4 Common Assumptions Challenged

There are a handful of beliefs within most professions that need to be examined from time to time for validity and accuracy. The medical profession believed for years that ulcers were caused by stress and certain foods. It took a modestly qualified medical researcher in Australia to prove that they were caused by bacteria and could be cured with antibiotics. He spent fruitless years trying to persuade highly qualified, educated, and experienced peers that they were wrong. He would never have been hired by any major university or hospital.

This is but one example of the many times we accept tradition for it face value. Far better to be a bit of a skeptic and question everything that seems to be common sense or that everyone believes.

Here I examine a few of the common beliefs that most recruiters hold.

Interviews Are Critical to Make a Good Hire

One of the greatest myths of all is that interviewing is the best way to assess people. Numerous vendors provide interview training and promise that if you conduct interviews well you will select people who will perform better and stay longer. If you conduct highly structured, well-thought-out interviews consistently and apply what you learn, research shows that this is the case. But in my many years of experience, I find that interviews are done well only very rarely and most of them are little more than chitchats.

As I have written many times, only a combination of assessment techniques will really work — and then not perfectly. Research has consistently shown that by combining skills testing along with assessing for cultural fit and motivation, success on the job can be improved over interviewing. These tools are also cheaper and faster than the normal interview process which takes way too much expensive time of both recruiters and hiring managers. They are also far more defensible and objective than interviewing, which even when it is well done, is a highly subjective process.

Innovative approaches include using simulations, gaming techniques, and video. All of these make serious candidates engagement more likely and will lead to better end results.

If I were to skip anything in the hiring process, it would be interviewing. I would give assessment tests based on careful research on the needed skills and competencies as well as on cultural fit. Once there is a final list, I would let the manager select based on his or her face-to-face assessment.

Finding People Who Fit Our Culture Is Critical

But it may also be just as cost effective to simply hire people after a cursory screen for skills, experience, and culture fit. We downplay our own intuition way too often. How many times have you felt that a candidate would not work out, but were persuaded by test results or interviews that they would be a good hire only to find out later that your gut was right? Or, conversely, rejected a candidate for one manager who later makes a big splash for another hiring manager?

It is possible to over assess and over analyze. I see this especially with younger and less experienced recruiters who perhaps overly rely on tools rather than to take a chance. Creativity and innovation occur frequently where you least expect it. Candidates who do not fit the mold, so to speak, may become the ones who have the breakthrough ideas or who shake up the normal way of thinking to refocus a project or stimulate some new ideas.

The Candidate Is Your Primary Customer

There is a strong recruiter belief that the candidate is your customer. While there is no doubt that it is very important to market and brand your organization and the job to the candidate and to maintain impeccable relations, candidates are not your most important customer.

The hiring manager has always been and remains the key to your success. Recruiters who are not aligned to their hiring manger’s needs are usually not successful for long. By aligning yourself with the hiring managers and making sure they get the types of candidates they are looking for in timeframes they accept, you will ensure your own ability to continue doing good recruiting.

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One manager I used to work with told me this: “I know what kind of person I need and I actually know several people that I’d love to hire. I am just not sure how to approach them. If you can get them interested and bring them in here, I’ll convince them to work for me.”

My job became simply a liaison — the go-between — and we were able to hire a number of great engineers as a team. I am sure you all have similar stories and experiences. When you are an ally and partner with a hiring manger, everything else seems to go smoothly. Your messages are clearer. Your assessment is more accurate. And your success is ensured.

Make sure your metrics, sourcing strategies, and selection tools are all acceptable to your hiring managers. Involve them and keep them informed at every level and you will get the budget and staff to recruit the best people. Branding and candidate relationships come second to this.

Technology Is Essential to Success

I love technology. Mr. Gadget is my middle name. But, you can successfully recruit with no technology at all. Any of us who began our careers in the B.C. era (Before Computers), are still comfortable with a manual system of filing, telephoning, and face-to-face conversation.

While I do not believe you should forego the tools we have, it is always good to focus on what is core: building relationships with hiring managers and candidates. Your first goals should be building networks, getting to know lots of people, and getting a brand in an area so people come to you. Known recruiters in an area are always successful because they can tap into a vast group of contacts and connections to find just what they need. The Internet and blindly sourcing in the dark may give you some results; they will never be as easy or as fun as those that come from your own networks.

Technology can aid that process and I do not advocate going back to paper and filing cabinets. I do recommend keeping a healthy perspective on what is important and never let technology get in the way of your core business of building relationships.

Always be a skeptic. Always question the common wisdom. Work out your own answers, march to your own drummer, and you will reap the benefits for a long time.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


19 Comments on “4 Common Assumptions Challenged

  1. Interesting points Kevin but I would go further and challenge the idea of Talent Pools: namely they are not as useful and do not offer the ROI as much as Recruiters like to claim they do.

