Performance Profiles: The Key to Hiring the Best

I’ve been a recruiter, recruiting trainer, and recruiting consultant for 25 years. Before that (when I worked for a living), I had 12 different jobs in 10 years with three different Fortune 500 companies. During this 35-year span, I’ve either hired to work for me, or placed, well over 500 people, conducted over 2,500 interviews, and debriefed over 5,000 candidates and hiring managers. Although I didn’t know it then, for the first 20 years I had little idea of what I was doing. I just knew that hiring top people was very important. How to hire top people became clear about 15 years ago. By then, I’d noticed that the managers who consistently hired the best people all used a similar approach to find, interview and recruit people. Interestingly, these common approaches were independent of job level, job function, the level of the hiring manager or the industry. There was one underlying theme to their approach and five specific practices. The common theme was a personal commitment by each of these hiring managers to only hire the best. How they accomplished this eventually became the POWER Hiring principles described below. Performance Profiles: If you want to hire superior people, first define superior performance. You must get everyone to agree to what the person taking the job needs to do to be successful, not what the person needs to have in terms of skills. Objective Evaluation: Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. If you know what you’re looking for, it only takes four questions to determine candidate competency and motivation. Wide-Ranging Sourcing: The best are different than the rest, and you must use different proactive techniques to find them. Sourcing is marketing, not advertising. Emotional Control: More errors occur during the first 30 minutes of an interview than any other time. To minimize these emotional biases, measure first impression at the end of the interview. Recruiting Right: Recruiting is consulting, not selling. The best take longer to decide, consider more variables, and decide with others. You must offer a career opportunity, not just a job. For the past 15 years, we’ve trained thousands of recruiters and hiring managers to successfully use POWER Hiring. The key to the success of POWER Hiring has been the absolute focus on performance at every step in the hiring process. This is P in POWER. It starts by preparing a performance profile. A performance profile is not a job description listing skills, duties, required experiences, and responsibilities. Instead, it describes what the person taking the job needs to do to be successful. It defines the job, not the person taking the job. Over the years I’ve discovered that every job, big or small, has five to eight deliverables which ultimately determine job success. Here’s an example of a traditional job description compared to a performance profile for a sales position:

Traditional Job Description:

The Person

1. BS degree

2. 2-4 years sales experience

3. Industry background required

4. Product knowledge essential

5. Strong interpersonal skills

6. Good solution selling skills

Performance Profile:

The Job

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1. Achieve quota within 90 days

2. Obtain 20% new customers/month

3. Conduct thorough needs analysis

4. Coordinate proposals with engineering

5. Prepare detailed cost/benefit analysis

6. Manage multiple projects in intense environment.

If you were a hiring manager, who would you rather hire?? someone who could deliver the results, or someone who had all of the skills? We’ve asked this question to 20,000 people in the last five years. Ninety-nine percent want to hire someone who can deliver the results. A performance profile is far superior to traditional job descriptions, since it defines the desired results, the key processes needed to achieve these results, and an understanding of the environment in which they take place. Here’s the core problem with traditional job descriptions. Having the skills and experience listed doesn’t mean the person can do the work or wants to do it. Conversely, someone who can and is motivated to do the work described in the performance profile might not have all of the skills and experiences listed in the job description. Yet using a traditional job descriptions would preclude these best candidates from even applying?? and then filtering them out even if they do. Most managers know it’s not the skills and experiences that matter; it’s what the person does with their skills and experience. Performance profiles provide a means to handle this important difference. It’s always better to define the results desired, rather than the skills required. Then look for candidates who have achieved similar results in similar environments. To reinforce this concept, the performance profile should be the basis for all advertising, and should be listed on the website instead of the traditional job description. A job describing the results and challenges will attract a bigger pool of stronger candidates. For proof, consider this: If you were on a career site and saw both descriptions shown above, which job would you apply for?? the one that tells you not to apply unless you meet the skills criteria, or the one that describes the impact you can make? In my next article, I’ll describe three techniques you can use to prepare these performance profiles, but for now you might want to consider some of the advantages of using performance profiles:

  1. The best candidates explore and accept jobs based on what they’ll be doing, not what they have. Traditional skills and experience-based job descriptions are useless for recruiting top candidates. In fact, they are counterproductive, since they exclude the best from even applying.
  2. Performance profiles provide a simple means to get everyone on the interviewing team to agree to the job requirements. One of the key problems in hiring is that all interviewers have an equal vote. If each person is looking for something different, then it’s very difficult to reach consensus. The recruiter handling the assignment should take responsibility for getting every interviewer to agree to the performance profile before they begin interviewing candidates. This will eliminate confusion, increase interviewing accuracy, and reduce the time to hire.
  3. Assessing candidate competency is much easier when using a performance profile. All you need to do is to get an example of some significant work a candidate has done for each of the deliverables listed on the performance profile. Make sure you spend 10 minutes or so, getting the details behind each accomplishment to ensure complete understanding. This interviewing methodology is described in detail in my One Question Interview article.
  4. Clarifying expectations upfront has been shown to be the number one reason for high job satisfaction and increased personal motivation. This was the key finding in Gallup’s landmark study described in First Break All of the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham.
  5. Using performance profiles saves time in a number of ways. Better candidates are found and assessed more quickly. Clearly unqualified candidates are screened out earlier by the recruiting team. Also, since everyone is measuring the same characteristics, it’s easier to reach agreement with fewer candidates.
  6. They work for any type of job. We have prepared performance profiles for YMCA camp counselors and CEOs, and for most jobs in between. The best people in any job do certain things better than the average person. The key is to find out what these are, and then look for these performance traits in the candidates you hire.
  7. Performance profiles can be used for training, personal development, and performance appraisals after the person starts. Since you’re defining the expectations upfront, it’s easy to determine how well a new employee is performing once on the job. The gaps indicate where improvement is needed.
  8. A performance profile is a more fair and legally-sound way to hire the best while minimizing legal liabilities. Fisher & Phillips (the third largest U.S. employment law firm) has prepared a white paper endorsing the use of POWER Hiring and performance profiles for all hiring purposes (send an email to if you’d like a copy).
  9. Recruiters who prepare performance profiles before each search are considered more proactive and knowledgeable by their hiring manager clients. A better understanding of real job needs also allows recruiters to be much more influential throughout the hiring process.

Hiring the best requires practical tools and effective processes. This, in combination with good metrics, forms the foundation of a formal business process for hiring. Yet even with all of the best tools and techniques, hiring managers must be personally committed to hiring the best. Without this, all the best recruiting tools in the world will fall short. (Note: As many of you know, I host a monthly online discussion group where we explore these topics in greater depth around the theme “Metrics for Recruitment Management.” It’s exclusively for those in recruiting or HR management and is sponsored by POWER Hiring,, and ERE. If you’d like to be part of this group, send me an email ( for sign-up details. I’ll be presenting much of this information at ER Expo 2003 West in San Diego in March, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet there. This is an event you won’t want to miss if you want to be on the leading edge of recruitment management.)

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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