Hiring a Gatekeeper vs. a Gatepusher

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We have all been through countless job interviews in our lives when we are told after the interview that we are not suitable for the advertised role as we don’t have all the experience needed to perform the role. This is if you are lucky to have made it to an interview in the first place. I recently read an article by Ajay Bhatia, CIO of carsales.com.au, the leading online marketplace in Australia for trading cars, which inspired me to finally write this piece I have been wanting to put together for a while.

I think Ajay has taken a bold step by coming out and openly sharing how companies lose out on top talent because of their narrow and outdated perspective on how to identify the best talent for a role. My observation is that hiring managers and recruiters fail to make the distinction between a gatekeeper and a gatepusher.

A gatekeeper role is one where, irrespective of the industry, business area and seniority, the incumbent is primarily required to maintain the status quo, and when the status quo must change because of internal or external market factors, to ensure that the changes conform to the highest organizational, professional and industry sector-specific quality and performance standards.

A gatepusher role is one where, again irrespective of industry, business area and seniority, the incumbent is required to continuously challenge the current status quo through new ideas and innovative thinking. Companies are afraid to hire gatepushers because the companies often don’t go through the holistic thought process to distinguish between a good samaritan and a black-hooded hipster.

Typically when organizations hire for sales- and marketing-oriented roles, they look for gatepushers, whereas for all operational, technology and finance roles, they look for gatekeepers. But I think this guiding philosophy is still based on how the world used to be in 1980s and hence is not just outdated but is costing companies in indirect ways which they don’t measure. The old maxim said, “Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish”. Lost in the latest management and strategic jargon of the time, companies continue to ignore some of the best and everlasting wisdom that came before the advent of the management philosophies of the eighties and thenceforth.

I believe that in today’s world, there are many organizational roles beyond sales and marketing which need the incumbent to play the role of both gatekeeper and gatepusher at different times. Because companies tend to hire mostly with gatekeeping as the main objective and they succeed in doing so because of their “hire to fit-within-the-box” philosophy, they struggle to be agile and respond proactively when faced with rapid changes in the industry or the world in general, not to mention the hidden cost of not implementing new ideas and innovation which come from gatepushers.

If you believe you have lost out on opportunities where you were well-suited to take on a bigger challenge but were denied the role, I would urge you to share this insight with friends, colleagues, recruiters and hiring managers in your workplace. If you are attending an interview shortly, don’t shy away from describing to the recruiter how you can be a gatepusher and not just a gatekeeper. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step. We all need to take steps to talk about this or we will continue to suffer personally and as a community, and will witness the silent death of human innovative aspirations at the workplace as many brilliant ideas deep in your mind will never see the light of day.

Thank you!

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