  2. Overall, a good article and an interesting point of view. I can’t help but take exception, though, to the notion that you should rely on intuition, not data from valid assessments, and “go with your gut”. We should not lump “tests” and “interviews” together, either.

    Reams of research has shown the statistical (and financial) superiority of well-constructed, valid selection assessments, and research has also shown that we have selective memory when we do as the author suggests, and reflect on the successes and failures of our intuition–we’re simply much more likely to remember our successes!

    Being a skeptic is good advice…but, most of all, be skeptical of your “gut”!

  3. Great post Kevin. I really like your out-of-the-box viewpoint on these common recruiting practices. Novel idea about downplaying interviewing and emphasizing innovations like video and gaming. Have you ever incorporated either of these techniques into your recruiting strategy? I’m interested in learning more. And your closing remarks regarding technology — brilliant! You have to poke, test, and find the best technologies that complement your recruiting method. Thanks for posting.

  4. “Always be a skeptic. Always question the common wisdom. Work out your own answers, march to your own drummer, and you will reap the benefits for a long time.”

    There’s a term for someone who does this in a corporate setting: “UNEMPLOYED”. The GAFI Principles (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence) dominate most organizations, so unless you are very well-connected and/or an office politics genius, you should “put your mind on hold and do what you’re told” while making sure that what you do always makes your boss look good. Then you may be able to continue making your mortgage payments for awhile longer….


    Keith “Not Currently Unemployed” Halperin

  5. Good observations, Kevin. I took your comments and just asked why do these myths exist in perpetuity?

    Perhaps the underlying reason to these mythical mistakes is that very little “recruiting” actually takes place at corporations. Too many companies hire because there’s an immediate need or opening. Recruiting is usually done with a longer view. Top executives are recruited – just about everyone else is simply interviewed and hired.

    The myth all along has been that addressing individual components of hiring doesn’t even begin to touch the fact that hiring any individual without any consideration of her/his potential to develop over time in the organization isn’t recruitment.

    Colleges recruit athletes. Professional sports organizations recruit just a few stars on each team. Companies recruit executives and highly specialized professionals.

    No one likes these unspoken truths, but that doesn’t mean the truths don’t exist.

  6. I believe that interviews are a flawed process.

    In an interview decisions are subconsciously based on “do I like this person, can I work with them, will he/she make me look good etc”.

    So often selections are made in the first and last 30 seconds of meeting the candidate. The 60 minute interview is flawed because it is only as good as the candidates you get to meet.

    And then it is most often a hasty process managed by untrained people who do not have the training, tools, processes and systems to accurately evaluate cultural fit, team fit, maagerial response fit, work readiness / psychological fit, skills and technical fit.

    At least in sport a ‘talent scout’ is recognised, get rid of the HR gatekeepers with little life / work experience, and who block talented recruitment professionals and hide behind ‘supplier arrangements’ for an easy life and let real recruiting begin 🙂

  7. Hey Gregg! This post, unlike any I’ve read in a while, really made me look at some of the processes and assumptions that I’m currently working from as a recruiter. I was shocked by the statement “One of the greatest myths of all is that interviewing is the best way to assess people”. It almost seamed silly to me at first. But Kevin, you make some good points! Gaming, puzzles, job previews, and video quizzes engage the mind of a candidate in ways that an interview simply can’t. I’m still not sold on the fact that this strategy can replace an interview, but it can definitely help to broaden one’s recruiting strategy.

    On a separate note, I wildly disagree with Keith’s comment about how “you should ‘put your mind on hold and do what you’re told’”. If you work in an environment that breeds “greed, arrogance, fear, and ignorance/incompetence”, then you should either quit or make yourself indispensable to the company and then fight back! Keeping your head down just reinforces fear and exacerbates the problem. I’ll take my chances in the unemployment line! At least there I can think for myself.

  8. Greg, Simulations more accurately portray a job situation and allow a candidate to respond in a natural way. That response can be assessed against criteria already established as critical for that job. Used by the U.S. Military, Starbucks, and many other organizations. And to Ty’s point, they are much more fun and engaging than tests or interviews.

  9. H Kevin
    Thought provoking article as usual. However I have to ask if you know of better ways than an interview to assess cultural fit. As the culture you are trying to match is between the hiring manager and the candidate the whole organisations culture may not be ideal. After all we work for our manager and his/her team more directly than we work for the organisation as a whole. The culkture of a sales deprtment differs from that of an accounting department. I find knowing my clients culture and then personal interviewing is the only adequate way to identify this match. Any suggestions to the contrary?
    Peter from OZ

  10. Peter,

    There are many tests for cultural fit provided by firms such as SHL and others. Culture fit is not as easily assessed by individual hiring managers or recruiters as you might think. What generally get’s assessed is whether or not WE like the candidate, not so much whether he or she will fit into the firm well. People we like may not perform well and certainly may not work well for other managers. The best way to assess cultural fit is to create a standard test based on an assessment of your firm’s culture and compare candidates to that. You may still choose to hire someone who does not fit well, but whom you like, and that fine if you are willing to lvie with his/her potential failure down the road.

