Building a Solid Foundation

The importance of providing a good foundation for every action used to narrow down an applicant pool cannot be understated. This is a universal concern that applies to every hiring situation, be it one recruiter trying to fill a requisition or a large corporation setting up an enterprise-wide screening system. By “foundation” I mean a set of parameters that define performance at a given job. It is important to remember that any screening system is only as good as its foundation. It’s a no-brainer when you think about it: how can you ever hope to predict how well an applicant will do at a job without being sure what actually defines success at that job? Foundations are also critical because they are an absolute necessity for ensuring the legal defensibility of your screening process. This is because the litmus test for legal defensibility is the ability to demonstrate that all measures used to make decisions between applicants are based solely on job-related criteria. If you cannot demonstrate this link, then you’re asking for trouble when it comes to defending challenges by applicants who feel that they were not treated fairly during your hiring process. This article is the first in a two-part series focusing on providing practical information about building a solid foundation on which to base screening. This article provides some tips for building good foundations in the absence of any formal system to help one do so. Part 2 will cover broader, more systematic issues related to building foundations for screening systems and provide some tips for evaluating the foundation-building tools offered by screening vendors. The Problem I had some conversations at last month’s ER Expo that made me realize a few things. While a lot of folks out there may be reading about information on best practices, they often work in a situation that makes it hard for them to actually apply these practices. This is because the best practices that I often refer to are usually dealt with as part of major, system-wide decision-making processes. Unfortunately, this process often does not include the input of recruiters and hiring managers (which is upsetting because the input of end users is critical to the success of a system). The results of the best practices survey that I worked on with Kevin Wheeler and Global Learning Resources confirm that many organizations lack a systematic process for determining screening foundations. Specifically, our results indicated that in most situations, screening foundations are developed using either job descriptions or the input of hiring managers. While information from these sources is certainly important to the hiring process, it is often inadequate as a standalone tool for providing the type of information needed to create good screening foundations. Using only a job description and input from hiring managers as to develop screening criteria is kind of like using only a resume to make a hire. In each situation, more in-depth information is needed in order to make quality decisions. Failing to verify the information provided by job descriptions or hiring managers is dangerous, though, because information from these sources is often:

  • Not created using a formal, systematic process designed to help understand a job
  • Lacking thorough information about job requirements
  • Out of date
  • Not completely realistic
  • Lacking information about performance objectives/deliverables

The Solution: Good Detective Work The solution to building a good foundation on your own is to become a detective and go in search of the information you need to clearly understand a job. The goal of your detective work should be to develop a clear, in-depth understanding that defines success at the position, and to use this information to document and verify a list of requirements that will enable you to effectively screen applicants. The most basic forms of information on this list should include:

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  1. Basic job requirements. This includes basic application-type things such as: education, years of experience, relocation, amount of travel required, etc.
  2. Required knowledge. This includes things such as what computer programs one must know as well as any specialized areas of knowledge that are required. These are usually things that are directly learned as the result of job experience or classroom learning.
  3. Required skills. This includes things such as sales skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, decision-making skills, etc. Skills are not things that can be directly learned, but rather are things that are developed over time as a person’s career progresses.
  4. Required abilities. Abilities refer more to things that we are born with, such as manual dexterity, visual acuity, spatial perception, ability to think mathematically.
  5. Deliverables. These focus specifically on things that are make or break for a given job. This is the kind of information that is used on performance evaluations to set clear, objective goals that define job performance for the position in question.
  6. Work environment. Just because someone has all of the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do a job does not mean that they will be successful. Success also means compatibility with the environment in which the job takes place. Thus, it is important to figure out what demands the work environment will place on a worker. For instance, some people function best in a low structure environment, while others cannot perform in such an environment. Issues related to the work environment are a major factor in determining the “fit” between an person and a job.

On the surface, much of this information may resemble what is found on a job description. But the end result of your detective work will be a much clearer understanding of the job that will allow you to read between the lines of the job description. This process will also help to verify the accuracy of the information you have already been given about a job. Collecting Information While the exact methods of collecting information about a job may differ depending on the situation, there are several basic things that you can do to ensure that you are borrowing from the best practices playbook when you set out to learn about a job. The following sections provide an outline of four basic steps for collecting and verifying the information needed to build effective screening foundations. Step 1: Review existing information. It’s a good idea to begin your investigation process by reviewing all of the information you can find about the job. This includes things such as job descriptions and education/experience requirements. It’s also important to dig a bit more deeply by looking at materials such as training materials, performance evaluation forms, and competency profiles. A review of all of this information should allow you to begin creating a list of critical things in each of the six areas of information listed in the previous section. Step 2: Collect more information. The next major step in your investigation involves interviewing job incumbents and their supervisors in order to gather additional information. It is important to interview several people who do the job and their direct supervisors. If possible, try and interview persons in different locations so you can make sure to paint a picture that is consistent across the whole company. Your interview process should involve the following:

  • Reviewing job descriptions and hiring requirements
  • Reviewing the list you created in Step 1
  • Watching a person do the job if possible
  • Gathering “critical incidents” of job performance (critical incidents are actual examples of incidents that define both excellent and poor performance at a job)
  • Obtaining clear objective information about deliverables for this position
  • Gathering information about the work environment and what type of persons “fit” well with this environment

At the end of the interview process you should have the information you need to begin adding some detail to the list you made in Step 1. Step 3: Verify information. Once you have completed your interviews, it is time to begin taking a look at all of the information you have gathered in Step 2 and begin searching for trends. Try to look for things such as the consistency of information across incumbents and locations, major differences between how supervisors see the job and incumbents see the job, and the general level of accuracy of the information you gathered in Step 1. Once you have reviewed this information, it is important to verify it and to document this verification. This is best done using a quick survey. It does not have to be anything elaborate. I recommend making a survey that has a place to gather information about each of the six areas on your list by asking persons to rate the importance of items in each area using a 5-point rating scale ranging from 0 (“not at all important”) to 5 (“critical”). It’s also good to include a way for respondents to rank the information in each area in terms of its importance for the job. It is best to survey several people who are doing the job, as well as their supervisors. If possible try to get people whom you have not already interviewed. This will provide an additional check to help you make sure your information is accurate. Once the surveys are complete, take a look at the average ratings and you should begin to see some solid evidence that clearly describes the job and verifies the information you have been gathering so far in the process. By this time you should have a pretty clear picture of exactly what is required for successful job performance. Surveys are also good because they provide you with evidence that you can use to document the true requirements for the job. Documentation is always good when it comes to legal defensibility. Please note, though, that this short survey process does not offer the same legal protection as more in-depth job analysis process do. Step 4: Translate information into screening measures. Once you have verified the various things that define performance for the job in question, you have a foundation that you can use to help you with several layers of screening. For instance, the information you gathered should help you write very accurate text for job postings to your corporate site and job boards. Information about basic requirements can also be used to develop an initial coarse screen and more in-depth information can be used to evaluate resumes and create job-related interview questions. The particulars of how to develop screening measures are beyond the scope of this article, but the basic idea is that anything you use to screen candidates for the job should be the result of your detective work. Just remember, the goal is to keep each and every hiring decision based on job-related information. Conclusion Building a foundation using the techniques discussed in this article may not be the preferred “best practices.” But it can be a good start for recruiters who are working in systems that do not provide a foundation building process. The results of the process I discussed in this article sure beat using unverified, low-quality information to make important decisions. Building a good foundation also gives you the piece of mind that you are making decisions based on information that comes directly from people who are actually involved with the job you are hiring for. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, in which I will discuss the foundation-building process on a broader more strategic level.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.







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