How Many Flats Tires Does Your Hiring Process Have?

More often than not, even professional interviewers don’t have a solid track record of good placements (good = placing people who are consistently rated in the top 20% of performers). Those recruiters who do claim a high degree of placement success often owe much of the credit to working from a rolodex filled with successful past placements. I believe that most recruiters really want to do a good job, but simply don’t know how. For example, consider this sample of common questions recruiters ask:

  • Where can I get a list of good interview questions?
  • Does anybody have a list of competencies to work from?
  • What is your favorite interview question?
  • How do you get managers to tell you what they want?
  • I use behavioral interviewing, but I still don’t know the right answer for the job.
  • Does anybody have a set of core competencies?
  • We don’t know enough about the job, how can we get managers involved?

Big problem here. People who have the most influence on the influx of human “raw materials” are seeking answers to basic questions about how to measure applicant skills. Is it any wonder turnover is high, both low and high performers look alike when hired, managers have to coach people to perform, and training dollars are wasted? What is the solution? Let’s start with an analogy. Bear with me as we use a rear-wheel drive car to make our point. Think of interviews as driving a car ó a car needs four good tires before it can cruise the highways. Low air pressure or flat tires make the car unstable. Let’s take a look at each of the four “tires” of the hiring process and see what we can find out. Right Front Tire: The Target The right front tire is the most critical one for steering. In our analogy, it represents a professionally developed job analysis that includes a list of critical competencies. Forget about having a “golden list of competencies” or a set of “best practice competencies” that you can buy off the shelf. Competencies are unique to the job, the company, and the culture. There are plenty of people willing to sell you a half-baked competency list, but if that’s all you are looking for my advise is to crack open any book on training and hire an intern to copy the contents for you. It will save you tens of thousands of dollars and give you a warm fuzzy feeling for a few months. Think of generic competencies as the blue-velour mystery food you sometimes find in the back of the refrigerator. Job competencies should be observable, measurable, and realistic. They are distilled from interviews with jobholders, managers, and visionaries. Don’t shoot for skill levels that are too high or too low. The “highest” is not always the best. Be sure to avoid nonsense competencies like leadership, budgeting, staffing, business acumen, and so forth. These are processes ó the result of using several competencies together to achieve a goal. Process “competencies” are hard to measure because they occur over time and are often affected by external factors. Because HR, trainers, or line managers often think of competencies in process terms, their competency lists are often impractical and unworkable. Also, realize that although a competency name may appear in several jobs, it is the list of representative job activities (i.e., how the competency is performed) that are most important. The competency of “Analysis,” for example, may apply to a chemical engineer or an auditor, but the things that are analyzed and the processes that are used are significantly different. Using one large set of generic competencies for all jobs is a one-way trip to confusion and misunderstanding. Avoid like the plague anyone who does not know the difference. They can only spend your money and help lose what little professional credibility HR has left. Right Rear Tire: The Tools The right rear tire usually supplies power to drive the car. Here it represents the accuracy of tools used to measure each candidate. These tools range from the silly (handwriting analysis and astrology) and mundane (“get to know you” interviews, pop-psychology tests, or anything not validated for the job) to the highly effective (behavioral-type interviews, validated tests, and simulations). The effectiveness of each of these tools ranges from zero correlation (i.e., pure chance) to about .8 (correlation is a measure of how well test scores relate to job performance ó it can range from -1 to +1). The least effective measurement tools include general interview questions used by people who confuse “getting to know” an applicant with “discovering whether the applicant has job skills.” Anyone who does not use either content- or criterion-validated tools better have a charming personality, because he or she will never escape 50/50 land. Left Rear Tire: Applicant Answers The left rear tire also supplies driving power. In our analogy, it represents the truthfulness of answers you get from the applicant. Applicants are not likely to perform well if they have little or no job experience, feel pressured or intimidated, are confused or uncomfortable, or have a personality conflict with the interviewer. This is why panel interviews are often ineffective and why interviewer skills make a significant difference in hiring quality. Applicants entering the workforce for the first time seldom have the experience to know what they are good at and what they like. In these cases, the only useful data comes from simulations, written tests, and exercises (i.e., data you can control and trust). Left Front Tire: The Answer Key The left front tire is the other steering tire. It represents the evaluation of candidates’ answers. Even the clearest objectives, the most accurate hiring tools and the best applicant answers need to be evaluated against job requirements. For example, you can expect higher turnover when applicants are overqualified for the job and lower performance when applicants are underqualified. Many people who use behavioral interviews find they have a good interview technique and a complete set of applicant answers, but they are still unsure if the answers fit the job. Interviewers who don’t have an answer key are doomed to rely on applicant “likeability.” Spare Tire Hiring managers are your spare tire. The hiring manager is only needed in emergencies for a final chemistry check. Otherwise, leave them in the trunk. How Many Flat Tires Do You Have? Walk around your car and closely examine your tires. Subtract one tire for each flat.

  • Right Front: Do you work from a professional job analysis with clear measurable competencies?
  • Right Rear: Do you use content or criterion validated tools such as behavioral based interviews, validated tests, simulations, or exercises?
  • Left Rear: Are you able to get complete and truthful skills data from your applicant?
  • Left Front: Do you have an answer key that allows you to accurately evaluate applicant skills compared with job requirements?

Score yourself as follows:

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  • Four flats and no spare. Consider an exciting career in lawn care
  • Four flats. You can run, but you can’t hide.
  • Three flats. Stay in the driveway and rev the engine ó just don’t shift out of “park.”
  • Two flats. Limit driving to 10 mph on farm roads and carry a bold warning sign.
  • One flat. It’s okay for you to drive on city streets as long as you wear corrective lenses.
  • No flats. Get ready for the interstate!

Symptoms Don’t have time to inspect your tires? Flat tires often give warning signs before they fail. One of your tires might be flat if you find yourself:

  • Submitting several candidates to the hiring manager before you learn what he or she wants.
  • Being uncertain about applicant skills even though the applicant interviews well.
  • Comparing applicants with each other instead of with the job.
  • Working from a position description or generic competency list developed by the training department.
  • Doing a post-mortem on failed employees and wondering how you missed the clues before hiring.
  • Having the nagging feeling you missed something important.
  • Feeling good about having a list of interview questions, but not knowing how answers relate to job skills when it come time to defend your recommendation.
  • Making up your own list of competencies.

And don’t wait around to fix those flats. Do it now!

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1 Comment on “How Many Flats Tires Does Your Hiring Process Have?

  1. I’ve been reading Wendell’s columns for a while now and, while they all sound great in theory, I’m curious to know if any small to mid sized HR/Staffing groups have put anything like this into practice.

    Any comments appreciated.

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