Would You Like Fries With That Hire?

As a recruiter, I find myself wondering why managers often approach the hiring process as though they were ordering fast food at the drive-through. First they scan the menu to see what’s offered, then they pick the top three or four things they want. “I’ll take one MBA, with a BSEE, a 3.5 GPA or better, and don’t forget three years of marketing experience.” While ordering this way at local hamburger joint almost always produces exactly what you want, it doesn’t work nearly as well for hiring. When I teach corporate hiring managers and recruiters about the hiring process, I always ask, “How many of you have ever hired a partially competent person?” The answer is frequently YES for a majority of the workshop participants. Why? Because the current process of defining what the hiring manager is looking for is hopelessly flawed. The typical hiring manager, and in truth many recruiters, approach each new hiring assignment with a list of qualifications. This list becomes codified in the official job description which includes some level of education (an MBA from Harvard), some level of experience (three years of marketing experience), and some core traits or characteristics (self-starter or good communicator). What they don’t tell you is what the person actually needs to DO in the job to be a superior performer. As it turns out, these lists of attributes are poor substitutes for superior performance. For example, the typical job description for a marketing position might include a list of criteria such as: MBA, five years marketing experience, good knowledge of direct marketing, good management skills, good planning skills, creative. Each of these descriptors focuses on the candidate HAVING certain skills or levels of experience. But the don’t say anything about what the candidate has been actually DOING. And it’s PAST PERFORMANCE, not past experience, that is THE BEST PREDICTOR OF FUTURE PERFORMANCE. The next time you recruit for a new position, try this first: Take a list of the HAVING job criteria and convert it into a DOING-oriented statement, covering how you expect the candidate to actually perform. When you take this approach, everything changes. Instead of asking in the interview, “Do you have five years of marketing experience?” you can now ask something much more revealing: ” Can you give me an example of a marketing campaign you created that drove significant traffic to a web site and captured their email address for future marketing?” The answer to the second question will uncover true past performance faster — and much more accurately — than simply checking off a list of HAVING-oriented job criteria. Taking the time to define superior performance allows you to focus on what a candidate has done in the past that is directly relevant to the job you are asking them to do for you. Here are some hints to help you get started defining superior performance: First, make a list of the top 5-8 things a person must DO to be successful in the job. These are called performance objectives, and could include some of the following key areas:

  • Management or Organizational Issues
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  • Changes and Improvements you’d like to see implemented
  • Problems that might arise (or ones that already exist)
  • Technical Issues
  • Team and People Issues
  • Projects and Deliverables

Once you have a list of objective you need to prioritize them. Focus only on major objectives and the interim steps necessary to achieve Them. I call these S.M.A.R.T. objectives (S for Specific, M for Measurable, A for Action-oriented, R for Results, T for Time-based). Writing SMART objectives isn’t as easy as ordering fast food . It takes practice, some effort, and a little time. But it’s well worth the investment. Your definition of superior performance becomes the basis for writing great ads, assessing true competency during the interview, and courting the right candidates. And you’re hiring mistakes won’t have you reaching for the Tums so often in the middle of the night…

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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