Talent Suitability

I recently came to the realization that we emphasize all the wrong habits in staffing. We are rewarded and compensated for finding hotshots in the shortest time possible. If we do, we are lauded as superstars. If we don’t, we are shown the door. How did it get this way? Why are we a closer kin to salespeople in the used car business than HR business partners? I bring this up because none of us are rewarded for hiring talent that raises the bar on productivity and retention. Yet this is what matters most when it comes to hiring. If we find people who are exceptional and want to stay a long time, millions of dollars are added to the company’s bottom line. This should be our biggest point of emphasis as recruiting professionals. Instead, we emphasize putting “butts in seats” in the shortest time possible. This is an extremely short-sighted philosophy that practically guarantees a track record of bad hires. Quality of hire must be emphasized. Focusing on quality means we must shift our attention to attracting and retaining talent that fits the unique needs of our company. Months ago, a colleague and myself came up with a term for finding these outstanding people. We called it “talent suitability.” What is talent suitability? Simply put, it’s a hiring methodology that focuses on improving quality of hire. It is defined as ensuring an applicant is a strong match for your company and your company is a strong match for the candidate. If you practice talent suitability, you will hire employees who perform better and stay longer than previous hires. Talent suitability is the practice of being realistic about what the job requires, what the hiring group is really like, and what the company culture has to offer. The intention is to recruit, assess, and hire employees who will be successful both in the role and the work environment. This is achieved by giving a realistic view of the job they will be doing and of the environment they will be working in. This will ensure continued success with the company. This is a huge departure from the way most companies hire today. Practicing talent suitability, companies will move away from sugar coating and giving only a limited view of opportunities. They will also provide applicants with far more information than they have done in the past. Let me give you an example. In order to be successful in a marathon race, you need a durable pair of running shoes. You wouldn’t look for — or even try on — a bunch of merely attractive shoes not suitable for the race, would you? Attractive but uncomfortable shoes would hurt your feet and give you blisters within a few miles. You need to determine the right specifications so the shoes are sporty, comfortable, last a long time, and can perform in the right environment. When I was at T-Mobile, we had a theme to describe our hiring program: “If the Shoe Fits.” We defined it as hiring “the right person, for the right job, for the right group, in the right company.” If all the pieces match, the shoe fits. If they don’t, managers are unhappy with the hiring choice, or the new hire is unhappy. Either way, it is a short marriage with unsuccessful results. This concept is simple, yet how many companies interview for the wrong requirements and give candidates unrealistic or limited views of their cultures, work settings, and job opportunities? Most do, but why? What do they fear? What they should fear is hiring people who are not right for the job, group, and company. The result of hiring the wrong people is poor productivity, poor retention, or both. Getting rid of poor hires also ends up being expensive, difficult, and frustrating. The implications of bad hiring decisions far out-weigh the necessity of bringing people in quickly. So how do you get started with this concept of talent suitability? Very simply, you must:

  • Learn the real factors that will make someone successful in a particular job.
  • Learn what the culture of the group is really like.
  • Learn the important aspects of the company culture.

You can build talent suitability into every step of the hiring process, from position identification to bringing the new hire on board:

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  1. Hiring manager meeting. This is the most important step of the process. It involves setting expectations for the search and writing a job description with talent suitability components. This allows the manager to thoughtfully identify the skills, traits, and attributes needed to be successful in the role and the type of environment the new employee will be entering. The important thing is to be realistic rather than idealistic. Company values should also be included so you make a hire that fits the behaviors and ethics expected by senior leaders. Some of the information gathered will be for the job description, and the rest will be used to determine the success factors needed throughout the hiring process.
  2. Candidate sourcing. Although your aim is to attract candidates, the focus should be on attracting the right ones. Your employment brand should reflect reality, not fantasy. Employee referral programs should target high performers who will thrive in your environment, not just anyone. Care should be taken in defining and messaging job requirements and opportunities. Define what your company and group cultures are like. Talk about your culture to candidates. These are just some examples that will make sourcing more effective.
  3. Candidate pre-screening. In addition to focusing on the skills, traits, and attributes required for the position, talent suitability screening includes disclosing realistic information about the company and group culture. For example, if your group offers minimal direct supervision and direction, but offers an entrepreneurial environment, then let the applicant know. The right fit will be motivated by the opportunity, the wrong fit won’t. How many recruiters and hiring managers do this today?
  4. Interview day. Each interviewer should have a distinct area of focus which includes interviewing for skills, traits, and attributes that will ensure the candidate is a good position and group fit. Each interviewer is also assigned a “360 degree informational,” which discloses some information about the group or the company culture. The intent is to allow the candidate to learn more about the opportunity and environment. For example, perhaps your company encourages constructive confrontation at meetings. Here, the interviewer explains the meaning of the concept and gives an example. Remember this is a program to ensure you hire people who will be productive and stay a long time. The right candidate will be motivated by your environment.
  5. Closing candidates. This is the easiest part of talent suitability. The right person for the role, group, and company will be highly motivated to join. The wrong person won’t even get past the interview day, and many unsuitable candidates will “select out” themselves.

