More Than Your Office Fantasy Pool: How The NFL Draft Relates to Your Next Hire

May 9th 2014

Have you ever noticed NFL analysts talk about drafting the same way hiring managers talk about hiring? Let’s look at the parallels between hiring a new employee and drafting for an NFL franchise’s future.

What do Johnny Manziel and your next hire have in common? Seeing as they will both be assessed by various metrics and picked based on a specific selection strategy, probably more than you think. As the resident Adpearance Sports Nerd, I’ll break down the similarities between hiring a new employee and drafting an NFL rookie.

First of all, in both the hiring and drafting process, candidates are evaluated and compared in various ways. A job applicant is judged on their resume, cover letter, LinkedIn account, interview, test assignment, etc. In a similar fashion, NFL teams grade potential draft picks based on their college career, game film, combine and pro day performances, and interviews.

Unfortunately, all of these tests are conducted in a vacuum, rendering them unreliable at best. From the interviewee who wowed the hiring managers with a polished resume and stellar interview to the first round draft pick who shot up the board with a blistering 40 yard dash time and a ton of ESPN hype, everyone has been duped by vacuum results once or twice. Remember this guy?

Former first round pick, JaMarcus Russell, failed to make the grade in the NFL despite showing well in the draft lead up.

To help eliminate vacuum results and determine the best candidate for your team, there are three prevailing selection strategies for an organization analyzing new hires or star players: Fit a Need, Best Available, and Specific Skillset.

Fit a Need

At first glance, this is the most obvious strategy for employers. If an organization is in the market for a new acquisition, there is clearly a need that needs to be filled. The strategy is exactly as the name says; select the candidate who fits the current needs of the organization. For example, a company hiring for the marketing team will hire someone with marketing experience or a relevant degree, while the team without a running back will draft a collegiate running back.

By filling a need directly, internal pieces can fit together much easier. However, this is an incredibly idealistic strategy that can fail to translate effectively into reality, because it often narrows the talent pool too far. By only looking for candidates who can exactly fit a specific need, organizations can miss additional ways to improve through hiring or drafting candidates who are strong in other ways.

Best Available

This strategy is often employed by teams further down the draft, because talent may be restricted. Essentially, an organization or team looks at the available applicants or players, and selects the most talented individual from the pool.

In an office setting, this strategy can be very effective if used correctly. For example, Adpearance has made a habit of hiring the brightest candidates and fitting their obvious abilities into roles and responsibilities within the company. Likewise, there have been numerous cases of NFL franchises achieving success from drafting like this, such as the Green Bay Packers drafting Aaron Rodgers while still having future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre at quarterback. Since that decision, the Packers have gone on to be one of the most successful NFL teams in the past five years, winning the Super Bowl in 2010.

Specific Skillset

For organizations that require very specific skills, choosing a candidate based on one or two skills makes sense. For example, a website development company that works specifically with ExpressionEngine would hone in on applicants’ skills with the CMS.

Exactness is a double edged sword, though. By only focusing on a handful of qualities, organizations can miss other candidates or fail to notice red flags for those who excel in their specific skillset. For example, the Oakland Raiders were notorious for always drafting the player with the fastest 40 yard dash time, because late owner Al Davis valued speed above anything else in football. While the Raiders fielded some electric teams in previous decades, their recent draft choices have failed to impress because they do not have additional skills to complement their quickness. For a company with various competencies and needs, similar to an NFL team, this can be a particular dangerous hiring strategy.

In the end, your company’s hunt for a new marketing specialist may be surprisingly similar to Houston Texans’ decision on their first overall pick, and it’s up to you which strategy to employ to choose the best candidate for your team.

So, how do you account for the “vacuum results” that affect hiring? What is your preferred hiring strategy?


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