How to Prevent Just About Every Common Hiring Mistake There Is

In this article, I want to present 12 common hiring problems that can be virtually eliminated by using performance profiles instead of job descriptions. These include things like dealing with the OFCCP ruling, lack of competitive salaries, turnover, and counteroffers. I’ll even offer unequivocal support to Dr. John Sullivan’s case that competency modeling is flawed.

But first, here’s a personal story to help set the stage. Before I became a recruiter some 25 years ago, I had significant industry experience in engineering, finance, and operations management. As a recruiter, this hands-on background allowed me to very quickly start placing high-performing CPAs, engineers, financial analysts, and managers in related fields. Two to three sendouts per hire was pretty typical. Of course, I cherry-picked contingency search assignments, so this helped the metrics.

As I moved into retained search and branched out to other fields ó particularly medical science and senior management positions in functions I wasn’t familiar with ó I suffered a significant performance setback. Five to six sendouts per hire became more the norm, and I lacked the confidence to fully represent my candidates. Even the candidates I presented weren’t as good. This all changed when I started working with a medical products company that was ultimately bought by Baxter International. What was different about this company was that, from the CEO on down, the company refused to use job descriptions. Rather than focusing on skills, experience or academics, it focused on results. When I took an assignment, I got a list of deliverables and performance objectives the person needed to achieve. They then made me prove that the candidates I submitted could achieve these results. I made about 10 placements at this company over a three-year period. Two stand out.

I placed an operations VP who was running an industrial products company, and a plant manager who was running a high-precision plastic-injection molding company in the electronics packaging industry. Neither had medical industry background, yet both had a track record of delivering results in comparable complex situations. Both continued to deliver exceptional results in their new roles. This was an eye-opening experience. As a result, since the mid 1980s, I have refused to take an assignment in which the hiring team wouldn’t agree to a list of deliverables and performance objectives rather than the job description as the basis of the selection criteria. This is a performance profile. It lists in priority order the six to eight critical tasks, challenges, and deliverables a person needs to accomplish in order to be considered successful.

Since then, I’ve prepared performance profiles for every conceivable job, including YMCA camp counselors, college kids giving away samples of Red Bull, engineers and managers in all disciplines, consultants and salespeople who have unstructured jobs, retail clerks in fast food, nurses, housekeepers, VPs and even CEOs. If you’re faced with any of the following common hiring problems, you might want to try substituting a performance profile for the traditional job description:

