people in any disruptive business unit are those that challenge your own status quo.

After trying to hire for an ever-shifting culture we couldn’t describe, we defined our values instead. If the company’s culture is a shifting landscape, its values are its bedrock. The uncompromising core principles that the company lives by. Renn Vara, a leadership coach at*Airbnb*who we brought in to help us define our own values, said that ‘Looking at how someone aligns with the company values and their ability to deliver on that brand promise is critical’. If you hire those that prescribe to the same values, their behaviours by extension will remain in sync, creating the business culture around them.

Don’t hire for stability.

Hire for adaptability and change.

Most of the hiring managers I’ve worked with prioritise CVs with long stints at companies and cohesive career progression. Those without these indications are labelled as ‘jumpy’ or ‘un-focused’ — especially when the contrast in positions is high. This thinking was very appropriate within the era of the Ford assembly line, but isn’t hiring for predictability disadvantageous when you’re trying to disrupt? One of my favourite quotes, that has been wrongly attributed to Darwin, states that ‘It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’.

Today’s new businesses are more focused on the creation of change than an increase in production as the market is becoming too crowded to remain comfortable. The most valuable employees are those that focus on the ‘new’. Startups themselves are in continual flux. The product, pricing, people, and promotion will and should be refined each and every day. The people who do succeed in these businesses are the explorers — those that thrive in chaos and adapt to change quickly.

Especially in an era where more roles are becoming automated, we should see the value of human input as being able to think differently to tackle problems that aren’t routine.

Don’t hire for a job.

Hire good people to do great work.

What makes Huma amazing is that we are a group of immensely different people working together to achieve the same goal. We are all on intersecting but different paths headed towards the same direction. We all know we don’t have the ultimate solution. Sometimes people will come along who aren’t walking the same path you are but are headed to the same place. Those people will add value in new and unexpected ways, keeping your business innovative and thriving. Keep an open mind, don’t adhere to a rule book, and do things in ways that work for you.

There is no perfect hire — there are only perfect perceptions of exceptional people.

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