Four Things You Can Do to Improve Candidate Quality

As I speak with clients who are looking back on last year, I hear many expressing dissatisfaction and concern. In many cases, they are dissatisfied with the quality of candidates they recruited; all of them wish to avoid the frenzied decision-making and haste to close on marginal candidates that characterized the period. While there is no way to quantitatively prove it, much of the poor performance American corporations have reported recently might be related to the quality of the people they hired. Unemployment is still at historically low levels, and the demographic projections still indicate a long-term swing toward a market driven by candidates rather than by organizations. I can guarantee that at some point in the near future you will once again be beating the bushes for good candidates and facing the “talent war” that seems to have subsided for now. One client told me that they have laid off almost half the people they recruited in 1999 and 2000 because of performance or cultural fit issues. There are many anecdotes floating around amongst recruiters about poor hires, and I am sure you can recall a personal experience in which a clearly bad hire was made because of time and availability pressures. This slower time is an excellent opportunity to take a look at your past hiring practices and make some changes. Here are a few practical things you can do right now to help reduce the number of poor quality hires that you make in the future. 1. Establish a definition of quality and use it to select people. Most organizations do not have any definition of a “quality employee,” nor do they even have a performance management system that is anything more than a popularity contest. While I could write a long column on the pros and cons of performance management philosophies, suffice it to say that before any performance can be assessed, the organization has to have a clear idea of what good or exceptional performance looks like. It needs to have longitudinal studies of its best performers so that a pattern of actions, competencies and skills can be established that are linked to success. These characteristics can then be used to select new people. This is the time to unravel the characteristics of the good performers ? those who were not laid off ? and begin to develop profiles by function of top performers’ skills and competencies that you can use for selection once things heat up again. But remember, this is not all cold science. There is still the need for the creative and unorthodox, from time to time, to keep the creative juices flowing and to unseat the status quo that can be damaging to new ideas and growth. What you should be striving for is not perfection, but improvement and the setting of some minimum selection criteria. 2. Educate hiring managers. Very few hiring managers know much about selection or what it takes to assess a candidate. Even though you may have put all the managers through some sort of interview training, it’s likely they have forgotten most of it and have used even less. Most of us aren’t that disciplined ourselves, so it’s hard to expect the typical manager to become an expert with these techniques. But one area where recruiters can add value beyond acting as clerks is to pre-screen and evaluate candidates against criteria that are objective and job related. Managers can help you determine what those criteria are and should be well aware of the consequences of using the criteria. Using them might mean that their “best” candidate is technically a poor candidate on attitude or fit, and should not be hired. Now that we all have more time, this is an excellent opportunity to hold some seminars and use case studies and examples from within your own organization to help managers understand how important it is to select people with the right skills and the right organizational fit and attitude. 3. Investigate and experiment with new tools for screening and selection. My firm has just completed a survey on how firms are using screening and assessment practices and tools. It is startlingly obvious that very few firms are taking advantage of the many online tools that are emerging to help companies screen candidates before they invest a large amount of time in interviews. By using the Internet and your corporate website, you can ask candidates to engage in a dialogue and mutual assessment process. While you are looking at their skills and fit, they can be looking at your organization and can make decisions on whether or not they like what they see. Many people I have spoken with have seen one side of an organization while interviewing, and another less attractive one after they are hired. There is still value in letting candidates email other employees for information about the company and work life. But there is a need for job previews and job descriptions that are based on reality, not what we wish were true. 4. Teach yourself. While the focus of the past two years has been on doing, the focus now is on learning and growing in your profession. Take time to pick up a new skill. Read a book or two on selection and assessment, take a seminar on the topic, or at least have some good conversations with vendors of other recruiters on what they are doing. It is as certain as the sun’s rising that we will be engaged in the battle for talent again very soon and those who have prepared themselves best will win. Make sure you are one of the winners!

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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, 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


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