Difficult Hiring Equals Lower Turnover?

A few days ago, I read a Q & A article that frosted my pumpkin (and I have a big pumpkin)! It went something like this (paraphrased): Unbelievable question: How could we establish a selection policy and practice that makes it extremely difficult to be hired and thereby reduce high staff turnover? More unbelievable answer: Congratulations on being a highly selective employer! Do a phone screen interview; have applicant’s write an essay; lecture the applicant about your selectivity; look for “good attitude” and good communication skills; authorize a background check, a reference check, and a behavioral and integrity test; conduct a drug test and health records check; do a group interview and observe applicant behavior; give applicants problem solving tests; evaluate applicant leadership; conduct a peer behavioral interview; and interview the spouse. This process will send a very strong message that applicants have to be good to work for your company. Sorry, folks. This is pure nonsense. First, “difficult hiring” is seldom the solution to turnover. Second, the only strong message this kind of selection process will send to applicants is that the company is clueless. Reduce Turnover Question? Common sense tells us we cannot reduce turnover until we know its cause. Is it bad leadership, poor salary, lack of training, insufficient skills, bad working conditions, economic factors, a poor benefits packages? I am sure the reader can add a few more, but hiring good people and expecting them to work under bad conditions will only Increase turnover. Any organization desiring to reduce turnover needs to understand the cause first. This is a silly question, and silly questions have silly answers. Highly Silly Employer Answer? After ó and only after ó the employer has discovered the root cause of turnover can they decide upon a solution. If the hiring organization can track turnover to a lack of employee skills and motivations, then they should 1) identify which competencies are critical and which are not, 2) find tools that will measure each competency, and 3) validate each tool (i.e., be sure it works). Everything else is silly. Point by Point Let’s take a look at the “unbelievable answer” from above point by point:

  • “Do a phone screen interview.” If you do not know what you are looking for, any interview question will do. Empty nonsense!
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  • “Have applicants write an essay.” Why? Is essay writing a part of the job? What topic? Is there a uniform scoring guide?
  • “Tell the applicant about your selectivity.” I am sure he or she will be impressed by your difficult, yet obscure, hiring methodology.
  • “Look for ‘good attitude’ and good communication skills.” So, tell me, who hires applicants with a visibly bad attitude or poor communication skills?
  • “Authorize a background check.” About what? On what authority? What does this have to do with the job?
  • “Reference check.” About what? On what authority? What does this have to do with the job?
  • “Give a behavioral and integrity test.” Is this part of the job? Behavioral and integrity tests are against the law in many states. What does this kind of test look like?
  • “Conduct a drug test and health records check.” Too bad this person has probably never read the provisions of the ADA.
  • “Do a group interview and observe applicant behavior.” What questions should be asked? What should they observe? Is there a uniform scoring guide? What is job related and what is not?
  • “Give applicants problem solving tests.” Why? What kind of problems? Tests? Cases? Ability? Will there be adverse impact?
  • “Evaluate applicant leadership.” Why? Is every employee supposed to be a leader? Who will follow? Is it a job requirement?
  • “Conduct a peer behavioral interview.” About what? What competencies should be investigated?
  • “Interview the spouse.” About what? Is he/she going to be hired?

The “expert” who wrote this spate of hiring “wisdom” has no professional credentials or training in this field. His published qualifications include being a certified public speaker, a membership in a management consulting organization, and an honorary certificate in another. We have to stamp out this kind of hiring nonsense. Do not listen to it. Do not follow it. Do not publish it. We have enough problems gaining credibility. Let’s not make it any worse!


9 Comments on “Difficult Hiring Equals Lower Turnover?

  1. I thought the article by Dr. Williams on using multiple steps in the hiring process to drive retention was one sided. I kept reading the review of many things we do in hopes of him offering at least ONE recommendation and I urge you to ask him to do a ‘part two.’ I believe that we are on the same page on a few things, but I had to gather that from his bio. To sit on the sidelines and criticize what others are doing (and we do some, but not all of what was specifically mentioned) offers me nothing. I appreciate the professional opinion and the zealous writing, but I would trust it more if it came from a peer instead of someone I suspect is aiming to validate his firm’s offerings to managers like me. Again, let him finish the argument.

    The bottom line, I guess is that there is no ‘silver bullet’ or can’t miss procedure. I strongly agree with Dr. Williams that we need to know why voluntary turnover is occuring and in many cases it has little or nothing to do with recruiting. What we do in corporate recruiting is mission critical and increasingly difficult with pressure from all sides (executives, hiring managers, candidates, referral sources, etc.).

    To share, I believe (a) that hiring mistakes can be avoided in the hiring process, (b) that hiring the right people for your company increases the likelihood of longer retention IF you scrutinize character, competency and chemistry (fit), and (c) that recruiters and recruiting leaders should be measured on new hire retention for a fair and consistent amount of time (1 year for us) similar to search firms. I am not a big advocate of phone or face-to-face interviews, unless they are structured and consistently delivered. I rarely meet people that I don’t like or lack vision for, so informal interviews are over-rated. I do beleive in job-specific competency testing and workstyle preference assessments with validated tools that do not have adverse impact.

