Amy Weeden | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Amy Weeden


Propeller is a business management consultancy with an office in San Francisco. The company’s goal is to help clients provide simpler, more efficient solutions to their customers’ challenges.

The Mistake:

My mistake was overemphasizing experience and underemphasizing an applicant’s potential when making a hire.

Before my business partner and I started Propeller, I worked for a boutique consulting company. At the time, we had a candidate who went to a great school—Yale—and had a really amazing resume in terms of the type of work she did and the projects that she had led. On paper, she was amazing. But we found out there was a disconnect between the resume and how that person actually performed.

This person was asked to do a specific deliverable that someone with her background and experience should have been able to knock out of the park easily.

When I saw the draft of the deliverable that was intended to go to the client, it was a big eye-opener for me.

It was a change management strategy report for a utility company. The deliverable is supposed to spell out a strategy and detail how that strategy is going to work. It was a big deal. 

So, the day before we were supposed to meet the client and present the report, this person sent me a first draft. I looked at it and said, “Oh, no!”

Consultants are here to move things forward and offer a point of view to help our clients. Instead, the deliverable just parroted back what we had heard and didn’t really move things forward.

I realized that I needed to come in on the project at that point. It took me a good six to seven hours to bring it up to our standards, where normally it would have taken me 30 minutes to review.

You have to test people’s experience to determine their potential. You can’t just go with what they put on paper.

The Lesson:

The lesson I learned is that when you make a hire, the resume often is just not enough to figure out if a person is a good fit for your organization.

Sometimes people who come in with high-caliber resumes often act like they have more to prove. And to support them, you try to help them prove themselves and make sure they’re putting their best foot forward. Because of this, they often become more high-maintenance employees.

I realized that even though this person had a great resume and a lot of great experience, it took a lot of energy out of me to help that person be successful. Eventually, it came to a point when the effort of trying to help someone be successful was too much of a drain on my time and energy. So, we decided to cut cords after about nine months.

At Propeller, we’ve built a very robust recruiting effort in which we evaluate folks in a multi-dimensional way. We still look at the resume, but we now try to create environments where people can demonstrate their problem-solving ability and their attitude by working with real-life examples.

We give candidates mini problems to solve off the fly and we bring them in to do a half-day business case interview, where we give them a generic problem. We role-play as clients and ask questions and challenge them. We do this so we can see whether someone who has change-management listed on their resume can really apply the concept to a situation.

That’s been a core tenet of Propeller. We look at someone and we say, “You’ve done these things and we’ve looked at your career, but what are you capable of? Let’s have a conversation about that—rather than about what you’ve done in the past.”

I learned the lesson that you have to test people’s experience to determine their potential. You can’t just go with what they put on paper.

Follow Propeller on Twitter @propeller_team.


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