Talent suitability is about hiring for your company’s future. If you don’t hire with the intent of improving performance and retention of new hires, then you are taking a huge risk that could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue. Take the time to integrate talent suitability into your hiring discipline so you are set up for success in the coming talent wars. The impact will be enormous. Both on the company’s profitability and your career.

Randall Birkwood is a former director of recruiting at T-Mobile USA, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Corporation, and HR at Intermec Technologies. While at T-Mobile his organization was listed in an ERE article as a top 10 benchmark firm in recruiting and talent management. He has been an advisory speaker at General Electric and AT&T for VPs and directors of HR, and spoken at a number of conferences in the U.S. and UK. He was the subject of a cover story on the "War For Talent" in Internet World Magazine.

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2 Comments on “Talent Suitability

  1. Because it is our nature to view our ourselves, our public persona, and our work culture with a high degree of subjectivity, attempting to make objective fits with companys and candidates is fraught with uncertainty and errors. For example, how many managers who are very controlling view their style as controlling? Most of us would agree not many. Who wants to see themselves and acknowledge to others that they are controlling? Yet a dominant characteristic of that magnitude can cast the culture in an office/division as much or more as anything else. And to compound that fanatasy, if a manager with a controlling management style presents him or herself in interviews as being very easy-going and hands-off, he/she is presenting a huge personality and culture facade that neither the manager or the candidate is aware of or able to penetrate until much later when this and other unknown critical characteristics are revealed that may have substantive positive and/or negative impacts on their relationship, communication, and productivity and on that of their associates in their work environment.

    As each person has a personality, so each work environment has a personality or culture that can be profiled. Many factors contribute to that dynamic. This culture is influenced and determined in a major way according to and by the amount of power and control the designated leaders and the natural leaders in the organization have, and the way they wield it, as well as by company traditions/culture, senior managers, the industry, the competition, and all of the persons within that division, office, or work unit.

    That being said, because of this ‘hidden’ culture, the self-serving subjectivity each person brings to the table, and the lack of any successful, easy to administer tools to minimize these types of misjudgements and errors (that I am aware of), we can discuss suitability endlessly and never make any real progress. The point being we need to make progress towards objectively quantifying company culture and candidate culture suitabiilty. Certainly serious scholars and studies have addressed this issue.
    How can these unique company cultures and the culture characteristics and suitability of candidates best be evaluated and quantified and how can that information best be used to assist the matching/hiring process to secure positive, productive, long-term team and employment relationships?

    Certainly serious attempts have been made based on research and studies to develop workable tools that help to address this dilemma. Do any of you know if there are any relatively simple and direct tools that have proven effective in defining and matching key culture elements?

    Short of formalized tools and processes, are there techniques or approaches that can assist in the process of making a positive match between a candidate and a company culture?

  2. Terry,

    I concur with your thoughts and comments regarding the subjectivity and challenges in hiring for suitability and ‘culture fit’.

    Although no method or tool provides a total solution or is foolproof, documented studies have confirmed that ‘job fit’ including cultural compatibilty is more predictable using a ‘total person’ assessment that uses customized job match patterns.

    For recruiters, although you may occasionally lose a placement (because of a bad fit), recommending these tools improves your credibility and professionalism and increases the odds of a successful hire.

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