The Faster I Go, the Behinder Hiring Gets

No, it’s not good grammar, but it makes my point. Consider these facts:

  • Interviews are basically worthless at predicting job performance.
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  • Controlled research studies demonstrate that even skilled interviewers cannot accurately assess the two critical traits commonly associated with job performance: conscientiousness and emotional stability.
  • Interviews continue to be the single most used recruiting tool.
  • There is a strong tendency in HR to use hiring tests that are not validated for the job (i.e., there is no scientific link between test scores and job performance.
  • Few organizations study the links between hiring tools and job performance.

Make sense? A majority of hiring tools are worthless, but people keep using them. What’s wrong here? Well there seem to be several reasons why hiring practices are firmly locked in neutral. Learn as You Earn Mentality People seem to have a general impression that selection is a field that requires no prior skills or knowledge. They seem to think that necessary skills can be quickly learned through on the job experience. Well, if you define “selection” as finding candidates and hiring people you like, these folks are largely correct. But, if you define selection as a process of defining job requirements and placing only the most qualified people, they are completely and totally wrong. The recruiting and selection process is the front door of an organization. Your company can be no better than the people who fill its positions any more than your product can be better than the raw materials used in production. Get To Know Your Attitude Psychologists have a name for it: “halo effect.” The halo effect means that recruiters make inaccurate predictions based on “likeability.” Likeable people are deemed smarter, harder working, more conscientiousness, etc. That is, recruiters take a little bit of information and make a gross leap of faith to predict totally unrelated job skills. Advertisers use halo effects when they pick famous people to advertise their product. They know the public will wrongly assume that famous people are smarter and trustworthy. After all, these are famous people. Right? Interviewers are often snookered by halo because, while applicant conversations help them to get to know the applicant, there is a big disconnect between conversational ability and hard skills. Uncertain Results Even the worst recruiter is right about half the time. That’s because interviews are about the same as chance at predicting job performance. Half the time you will have an above average performer, half the time you will have a below average performer. Would you be surprised to know that people tend to forget mistakes and remember their successes? It is an even bigger mistake for organizations not to track individual performance and compare it with hiring data. Delayed Consequences It takes about six to nine months before we see whether the person is a good hire or not. By that time a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Linking initial hiring practices with job performance is like putting your hand on a hot stove one day and on an ice block the next, then waiting six to nine months before you feel the temperature. To associate recruiting antecedents with hiring consequences, you need a clear line of sight between the two events. Organizational Feedback One recruiter once told me he measured placement success by whether a person stayed on the job six months. He could care less whether the person was a high, middling, or low performer. Can you imagine running a company that had 100% turnover every six months? Usually the only feedback to the recruiting department is logistical data: open positions, time to fill, or offers made. It is easy to spend someone else’s money (just look at the government), but hard to spend our own. Would life be different if recruiters were held responsible for employees’ personal performance? Lack of a Human Metric We have metrics that measure distance, volume, speed, accuracy, athletic ability, etc. But where are the metrics that measure human job skills? Recruiters try to get good data from managers, but managers don’t know either. (Did I mention the researched-backed estimate of competent managers hovers around an embarrassingly low 20%?). The lack of a human skills-measurement system means that your organization probably knows almost nothing about the collective skills of your workforce (i.e., things like individual problem solving ability, planning skills, interpersonal ability, technical skills, languages, etc.). It would be like a tennis coach suddenly deciding his team should play golf. It is no wonder that most reorganization efforts fail. Summary The most important function in the organization – hiring – is one of the least understood. Systems and processes such as reengineering, self-directed teams, two-minute managers, military management tactics are pander to the quick-fix mentality – nice ideas, but most fail. Why? Because they are based on changing current employee skills and abilities. And if these are not controlled, they will never be more than fast-buck ways for well meaning but marginally informed people to get rich selling snake oil. I look at it this way. You can set the standards others will follow or follow the standards others have set. It is your choice.

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