Over the past 20 years, scores of management fads – from situational leadership to business process reengineering to Six Sigma quality – have come and gone. Many of them were useful and brought improvements to the organizations that implemented them. But, as Jim Collins in Good to Great and many others researchers have found, none of them replaced the need for thoughtful, process-oriented, outcome-based leadership. These management fads actually underlined the fact that there are no magic bullets or one-way approaches to success.
Recruiting is full of fads as well. Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of behavioral interviewing, Internet search, applicant tracking systems, online screening and assessment, and most recently, employee referral. Each of these has been billed as the answer to some problem: Behavioral interviewing would improve candidate quality, Internet search would alleviate the need for cold-calling, applicant tracking systems would make paper go away and reduce administrative chores, online screening and assessment would ensure that only the very best candidates made it to the recruiter’s attention, and employee referral would guarantee high-quality candidates in abundance. Of course, all of them have in one way or another failed to live up to their promises. All of them have merit. All of them are useful tools, but none is a panacea or a magic bullet. Just as in management fads, there is no replacement for solid strategy, process, and measurement. Working with many clients, we have learned that the most important thing you can do is to invest more time and energy on understanding, defining, and refining your recruiting process than on implementing a new fad or piece of technology.
Basically, recruiting can be broken down into three large steps: the first is to attract and find candidates, the second is to assess them and convince them to work for your organization, and the third one is to track how well they do, and use that information to modify how you recruit. It is a dynamic and ever-changing process, but these three steps have been basic to success since the first person was recruited.
Attracting and Finding Good Candidates
While this sounds very simple – for many recruiters it means posting jobs on a job board, building a recruiting website, and perhaps implementing a referral program – it is actually the most complex and critical step of all. To develop an employment brand and an effective website requires a deep knowledge of the organization and its values and culture. To attract “good” people, one has to define what skills and competencies make up a “good” person for the organization and for the particular job that person will do. This means testing a variety of sources and developing multiple candidate channels. It also means putting in place ways to effectively communicate with candidates and experimenting with messages that will attract them. The hundreds of ineffective recruiting websites I see and the number of discussions about sourcing that flood recruiting chat rooms and blogs indicate to me that not much thought goes into developing candidate channels or into specifically and precisely defining the skills and competencies a candidate needs to have. Successful organizations are rarely short of critical talent and rarely make a fuss publicly about not being able to find good talent. I don’t know of a single company with a successful recruiting process that relies on any one channel or marketing tool. Successful firms have done their homework and use a wide array of tools and channels to source candidates. I know of one large and well-known organization that has developed a 25-year talent pipeline. The company starts by working with elementary school students to interest them in the areas of work the company has a need for. In high school, this translates into part-time jobs, information on the company’s website, school visits, and sponsorships of targeted events. In college, the talent pipeline moves to internships and to building relationships with professors. In the world of experienced recruiting, the company uses cold calling, search firms, job posting, referrals, and its website. No one tool is relied upon alone. But for any organization, it takes a carefully thought-out and carefully implemented talent strategy to ensure success.
Assessing Them and Convincing Them to Work For You
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Assessment is not about interviews and tests. It is not about any single method. Behavioral interviewing will not ensure better candidates if you are not clear on what skills and competencies you are seeking. Testing only works when you have precise elements to test for. What is important is to know what specific competencies and skills will most likely make a person successful. And successful means that the person produces the services or products your organization needs in the time frame and with the quality that has been defined. Once this has been established, then an appropriate array of assessment tools can be used. If a person is expected to have a certain level of skill, tests may be the best way to measure that. On the other hand, if the person needs to have complex interaction skills, then interviews or assessment centers many help determine the candidate’s competency level. Good assessment is all about using the right tools for the right purposes. I frequently see inappropriate tools being used, and then I hear from recruiters that assessment does not work. We would not use a hammer to cut wood, yet I have seen the equivalent happen in testing because recruiters have not taken the time to really understand what they are doing and what they need to assess.
Tracking How New Hires Perform
The only way you can tell if your attraction and assessment processes are working is to have a baseline of expected performance in as many areas as you can, and measure how your new hires perform. This requires that you have established the needed competencies and levels of performance before you initiate a recruiting activity and that you can track new hires after they are on board. When you can do this, you will be able to change your assessment or attraction strategies so that you are getting better and better candidates and new hires. By carefully monitoring and tweaking various aspects of the process, you will know which steps are the real levers of productivity and which are not. Good recruiting, like almost everything in life, is the result of hard work. By working hard to know exactly what kinds of people you need and by putting in place an array of tools to help you attract and assess these people, you will always have a solid pipeline of candidates and an effective recruiting function. Leave the fads and the magic bullets to your competition.