Why Great Leaders Give First-Timers A Chance


By Jas Singh

Ten years when I first started in the recruitment industry I pitched to a technology company for the first time.

My background until then had been exclusively Financial Services but even back then the possibilities of technology and the internet simply fascinated me.

One of my first ever meetings was with an EVP of a billion dollar technology business. He was a tough but incredibly fair and honest person. In the first five minutes he told me that he was looking for an exclusive recruitment partner to help him build his business and that he had met five search firms already this week – all with a strong track record of recruiting in the technology space for decades.

“How much do you know about technology Jas?” he asked me.

I still remember taking a couple seconds to think about how best to word my answer.

“Nothing.” I replied.

The following silence still makes me cringe.

For the next thirty minutes I poured out my heart about my passion for technology and how I was hungry to learn. I also went into detail about how I believed hiring was more about having the right process and how social media was making candidate generation much easier – as long as you had a good reputation and worked hard to attract and screen the right people, simply “having a database” wasn’t now as important.

In return, he grilled me. Absolutely tore me to shreds. If I’m totally honest it was probably only because I was so naive and inexperienced that I kept going. In fact a few months later he honestly told me that the only reason he’d given me a chance was because of “the balls” I had shown. (Yep, that’s right he was a New Yorker).

Ten years later and he is still a great client. He’s paid our company millions in fees but more importantly has also become a great friend. He’s attended my wedding, become a great mentor and has been a total pleasure to work with.

Leadership often involves high stakes.

And when it does most people’s natural reaction is to crave safety – to go with tried and tested who have been there before.

Yet in ten years as a hiring specialist I can say with confidence that some of the greatest leaders I have worked with also use a sensible mix of diversity and fresh talent. Even in key positions.

Whether it’s having no industry experience, changing profession or someone from a different country – they’re prepared to give first-timers a chance.

Here are some ways how great leaders give first-timers a chance.

If they’re taking a risk too

Risk is a two-way street. If you’re taking a chance on someone it helps if they’re on you’re side too.

Often I speak with hiring managers who have tried hiring first-timers in the past but have been burned by the experience. “It doesn’t work in our industry” is the classic line everyone tells me.

But the real issue is commitment. What price was the other person willing to pay to land this new opportunity?

Most people will try something new if they are out of work. Or desperate to leave. It takes much more courage to do so when they’re already doing well in a secure job. Or if they’ve uprooted to another country just for this position.

Candidates who need the job to work out as much as the hiring manager will do whatever it takes to become successful.

If they have a track record of success

Success is a system. It requires many different attributes – learning, working with others, desire, positive outlook etc – but the point is that being successful requires the application of certain principles.

When hiring first-timers, leaders can significantly improve their chances by looking at those people who have managed to be successful throughout their lives.

Who’ve properly applied the success formula previously.

It’s pretty easy to spot – high achievers usually gain promotion and recognition in their various fields – whether it’s education, work or sports. They also usually demonstrate consistency in results.

Great leaders understand that people who have demonstrated a track record of success can be valuable in any field.


If they have mastered a relevant skill

When choosing others to work with, most people massively overate knowledge over skill.

Sure, in certain situations – speaking German, programming in Java, flying an airplane – knowledge is essential. But in more business focused roles often the skill factor becomes more important.

Sales and marketing are perhaps the best examples of this. In my experience, the best sales people and marketers I have ever known nearly always move jobs as “first-timers” with usually very little experience or knowledge of the new sector.

When selecting people, great leaders focus more on the relevant skill and discipline that people have mastered to see if they can be valuable to their business.

Everyone is great at something.

Great leaders are great at finding out what that something is.


Loyalty and gratitude is gained through believing in others.

Great leaders build powerful relationships by giving first-timers a chance when most other people don’t even stop to say hello.

Hiring managers can gain much by using the right tools and strategies to ensure that they don’t miss out on first-timer talent.

It can be the most valuable talent of all.

Would you hire a first-timer?

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