The employee selection process is about as random and unscientific as anything can be. Resumes and interviews are nothing more than snapshots of the candidate. They can be touched up, enlarged and changed to present a different image.
Successful recruiters know that they are the photographers, and that a placement starts with presenting the right picture to the hiring authority.
This column will explore the four illogical, irrational but inevitable fallacies that affect their hiring decisions:
1. THE “WALKING JOB ORDER” FALLACY
You don’t have to be working a desk long to realize that job orders and profiles of “qualified” candidates bear little resemblance to each other.
Hiring authorities are like people who place “personal” classified ads in tabloids. They conjure up an ideal candidate in their mind that’s mostly fantasy. I did it myself for nine years as a personnel manager. You do it too when you’re hiring. You know what the employee looks, walks and talks like. Ability to do the job itself is inextricably connected to your desire for companionship, trust, whatever.
You can see the difference between this fantasy and reality by comparing the last candidate you placed to the JO. See what we mean? If more than one person is involved in working up the specs, it’s even crazier.
That doesn’t mean you should send out candidates who walk in the office backwards. Walking in the office with one foot in front of the other was recently proven to have a positive impact on hiring authorities. One of our clients inadvertently pressed the “reverse” button while presenting videotaped interviews to a hiring committee. (Fortunately, he had already spent the retainer so they were patient.)
So be careful whom you send out. But also recognize that hiring authorities only think they know what they want. A JO should be called a “WL” — a corporate “wish list.”
In Management by Motivation, Saul Gellerman says:
[F]antasy is too often the chief underpinning for selection. . . Most of the world’s work gets done, and done well enough, by ordinary people. All of it gets done by people who have some flaw or deficiency that is not altogether desirable in their work. . . [There] is the notion that there must be somebody somewhere who fits the specifications of a job and the whims of its managers perfectly.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take JO’s seriously. They have been known to provide insight into job duties.
2. THE APPRAISAL FALLACY
As we mentioned at the beginning, just a snapshot of the candidate is being seen.
Pre-employment interview forms, ratings and comments become the basis for deciding whom to hire. Everything is geared toward typecasting the candidate. The pressures of taking time away from doing the job they’re looking for someone to do makes hiring authorities stereotype. They focus too early on the traits rather than the person. Human Resourcers, with their pressures and desire to make their art a science, often don’t object.
Robert Ringer calls this the “Definition Game” in Looking Out for Number One. Here’s how it’s played:
We are all involuntary participants in the Definition Game. Because each of us is a unique human being with varying desires, tastes, prejudices, experiences and personality traits, we see things differently. . . What further complicates the game is that people have a habit of changing their definitions as they go along.
If you’re working with “clients” like this, I suggest you read The Headhunter and You by Marge Rossman. She tells of a candid conversation with the director of human resources of one:
We talked for about 30 minutes before she confessed that it was difficult to work in the organization’s totally impersonal atmosphere; that they had a very high employee turnover rate, which she attributed to the company’s attitude; and finally, that nothing was expected to change. . .
She suggested I might find it difficult to recruit for the organization unless I expected to see an abundance of candidates who would thrive in such an atmosphere.
I have not yet received an assignment from the company and do not know if I would accept one. . .
You may not have been so fortunate. That 30 minutes was a good investment.
3. THE TESTING FALLACY
Employers who test candidates are usually the same ones who pay retainers to find them. This is no coincidence. They turn the interviewing cycle into such a long, painful obstacle course that no contingency recruiter would want the hassle.
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The employee testing industry thrives on a three-part fallacy:
a. That projective psychological tests can determine personality characteristics.
b. That certain jobs require certain personality characteristics.
c. That determining personality characteristics increases the probability of selecting the candidate most likely to succeed in the job.
The probability of success on the job has never been increased by the use of these tests. Training, yes. Testing, no.
If you see an employer that requires them, it’s worth challenging: The best way to choose a winner in the placement race is the same way you choose one in any race — check their track record.
4. THE PREDICTABILITY FALLACY
The appraisal and testing fallacies lead to the predictability fallacy. This is because they fail to consider the effect of the company environment on job performance. It’s so obvious that it’s overlooked.
The longer an interviewer has been with the company, the less likely they are to think about its uniqueness. You see this in your recruits all the time. The place is burning down, and they’re sitting at their desks suffocating from asphyxiation.
In The Winning Streak by Walter Goldsmith and David Clutterbuck, it is observed:
All the very successful companies in our survey appear to generate a remarkable level of commitment in their management. . . Although the people they employ may not be exceptional, they extract from them extraordinary levels of performance.
When you’re presenting candidates, preparing them for interviews and discussing the outcome with hiring authorities, you must stress how they will succeed with the client.
Lois Wyse tells the moral to the fallacy fable in Company Manners:
[The hiring authority] looked around to see what had happened to the second candidate, but he didn’t have to look very far. He was the sales manager of a competing company, the one that had just passed them. Someone had been willing to bet on a person, not a resume.
. . . One of the greatest talents of the headhunter is the ability to approach the unapproachable.