Get Out of the Clouds

My ongoing Recruiting and Hiring Challenges 2005 Survey is continuing to reveal some startling information, such as:

  • 81% of respondents indicated that their recruiters have a good or excellent understanding of real job needs.
  • 74% of these same respondents indicate that their biggest hiring challenge is finding enough top people.

That 81% is a huge number ó but when you look below the surface, it’s completely untrue. In fact, I’m going to contend that the belief that recruiters know real job needs is the primary reason why these same people are not finding enough top candidates. Furthermore, I’ll prove it in this article. To start finding more top people immediately, recruiters will need to do two things:

  1. Stop believing they understand real job real needs, and be big enough to admit they don’t.
  2. Figure out how to truly understand real job needs.

Quite frankly, Step 1 is the hardest part of this two-stepper. Ego is involved here, and anyone with more than a few years experience isn’t going to easily admit they’ve been doing something wrong. So, to pull this part off, recruiting managers will need to take the lead here. However, if you keep an open mind, I will personally guarantee that you’ll be a better recruiter if you conduct the few experiments proposed during this article. First, let me make a few points about why I don’t believe corporate recruiters understand real job needs.

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  1. The #1 reason why new hires under-perform is lack of clarification regarding real job needs. Check out First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently for the research on this. For more personal proof, just ask all of the candidates you’ve placed in the last six months if the job they are actually doing is the same as the one they thought they signed up for. Then ask how satisfied they are with the job. You’ll discover that their personal satisfaction correlates very highly with how closely the promised job aligns with the actual job.
  2. Managers don’t understand real job needs, either. From what I’ve seen, most managers aren’t too sure about what the real job is ó so they give some generic job description to their recruiters that describes the person more than the job. During the last six months alone I’ve personally worked with over 200 hiring managers, defining real job needs for a variety of different staff and management positions in sales, operations, consulting, marketing, and engineering. Only a handful really understood the real job needs, although everyone involved said they did. (See point 4 below for a little experiment you can try out to prove this.)
  3. Not enough time is spent discussing it. In the hustle and bustle of too many requisitions to fill and too little time and not enough candidates, few recruiters spend any time at all with their hiring manager clients to truly understand real job needs. As a result, there is an assumption that both parties understand the job. If you have ever experienced changing job descriptions or “moving job spec syndrome” during a search, you have firsthand awareness of this underlying problem. It could have been prevented if the recruiter demanded that the hiring manager spend the time needed to discuss real job needs before starting the search. This is how ego can get in the way when the recruiter is embarrassed or afraid to do this.
  4. Most interviewers see the same job differently. If members of the hiring team have different expectations of the candidate’s real role in the new job, it’s because they all have a different understanding of real job needs. The result is that they judge candidates differently, and they need to see more candidates than necessary. Usually the one selected is a compromise candidate. To prevent this multi-opinion problem, the recruiter needs to be the catalyst to make sure that everyone on the hiring team understands real job needs before they’re allowed to assess candidate competency. If not, you’re leaving the validation of your hard work up to people who are using a variety of dissimilar measurement systems. Here’s a little experiment you can try out to prove this. Just ask each member of the interviewing team to describe the one of two most important things the person in the job actually needs to do to be considered successful. Don’t be too surprised if they all come up with different things.

Now let me defend recruiters, hiring managers, and all of the other members of the hiring team, by describing why they all believe they understand real job needs. When a job is described at 20,000 feet, it’s easy to agree to the specifications. At 20,000 feet a job description can consist of general responsibilities, a few skills required, and a list of personal traits and competencies. However, this cloud-like description isn’t the real job. A 20,000-foot job description isn’t good enough when your new employee is working at zero feet. The devil is in the details here. If you want to hire people who are both competent and motivated to do the work you want done, you must first define the real work you want done. A great software developer won’t work overtime to write maintenance code, yet the same person might go 24/7 on a critical high visibility project. At 20,000 feet, writing maintenance code can appear the same as a critical project when written as “3+ years of Java experience and J2EE Technology.” A great sales rep who has earned his stripes farming an established market might not be so great if he has to prospect for leads all day in virgin territory. At 20,000 feet, hunting and prospecting and farming and cold calling can all be wrapped up in the phrase “Sell widgets to Fortune 1000 accounts.” So if you want to start finding and hiring more top candidates, begin defining jobs at zero feet. To obtain a zero-feet description, ask hiring managers what the people in the job will actually be doing every day. Then ask them what the best do every day that makes them better than the rest. Then ask them to tell you what the worst people do or don’t do every day that puts them in the bottom half that makes the top half possible. Then review the traditional job description and convert each skill, competency, behavior and experience requirement into a real, measurable task by asking, “What will the person actually be doing with those five years of experience in whatever?” These are the kind of answers you’ll get when you’re done:

  • Prepare a comprehensive territory plan within the first month
  • Reduce the time to do something by some amount
  • Answer customer complaints effectively 8 hours a day with perfect attendance
  • Design new code on schedule that works with minimal debugging
  • Make every patient feel important, especially those that aren’t
  • Meet each team member the first week and assess their competency
  • Turn around the division (department, function) during the first year
  • Lead the implementation of something
  • Eliminate the bottleneck somewhere
  • Evaluate and improve a process or procedure within some time frame

This is the real stuff that real people do at zero feet. When it’s completed, ask your hiring manager client if he or she would meet people who can do this work exceptionally well ó even if they have less skills or experience than desired initially. Don’t be surprised when they say yes. This is how you shift the selection criteria from skills and experience to performance and results, and the first step in getting out of the clouds. Then, with this list of tasks, activities, and projects, get everybody on the hiring team to put them into priority order. Once agreed upon, assign each team member one or two of these tasks and have them use the interview to determine if the candidate is both competent and motivated to do this work. During the interview, tell candidates what will be expected of them and then have them provide very detailed and multiple examples of similar work they’ve done. The key to successful interviewing is to make sure the candidates provides answers at zero feet ó providing lots of specific examples. Do not accept 20,000-foot generalizations. You’ll discover that the best people are those who can demonstrate a consistent pattern of being highly motivated and successful doing similar work. Of course, don’t be too surprised if the people taking these jobs are excited about doing it when they then get on the job. If you want to attract more top people, start describing these zero feet challenges in your job descriptions. Make the ads exciting, and tie some of the projects to your major company initiatives. This is called job branding, and it’s been shown to be even more effective at attracting top people than employer branding. If you have both and can capture this in your messaging, you’ll have more than enough top people to choose from by next week. So if you want to find and hire more top people, start by getting out the clouds.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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