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  1. Consensus is hard to reach. Since a typical job description doesn’t define the work, members of the interviewing team use their own biases or understanding of job needs to assess competency. By getting all members of the hiring team to agree to the real tasks and performance objectives of the job in priority order, agreement is a natural outcome.
  2. Too many candidates need to be seen. When you don’t know what you’re looking for, you need to present extra candidates to make sure you get full coverage. This wastes a lot of time presenting the wrong people and using the wrong sourcing channels. Spending an extra hour up front defining the real job can save at least 20 hours per search assignment.
  3. Problems meeting the OFCCP ruling on the definition of an Internet applicant. When you use objective performance selection criteria, you can easily meet all of the reporting standards required by the OFCCP without having to report on unqualified candidates. To do this, use a two-step process for people who show interest in your position. The second step is an email listing the top three or four performance objectives of the job, and then requiring candidates to describe their comparable accomplishments. Per the OFCCP, if they don’t respond to the email, they have opted out of the process, are not considered applicants, and don’t need to be reported upon.
  4. Not seeing enough top people. Which of these ads has more appeal: “Must have three to five years of extensive experience in J2EE application server knowledge (Oracle, BEA, Weblogic, Jrun, JBoss),” or, “Push your Java and open source development skills to the max by taking our Oracle 9i/10g to the outer limits of user addiction”? Top people want to apply their skills doing stuff they consider fun. A performance profile gives you the info you need to make your jobs compelling.
  5. Not hiring enough top performers. In the order of importance, here’s why top people accept job offers: 1) the job offers stretch and long-term opportunity; 2) the hiring manager is a leader and mentor; 3) the team is strong; 4) the company is solid and the job ties to an important company initiative; and 5) the compensation is fair. Top people will base their decision to accept an offer based on what they’ll be doing in comparison to other offers and to their current position. The clearer this is and the more stretch involved, the more likely the person will accept your offer as long as the compensation package is reasonable.
  6. Not hiring enough diverse candidates. Not only do you need to offer better jobs, but you must also start presenting them to your target audience sooner than the competition. For diverse candidates, you should even prepare a two- to three-year performance profile of tasks and opportunities and then provide proof how other diverse candidates have made it big at your company. However, this is not a free ride. The people getting promoted need to meet tough performance objectives. To hire more diverse candidates, you clearly need to demonstrate that there’s a real chance to meet them, too.
  7. Not seeing or hiring enough top passive candidates. Passive candidates won’t even talk to you if you don’t have a compelling job to talk about. A performance profile is your door opener. It also gives you the confidence you need to make the phone call and ask for more referrals. Make sure you have a short, compelling summary to send to the person when they say, “Send me a copy of the job description.”
  8. Not enough referrals of top people. Nobody will give you the name of a top passive candidate unless the job is truly compelling. Vague generalities and hyperbole come across as BS. When you’re networking, do you come across as an SME (subject-matter expert) and career counselor, or as a typical pushy recruiter who doesn’t know the job? If you get mostly “I’ll think about it and call you back” responses when asking for referrals, you’re in this second half. A performance profile instantly gets you into the first.
  9. Offers aren’t competitive. This is the typical excuse that weak sales reps use when they sell on price rather than value. Top people will consider your jobs and offers if the jobs are compelling. So sell value, not price. A performance profile gives you the information you need to switch the discussion to long-term career opportunities ó not short-term compensation requirements.
  10. Candidates accepting counteroffers or competitive offers. Top candidates who are employed get buyer’s remorse the moment an offer is accepted. Either they think the offer isn’t good enough or they feel the unknown isn’t as attractive as the known. This is human nature. Candidates who clearly know the job they’re taking and the challenges offered tend to be more confident in their decision, and are less likely to accept counteroffers. When the hiring manager gets more involved in the recruiting process, it’s even more less likely.
  11. Hiring managers making bone-head hiring mistakes. Here are the three most common hiring mistakes: 1) hiring candidates who are competent, but unmotivated to do the work; 2) not hiring good people because they were uninterested in the job being offered, and 3) hiring good people for the wrong job. This is what happens when skills, competencies, and experience are used to assess ability to do the work rather than past performance. Candidates who have excelled in the past will excel in the future if they are allowed to do comparable work that they like doing, especially if it offers true job stretch. The best-selling book First Break All of the Rules ó What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently makes a great case for the tossing of job descriptions and the use of performance profiles.
  12. Low job satisfaction and high turnover. Whether it’s an entry-level sales spot, a mid-level staff person, a seasoned manager, or a top executive, people leave when they don’t like what they’re doing. (They leave even quicker when they don’t like their manager.) Using a performance profile to clarify expectations up-front allows the assessment to match a candidate’s motivating interests and abilities with actual job needs.

Dr. John Sullivan made a rather eloquent presentation a few weeks ago that competency modeling is no better a substitute than the traditional job description in predicting on-the-job success. I agree. Furthermore, I’ll offer up the use of a performance profiles as the universal solution to the behavioral interviewing, competency modeling, and job-analysis conundrum.

Here’s how: use the interview to get candidates to provide in-depth descriptions of their accomplishments that most directly relate to each objective listed on the performance profile. You might want the candidate to put some of these in writing to gain even more insight. What you’ll discover is how the candidate used his or her skills, competencies, and behaviors collectively to achieve real results. Then compare these results to what you need done. What you’ll discover is that top people don’t use all of the same competencies to achieve performance, even when doing the same work. It’s the collective mix of competencies, talents, and interests that determines success ó not each one determined separately. It’s simple to try this out. On your next search assignment, just ask your hiring manager to tell you what the person taking the job needs to do to be considered successful.

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).


1 Comment on “How to Prevent Just About Every Common Hiring Mistake There Is

  1. Great Article I’m just glad I have learned about this so young into my career. I really love this concept and I’m going to implement it in my process of recruiting. Thank you for the great tip!

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