Today’s Rant: Consistency as a Goal

Now, I’m not an anti-consistency guy at all. To scale, to create a great experience, you need to make sure certain things are predictable and dependable. For example, every candidate should know their status in a process and what the next step is (and timeline of that next step).

But, sometimes, consistency becomes the goal itself, not a means to a goal. And in a talent-centric world – where we preach personalization, creating a stand out experience, tailoring the process/tools/approach to the person — consistency can get in the way, and even create a bad experience.  

I guess it’s how you think about consistency, right? A “consistently great experience” for candidates, for example, would be a fantastic goal, as long as you recognize that the process you use for an engineer, a salesperson, an executive, a nurse, and an accounts payable person may need to look very different to deliver on that goal. The way they apply, the tests they take before they come onsite, the interview process (how many, what type), the way you engage post-interview, and the kinds of things you do to sell them … all should probably be tailored.

And, similarly, the kind of tools you provide to a field-based retail store hiring manager to interview vs the tools you provide to an engineering hiring manager at headquarters should probably look different. Not the “never ask someone their age in an interview” stuff; that should be consistent. But the actual interview guides, the focus areas, the assumptions made about how much time they’ll actually spend interviewing … these should vary.

Some examples:

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  • A 500+ location organization required all of its HQ and field managers to use the same six-page interview guide. But the field based managers — who hire $10-12/hour employees — were expected to conduct one-hour behavioral interviews, just like the corporate office, with a focus that did not include requirements specific to their location’s needs or even the specific job. They were not allowed to go off-script. This was all because the HR and legal team wanted 100 percent consistency. (P.S. Do you think, when we audited the field managers’ actual usage of the guides, they were using them the way headquarters expected?)
  • A mid-sized organization got all of its recruiting and HR managers together for a several-month project to rebuild its recruiting process. One process to rule them all! It spent countless hours in meetings, arguing over steps in a process, as it tried to get a single process to cover admins to union workers to $100,000+ professionals, and — initially — even tried to create one process for both internal and external candidates. What it ended up with was the biggest, most complex swim lane charts you’ve ever seen, and a process that didn’t really work for any one group (everyone was equally unhappy, though!).  There was no voice of the customer in these meetings (no candidate representative, no hiring managers, no interviewers), fighting the good fight. Just good intentioned people with a goal of consistency.
  • A tech firm decided coding tests were a great idea (in general, I agree). So it used the same core coding test for all engineering jobs, from entry-level developers to senior-manager-level engineering leaders (as managers were expected to be able to code, as well). Why? Consistency. Unintended consequences?  Asking senior-level professionals and managers to take a test that focused on hands-on coding, before the onsite interview and any real selling, was a turnoff. Senior people were dropping out of the process, not taking the test, and generally less interested in working for that company.

I know, I know. Compliance is important, and you can’t just willy-nilly change up processes based on a whim.  But when we work with companies to help them improve their recruiting processes, we like to start by thinking about what processes need to be consistent (federal), what needs to be department- or geography-specific (state), and what need to be adapted to the individual (local). Then, we get prescriptive: you must always do X, but you can flex, customize, personalize on Y. As a judge for the ERE Recruiting Excellence Awards and the Candidate Experience Awards, I especially appreciate companies that highlight this kind of “one size does not fit all” approach. It’s harder to build, and doesn’t always scale well or make the compliance people’s jobs easy, but in the end, the extra work often gives you a real competitive advantage.

What do you think? How do you talk about consistency in your company? What’s consistent, and what’s purposefully inconsistent and tailored, and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

John Vlastelica is the managing director of recruiting toolbox, a consulting and training firm focused 100 percent on helping recruiters and hiring managers recruit better. Startups to big global brands -- including PepsiCo, Google, Nike, Booking, IKEA, Starbucks, and Pokemon -- hire his team of former recruiting leaders to build custom training for their recruiters and hiring managers. Learn more at @vlastelica 


8 Comments on “Today’s Rant: Consistency as a Goal

  1. Thank you for a good article. You make some excellent points. Your last example, of a tech firm that uses the same “coding test” for all hires, is something we’ve seen many times. In some cases, for management focused roles, candidates are told the results will not influence the hiring decision. But this makes things even worse. Who wants to take a test that doesn’t matter? It’s a waste of time and energy. A related example is companies using the same written technical test for different languages, databases, platforms, etc. and then disregarding the questions that aren’t relevant to the particular position. Kind of ridiculous. And, generally speaking, not something a hiring manager would ever want to do unless forced to by HR for compliance reasons. The above examples are absolutely not good solutions to anything from a compliance perspective. The few sentences where you describe your approach to compliance issues are a really solid overview of the right approach.

    Doug Friedman
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  2. Great article – and very relatable. We recently reworked our interview process to better reflect the skills we look for across different disciplines and at different levels, and have received really positive candidate feedback. We have implemented a programming challenge for our development roles that works pretty well for us right now. It has basic requirements, but also allows more experienced developers to implement advanced features. We’re always looking to improve the candidate experience and find the feedback very valuable. One size does not fit all!

    1. I really like a well designed “programming challenge” as opposed to a written test. As you describe, the right problem will allow more senior software engineers the ability to shine by coming up with especially thoughtful, elegant solutions or by adding additional functionality.

  3. Great Rant John – Consistency should be a consideration, not a goal. As we tune our processes for efficiency and effectiveness, ALWAYS first consider the impact on both candidate and hiring manager experience and be their internal advocate. Challenging as we build for scale, but need to be mindful of the balance required. I cringe at the thought of spending a ton of time and energy engaging/courting passive senior engineering talent and then losing them because we were required to give them a basic programming test before on-site visit – that is ridiculous and insulting. Yes, technical assessments are critical in our hiring, however building flexibility into the process and being able to tailor the experience around the candidate has proved most effective.

    1. Amen, brother Tim! Putting the candidate and hiring manager lens on your process is critical. I’d love for you to write an article or share more as you guys build your at-scale recruiting function. I know you’re in hyper-growth mode, and consistency – even if it was the goal – is nearly impossible to achieve, with so many moving pieces. But as you guys work through that, please share. Would love to know what you end up keeping consistent and what you personalize.

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