What makes a business development candidate stand out? It’s not always a prestigious school or ultra smarts. I’ve interviewed and hired many individuals for business development roles. While there are lots of people who are extremely experienced and who would do a great job, there are certain counterintuitive traits that make certain candidates stand out from the pack. If you keep your team intentionally small like I do, each hire matters a lot.
I think everyone should have a strong work ethic, experience, good communication and organizational skills, a huge network, and a great reputation. Over the years, I have tried to identify the X-factors that will make a business development manager exceed expectations. This list may not fit your style or situation, but perhaps it will give you an idea you can use to expand your perspective as a business development professional seeking employment. Or if you are hiring, you can use it to find differences between seemingly similar candidates.
1. Slightly Optimistic
While some might say that optimists see the glass as half full, and pessimists see it as half empty, my slightly optimistic friends would say, “Can I please have some more water?”
In business development, we are occasionally pleased but more often disappointed, and we have to keep moving on. As a business development professional, you can’t give up at the first, second or 10th sign of adversity -- even from your boss or the CEO. You should demonstrate that you can continue to imagine a world that is better, even when the data indicates otherwise. But at the same time, this should be tempered with the realism that comes from experience. As a hiring manager, when you meet people who can jump outside the choices you give them, see a better future and take action to make it happen -- they're who you want on your team. To identify these people, present a scenario to candidates that seems negative (i.e., a layoff or market drop), and ask them to discuss what opportunities such a situation could create.
2. Demonstrates Wisdom
Life is full of difficult tradeoffs; wisdom is understanding where to place the balance. To identify this, you can pose questions that force a business or financial trade off and see how a candidate handles it. Try something like, “Let’s say you have a new piece of technology. Should you open-source it or sell it as a product?” The easy answer is that it depends. You might discuss the tradeoff (gaining adoption versus monetization), the options and the factors leading to a decision. This is all great. But what is the recommendation? If you can’t get to a wise decision that elevates the decision in context, you may constantly be talking through dilemmas with this candidate. Business development professionals should understand how this technology fits with the moment in the industry, the strategy of the company and the customer's expectations, and then make a concrete recommendation.
3. On A Mission To Learn
Some people are on a mission to change the world; some are on a mission for themselves. Others are following whatever path unfolds in front of them. These are all reasonable approaches to life and work. But what makes someone stand out to me is their determined journey to learn. I am always pleasantly delighted to hear a story that goes something like, “I had no idea how this worked, so I spent the next two years doing that job, and then I got really curious about this other thing, so I started doing that on the weekends.”
It can be beneficial to work with people who have a sense of purpose and take the initiative to get smarter. They should know they don’t know everything (I know I certainly don’t) and be constantly working toward improving their understanding of the world and themselves.
4. Gambles On The Future
I spend a lot of time with my team in open conversations about what will happen in the future. While we don’t put “real money” on the line, we do discuss the chances of certain conditions presenting themselves in the future. For example, you can play strategy games, draw up maps, imagine various scenarios and try to put odds on them. Ask candidates and employees to look for ways they can hedge, diversify or otherwise manage risks in their actions. While I don’t specifically look for real-life poker stars (I’ve met a few), I do recommend looking for a mindset that is about playing the long game, placing strategic bets and understanding that uncertainty is a certainty.
5. Finds Connections Where None Exist
It may sound like a common trait of conspiracy theorists, but the ability to identify unexpected connections between events, people and topics is a key skill I cherish. Many times, the connection is imaginary, and this presents an opportunity: You can fill in the gap with a partnership, investment, collaboration or acquisition. Sometimes the connections employees see below the surface emerge later and open up doors we never expected. If they are too careful or unwilling to be wrong, they may never identify what’s really going on or what’s possible.
To identify this trait in a candidate, give them a scenario with two random events. Then ask the candidate to brainstorm connections between them, evaluate how real those connections are and determine how they might leverage them to create an opportunity.
In order to get an edge, you should seek out talent that has a mindset and skill set that will give you fresh energy and perspective. And if you’re thinking about growing your career in business development, you may want to consider how to go beyond the basics and really hone your counterintuitive skills and experiences.
While my list of unexpected traits may not match your next interview or what others are looking for, I hope this at least sparks some ideas for how you might stand out in this ultra-competitive technology job market.