Have you ever hired someone who seemed perfect for a job, but who later turned out to be quite a bit less than perfect? Stressed by today’s competitive and constrained job market, we all tend to try and fit round pegs in square holes –; to our own ultimate failure. So how do you protect yourself from this? What have we learned over the past century that should help us do a better job hiring the right people? By following these 6 precepts, based on what we know today, you should improve your odds on making the right hire every time. 1. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR The foundation of all selection processes is to be absolutely certain about the skills and competencies that we are looking for. It is typical for most of us to base our searches on those that we’ve done past. When someone asks for a C++ programmer, for example, we tend to pull out the job description of the last C++ programmer whom we hired and use that as the base for the new one. Much of the time this is okay, but very often those job descriptions have changed, are outdated, or are not really what the manager who is hiring this person want. Every manager and recruiter should very carefully reassess each position as they open them. The recruiter’s job is to probe, question and to be the Devil’s advocate to the hiring manager. The recruiter should question, dig into the underlying needs that the manager may have, and really help the manager assess what he or she is looking for. The manager, on the other hand, owes it to herself, to the recruiter and to the person who will ultimately be hired to really assess the job in light of the goals and objectives of the department and of the work that has to be done. It may be that a C++ programmer, for example, is what this manager has typically hired, but it may be that someone with very different skills would be more appropriate for the work that has to be done right now. This reassessment should take place even if the position is a replacement for someone who is leaving. Work and requirements often change around our employees and when we have an opportunity to replace someone we should use it to carefully reassess the position. While this process of opening a new requisition is probably the most important one that occurs between a manager and a recruiter, it is the one that is almost always the most poorly done. Human nature is such that managers are often resentful of recruiters inquiring into their business, and recruiters often assume that managers know what they need. Experience tells us that managers are rarely good at assessing exactly what they need and almost always can use an outside opinion, which their recruiter should be able to provide. This means that good recruiters today must have skills in influencing and analyzing, as well as again marketing themselves. 2. MAKE SURE YOUR HIRING CRITERIA ARE BASED ON PERFORMANCE Secondly the criteria that are used to determine what kind of person is needed should be based on performance and not on arbitrary criteria that have not been shown to strongly correlate with success. The typical factors that are stated in requisitions such as GPA, degrees, experience, years of management experience, and number of programming languages or other activities that a person may have been involved in are often not indicators of anything at all. If you want to hire for success, focus on past job performance; — things such as having completed a major project, or having written a particular program, or whatever it is that would equate to success in your organization. Often the traits that led to the performance accomplishments are not technical skills but skills such as persistence, willingness to work overtime, ability to be a team member, the ability to influence other programmers, or simply having a good sense of humor. And, I would say it is almost universally true that hiring managers will overlook most of those traits in favor of strong technical skills. This applies even to non-ITT and non-programming kinds of positions. A secretary who has superb word processing skills may be rated more highly than one who has only average word processing skills, yet has an effective customer-service orientation. Again, it is the job of be recruiter to help ensure that performance-based criteria become a part of the job description. 3. PRE-SCREEN: USE ALL THE TOOLS THAT ARE AVAILABLE It IS possible to measure many of these “soft” traits, even though many of us don’t like to do it. Many of them can be determined through the right kind of interview process, or through an assessment center, through testing, or by talking to references. This is really a two-part process. Part one consists of a self-screening process that candidates conduct on their own either by scanning information about the company, talking to friends about the company, or by doing research. Every company should have a web page with links to interviews with people who currently have similar jobs in the company, or they should simply provide information about the duties, the responsibilities, and day-to-day typical activities of a person who has a job like this. This self-screening process eliminates a large number of people without any involvement of the recruiting or management team. Most people have a pretty good sense of their own interests and skills, even though we may not believe that is true, and will self-select out of a process of applying for a job. The second part of the process is the interviewing and screening process that takes place after the self-assessment. There are a variety of tools available to further screen candidates. First on the list is to use a systematic approach to screening. Use a variety of tools: interviews, tests, and reference checks. Be sure you know what you are looking for. Ask references for relevant information about the criteria that you have established. For example, if you are looking for someone who can write large amounts of computer code quickly, ask about the person’s experience doing this. Ask about their ability to work under stressful conditions, to work rapidly but accurately, and so on. Don’t ask anything irrelevant to your needs! Make sure you and your managers are well trained in interviewing and probing for success indicators: getting things done on time, for example, or managing several people whose work must be coordinated. Again, interview for indicators that a person has done successfully whatever it is you need to have done. There are many tests that may be relevant, as well. I will soon devote a column to these tools but there are many which can be administered on-line or with paper and pencil that are legal, validated and effective. Depending on what kind of people you are looking for, these tests can improve selection success by as must as 75%! The key in screening is to use a variety of tools, cross-calibrate what they tell you, and then make a decision. 4. THINK CREATIVELY Get outside your comfort zone and explore other ways to do things. Challenge your recruiters or your managers. Ask WHY do we do recruit this way and does it really work? When I first started asking whether GPA and degrees were good predictors of on-the-job success, it quickly became evident that neither correlated with success. Forbes magazine recently ran an article called The Tyranny of the Diploma, which illustrates how misleading an indicator a degree has become. A large number of very successful companies (Dell, Microsoft, Apple) are run by people with no formal college degrees. Some of our most creative inventors and scientists have been marginally educated in a formal way. Therefore, the smart manager or recruiter would expand her search to include people who don’t have those credentials but who do have a record of success. There are many other areas to examine and question: do we really need more full-time people doing XX? Would we be better off training some internal people to do a particular job? Are these criteria, although well thought out and what we really need right now? And so on. . . 5. CLOSE CANDIDATES QUICKLY And, today we should all have streamlined our hiring processes so that we can make offers almost as soon as we have decided on a candidate. Many candidates have several offers (or at least several interviews pending) and speed is critical. This is why having clear selection criteria is important, but those criteria must be linked to a system that allows decisions to be made without bureaucratic hang-ups and delays. Background screening and other formalities can be part of the offer, which is made contingent upon those. By implementing these five steps in your organization you will improve the ratio of successful hires who perform well and reduce your costs.
Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.