When preparing soups helps hiring people


I can’t find anyone to fill this position on my team.” What are you trying to attract the best (possible) candidate with? A job ad that feels like a minestrone or a carrot soup? Here’s how a few cooking principles can help you increase your hiring process’ chances of success.


A few weeks ago I received a call from an ex boss of mine. He wanted some advice on a hiring issue he had. At some point I asked, what role would this new person play on your team? “Well… I’d like this person to be responsible for hiring people, training them and also… ensuring, afterward, that their work meets the quality and performance targets the company has set. All of that at the same time.”

This desire to “have it all, at once, in the same thing or person” has its equivalent in the cooking world; the minestrone soup. Origins of the famous Italian food are unclear. What History has taught us, though, is that a minestrone is generally made of mismatched ingredients, in terms of flavors. Bits and pieces of vegetables, noodles and meat that you couldn’t (or didn’t want to) figure out a better way to get the most of, except than in a mishmash.

Another key feature of any traditional minestrone is that it usually ends up having no distinctive taste or “gustative identity”. Because every ingredient loses its specific flavor (or sees it fade) in the cooking process. Opposite of what happens in a carrot soup. Where ingredients are precisely picked and put together because they’re known to blend well with one another. Not at the expense of the soup’s core; carrots. There is no core (or main) ingredient in a minestrone.

That is why adding ground pepper, Parmesan cheese, or even fresh basil comes handy, when eating a bowl of minestrone. So, at least, one clear flavor comes to surface.


Such absence of focus or core ingredient can be found in many job descriptions as well.

For instance, when one reads “Open position for a junior accountant” and goes on to requiring “3-5 years of prior-experiences in handling receivable accounts”, it raises a few questions. What is this company really looking for? Hiring a junior accountant or a mid-level one? Whose attention are they after? It’s not clear.

Why? Mostly because what has been put together in the description usually doesn’t work or blend well with one another; a junior level “job title” with a “mid-level” experience requirement. The same can be said about unrelated set of responsibilities that are combined. Like telling a Finance director “From now on, you’ll also run the new Customer Service department” when there’s already a director of Sales in the management team.

It doesn’t mean that certain roles and responsibilities can’t be combined. Only means that adopting a “minestrone approach”, when pairing roles and responsibilities, can create more problems than provide solutions to an issue your team is struggling with. The first of those problems? Creating confusion in an employee’s or a candidate’s mind about “What role exactly am I to play? What will my work be really about?


Why managers and companies end up using the “minestrone approach”, when hiring? Because they’re not able to clearly say “Here’s the main problem this position helps (or will help) us solve.”

When I asked my ex boss what problem made him want the most to hire someone new, he couldn’t answer.

It’s tempting then to do what he did; put every problem (ingredient) at hand in the same pot, and hope that it will make a mouth-watering and tasty soup (job description). Enough for someone to say “I’ll have that”. Why is it tempting? Because it’s the easy way. It saves time, it saves money. Or does it?

The cost of such ambiguity (in a hiring process) often turns out to be higher than the expected savings. First, financially. As the more “unique” the experience profile or skills sets you’re looking for is, the higher the expected salary to be paid tends to be. Opposite to hiring someone with a more “common”, easier to find profile. It’s a matter of offer and demand. Then, if the person hired has to split her time and efforts between two or more roles, it also tends to slow down the resolution process of any problem. Because a person who fully commits in doing one thing always achieves more than one who can only spend half the time doing that same thing. Pure logic. These extra delays (for solving problems) add up to the financial costs too. That’s without considering the human cost. One of actually seeing employees leave the team, after a while. Because many things get “temporarily patched” or “halfly done” but nothing really gets fully solved or improved, depending.


Is it possible then to craft a job description that won’t feel as ambiguous as a minestrone? Something more like a carrot soup? Sure.

How? Clearly identify the problems you or your team are struggling with. Set them by priority. Pick the top one, and make it the “core ingredient” of a position.

Trying to know more about my ex boss’ situation, there were three (3) problems his team was struggling with: 1) Having to outsource some of the company’s work, at specific times during the year, because the telemarketing team was chronically short staffed, 2) Losing too many sales because reps have openly said “We don’t know how to use the sales tools we were provided with”, and 3) Having a director of sales who’s very good at getting the best out of the performances tracking system but not of his team. Even less of the reps that struggle the most to “meet their weekly goals”.

Each problem offering something very valuable to any job seeker: clarity on what her work would be about. Let it be someone who’s interested in finding work in recruiting, corporate training or team management.

Put in perspective, soups that have a very distinctive flavor or identity might not please every palate. Think of the tomato, carrot or fish soups, for instance. Do they need to appeal to everyone? No. The same for a type of work.

Who you need to appeal to is the right group of people. Those for whom helping to solve that one problem you have identified… and put front and center in your ad… will resonate with. Because they know what not being able to solve such problem… as not knowing how to do certain work or use a certain tools… can have, as a consequence. Either on someone or a team.

Those who succeed at growing their team (and business) know how clarity is important. Because what’s better than that to get the best-person-for-a-job’s attention? Surely not ambiguity.

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Photo credits: rusvaplauke