Can you get the lid off the pickle jar?

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Very early on in my career I was involved in running a graduate assessment centre for a large PLC. It was the first time I had been involved in the process and, as I ploughed through a pile of CV’s from candidates with first class honours degrees, A* exam passes and Duke of Edinburgh Gold awards as standard, I had to admit to feeling somewhat inadequate in my own achievements. “Wow, these guys are good” I commented to the HR Director as we finalised the shortlist.

He replied with a comment that resonates to this day. “It’s no good being able to work out the square root of a pickled onion if you can’t get the lid off the jar!” he quipped. Over the years I have come to understand exactly what he meant. Academic brilliance is a gift that some are blessed with, and it will always be attractive to employers. However without common sense it quickly loses its value in the workplace. The ability to judge people and situations, plan and organise effectively and seek external support when needed are all qualities that in leadership roles are of equal, if not more, importance than technical ability.

This remains true whether recruiting at the graduate or level or for Executive hires. The ‘best’ candidates in terms of adding value to a business may not be those with the highest IQ. Intellectual agility is important, and is also fairly easy to test/demonstrate. Common sense on the other hand is something of an oxymoron since it is, unfortunately, not that common at all. As recruiters, or as candidates we must never under estimate the importance of basic skills and behaviours in terms of successful performance.