    I believe that patience and resilience in asking candidates to endure a longer and more thorough process is sometimes necessary to find the best candidates who very much desire to work for and stay at our company. I see it this way…are the best schools more or less difficult to get into? Are terrific investments easy or difficult to find? What about finding a spouse or life partner? I believe that accomplishing anything of great value is usually complex, takes hard work and a deep commitment to excellence. Frankly, I have experienced most companies more eager to fill seats fast (Time to Fill) and cheap (Cost per Hire) than to increase their Quality of Hire….which in my book equals productivity and retention.

    Thanks for the chance to share.

  2. Hello, Alan.

    You pose a great question. Unfortunately, the answer is too long and involved for this space.

    I’m not trying to hold anything back from readers, but this field is so deep that over 225 universities offer graduate courses in it. Furthermore, after graduation, it takes several years and hundreds of hands-on applications to really learn what one is doing.

    If you want to become familiar with the basics, I suggest at least reading what every recruiter should know about hiring:

    If you find those sites interesting, then next read some good college textbooks on:

    >Personnnel psychology (good overview of the field)
    >Job analysis (ways and means of doing them)
    >Psychometrics (how to develop tests that work)
    >Statistical design (how to use analysis tools)
    >EEOC legal issues (staying out of court)
    >Assessment and design (putting everything together in a multi-trait-multi-method design)

    On the other hand, you could always hire an experienced consultant to do the ‘heavy work’ for you.



  3. While this article contains some sage advice, the statement that behavioral and integrity tests are against the law in many states is inaccurate. In reality, there are only two states that have enacted statutory restrictions on integrity tests. In Massachusetts such instruments cannot be administered, while in Rhode Island written integrity tests cannot be the primary basis for an employment decision.

    Additionally the article implies that drug testing and the use of health records are problematic under the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’). In reality, the ADA does not prohibit, require or encourage drug testing. However, this law does not control when a drug test may be administered and it allows an employer not to hire an applicant whose test results indicate the illegal use of drugs–current users of illegal drugs do not fall within the ADA’s definition of a disability.

    As for health records, the ADA requires that such information be requested only after a conditional offer of employment has been tendered. While the requested information does not have to be job-related and consistent with business necessity, if a disabled applicant is not hired on the basis of health information, the basis for their rejection must be job-related and consistent with business necessity–while taking into consideration the issue of reasonable accommodation. As an aside, in California the Fair Employment and Housing Act narrows the scope of such questioning insofar as employers can only make post offer health-based inquiries that are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

  4. I believe this sort of material is created because too many people think they are experts and the more nonsense they add to the process the better they think it makes them look.

    Hiring is all about decision making and it seems that people do not want to be the ones that are responsible for the final decision. Therefore, as in this instance, they complicate the process so much that the decision to hire sits with the process rather than the individual.

    I agree with the comments that we should not listen to it, follow it, promote it or publish it to make it worse. Surely the best way to do this is to ignore it, rather than promote it and publish it in this forum.

  5. An interesting opinion, Anthony.

    Are you familiar with the Uniform Guidelines and the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing? They govern best practices in this field..

    Do you know of a better way to make decisions, than to learn as much as one can about the candidate BEFORE hiring?

    There are too many people in this field who don’t know what they don’t know.

  6. Thanks for the clarity. We can use your legal acumen in the columns. Have you considered becoming a regular contributor?

    I never offer legal advice. I do however, provide advice to: 1) be wary of vendor claims; 2) follow the Guidelines; 3) adhere to the Standards; 4)stamp-out wrong-headed hiring practices; and 5) read a good book or two on personnel psychology.

    Some clarfications on my part…. I believe drug testing, health records ADA issues, and the like, are problematic mainly because so many organizations know so little about them. For example, ADA interpretations are still evolving and (in my expereince)are seldom positioned after the a conditional job offer.

    We agree that ‘many states’ and ‘two states’ might be a semantic point. Whatever the state, qualified legal counsel should be sought. Whenever I engage a client, I always request their attorneys attend our meetings…some even ask for a copy of the Guidelines.

  7. One more thought…just exactly what part of my recommendations do you think are nonsense and why do you think I am not technically qualified to offer an expert opinion?

  8. Dr Williams, I am agreeing with ‘your’ comments that you made in your article. My nonsense comment was aimed at the original suggestions.

    I would not suggest that you are not technically qualified to offer an expert opinion. Again I was not refering to you but the person who made the original suggestions.

    My point was to agree with you but for you to even give it space is publishing it and promoting it, which was your advice to everyone not to do.

    There are too many people in this field who don’t know what they don’t know?

    I’m afraid we all don’t know what we don’t know. The real problem is people that think they know …..but don’t.

    Finally you asked me if I know of a better way to make decisions, than to learn as much as one can about the candidate BEFORE hiring?

    I think this is for another forum which I would be delighted to explore with you if of interest.

  9. Sorry, Anthony…Apologies for misunderstanding your message…It seems we are both in agreement.


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