  11. @Kevin & Everybody:
    ISTM ratherstrangewthat there are no Generally Accepted Recruiting Principles on how to conduct the various stages of recruiting, or even how NOT to do them. I think it’s because there is too much money and too many high-level people invested in the way things are done/not done now.
    Who is willing to go up against a multi-millionaire founder/CEO/SVP and say: “Our hiring procedures based on your prejudices and misconceptions have wasted millions of dollars and thousand of man-years of time, and here are the figures that show it!” Not many I’ve heard of, and certainly not many here…

    Ty, I admire your moral courage. At the same time, I think there are many of us (myself included) who do not possess either the certainty of quick new lucrative employment and/or a very healthy cash reserve to risk being labelled: “a troublemaker, malcontent, whistleblower” (outside of here, of course), particularly when most people don’t really care very much unless it really adversely effects them.



  12. “Candidates who do not fit the mold, so to speak, may become the ones who have the breakthrough ideas”…anyone have any real-life examples of this? I would appreciate you sharing if you do….

  13. Jeff, There are thousands of small examples in every organization I have been part of. I once hired a minister with no credentials other than enthusiasm and a love of people. I went with my gut and was right. He became the architect of our entire career development program and helped us win several local awards. He would never have been hired through traditional means.

    I am sure readers have examples to share as well. And, although they were not “hired” in the normal sense of that word, people like Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and countless other entrepreneurs would also never get past normal screening out tools.

  14. Keith, I agree that in this economy many of us don’t have the luxury of standing our moral ground. Allow me to rephrase my earlier comment. I think that we must stay on guard against such debilitating organizational traits such as the one’s you mentioned earlier (fear, ignorance, etc.). However, short term, often times we just have to hunker down and do our job. We don’t have the luxury of pushing back. But long term, we have 3 options. Quit. Fight back. Or become part of that system, thus allowing our careers to be ruled by the very same principles we detest. I’m more afraid of the latter outcome.

  15. Hear, hear, Ty. I like to think that I haven’t completely knuckled under, and that my occasional pinpricks at the powerful, pompous, and foolish may at least create some awareness of various situations.

    Happy Friday Folks!

  16. I agree with the “like” factor issue Kevin, however at the end of the day people work closely together at work (and can be like a family!)I have seen many examples of where this works brilliantly and lots of examples of where people “not liking” each other creates barriers, disharmony and reduced perfromance. Perhaps “liking” is a more important criteria than we would like to believe or publicly acknowledge when we put on our scientific, logical, professional work hats!
    On a second note, my problem with SHL style culture surveys is that they rarely reflect the real micro culture of the actual day to day workplace candidates find themselves in.

  17. I tell hiring managers that they need to establish exactly two criteria for hireability:
    1) Can the person do the job (we want them to do) well?
    2) Do I “like” this person, i.e. do I feel comfortable working with theis person for an extended period of time?

    If the answer to both questions isn’t “yes”: don’t hire the candidate.

  18. Interesting reading to all who contributed to this thread! Kevin has done a great job in stirring the pot for many of the “conventional wisdoms” in employment. He takes us back to the pre computer age for comparison, but for average Americans – how many just a few years ago commented on blog posts, communicated with acquaintances from college, globally competed with a role playing game (there are 300M Rune Scapers), or found their way using a phone GPS. Every one of these we now take for granted – and most would have people howling that it would never come true just a few years earlier…

    What would all of you say if you were told that Job Ads, Resumes, Pre-Screens and Interviews would all be replaced by 2013? Could you fathom it? Would you attack the person saying it as a lunatic? Would you fight against it happening? Hmmm…(I sense a Nietzsche moment!)

    IMO much of how we do our jobs is inefficient and doesn’t provide much value to our customers. Why is it that recruiting in all but the most forward thinking companies is relegated to the bottom of the heap – when it should be the MOST important? Don’t you think we can do better?

    I recently was at a networking event where I struck up a conversation with a 30 something person who was casually entering the job market to test the waters. She told me that it was almost kind of silly – almost embarrassing – to put together a resume when much of what she was about was available online to anyone… She was right to feel that way. People are searching for a better way and these people are becoming our HM’s! We need to keep our minds open to what’s possible and what’s coming next!

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