Simplify Selection

Thoughts on Accelerated Selection

Our complex and time-consuming current interviewing and selection practices have done little to improve retention or productivity.

The failure speaks loudly. The data shows that 49 percent of new hires fail within 18 months. Of these, 89 percent lose their jobs due to something involving their attitude or personality – such as a lack of coachability, poor emotional intelligence, low motivation, or a bad temperament. But only 11 percent of new hires are terminated due to technical incompetence. (see footnote below)

How much should we loosen and simplify the criteria we use for selection? Should we continue to invest time in arduous screening and interviews? Should randomness play a larger role in candidate selection?

We think that our thorough selection techniques are better than looser ones and that intuitive feelings are misleading, but we may be wrong. Many of us have read the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell where he postulates that chance and “gut feel” may play a more significant role in our decision-making than we imagine.  Another book, older and more rigorously researched, entitled “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, also takes a similar position.

Both the law and our HR practices say that we need objective criteria to eliminate bias and preferential treatment. We have tried to eliminate bias with job analysis, lengthy and often ridiculously complex job descriptions, rigorous selection criteria, and structured interviews but these have not done much to improve the quality of our hires.

What they have done is make it harder to find good people, lengthened the hiring process, and confused candidates. Candidates are not pleased with the recruiting experience. They say the process is too complex, tedious, lengthy, and unclear as to why, when they seem to meet all requirements, they are rejected.

We need a simpler and, yes, perhaps a more intuitive approach.

Candidates who meet the basic criteria for a job are potentially able to perform that job as well as the ones that make it through our screens. Once basic skills are determined, the only remaining objective criteria are attitude and aptitude. These are far more predictive of success than experience, education, or fit. (See links below)

Imagine what would happen if we could convince hiring managers to hire the first, objectively qualified candidate. The time recruiters and hiring managers spend in screening and interviewing would fall, time to fill would drop, and workloads shrink. If we coupled this rapid hiring with development opportunities, we would most likely find the quality of hire and hiring manager satisfaction grow.

When I think back to much of the 20th century, recruiting was straight-forward. Job analysis and job criteria made sense. The demand for credentials and a specific amount of experience was closely correlated with the type of work. It was not hard to see why a specific skill or experience level was needed.   Most jobs were filled after a brief interview with a hiring manager who decided whether a candidate had one or two needed skills and soft factors such as eagerness, attitude, and physical characteristics.  Most jobs could be learned quickly,, and it was quite easy to see whether a job was being done well or not. It was easy to get rid of poor performers.

There were many things wrong with this approach, but the most obvious was that it blatantly discriminated against anyone who did not fit the hiring manager's stereotype. Greater awareness of discrimination and new legislation removed much of the injustice this system perpetuated.

These recruiting practices had one virtue – they were simple and were built on a belief that attitude and performance really counted.

As we moved into the 1950s and 1960s, these hiring practices were replaced by more rigorous job analysis and increased requirements: minimum levels of education or years of experience before a person would be considered for a position.  This was seen as fairer and served as a screen against hundreds of people potentially applying for the same job.

And this worked well as long as the job required doing a well-defined task that required learned skills. This applies even today to machine operators, drivers, butchers, and many other occupations. it is simple to determine if the person can do that job on not and how quickly and how well.

But when it comes to white-collar work that requires decision making, judgment, and often background knowledge, it is much harder to judge. How can we tell that a particular doctor or lawyer, for example, is better than another one? How do we judge the quality of an HR generalist or even a recruiter?

Often the objective or easily measured criteria are not predictive. We know that selecting people by criteria like education, GPA, and experience doesn’t work very well and discriminates against those with skills who do not have the required credentials or the money to get them. How many good performers are being denied jobs today because they lack a college degree, for example, with no proof that a degree makes a difference to performance?

In a world with pandemic-created high unemployment and an increased number of applicants, it is more important that we determine what selection criteria really matter. Is it better to go with a person who lacks a specific credential or skill but has the right attitude or aptitude?  Is it best to have broad-based recruiting criteria or more and more specific ones? As jobs keep being redefined and new ones pop up all the time, it is even more difficult to know what skills apply or how to measure quality.

These are some guidelines that might help.

Guideline #1:  Keep Criteria Simple How much do you want to invest in perfection when things are constantly changing?  It might be better to define a basic level of competence that most positions require rather than develop complex job analyses and lists of requirements. Use data to validate minimum specific skills. Design screening processes that are simple, fast, and objective, based on testing or work samples.

Guideline #2: Hire for Attitude and Aptitude. Study after study shows that these two criteria are key to job success and performance. People who have a positive attitude and motivation along with the ability to learn quickly are often better choices than highly skilled, experienced workers who have a hard time dealing with change. Flexibility and learning are more and more important. Several validated tests measure both of these objectively.

Guideline #3: Screen in, not out. Rather than putting so much effort into getting rid of candidates, we should try to accommodate as many as possible. The hallmark of the best 21st-century organizations will be their approach to attracting good people of all categories. This includes the entire worker ecosystem of gig, part-time, contract, and permanent people. Assessment by on-the-job performance using more gig and part-time workers may be a partial solution. We can reduce the number of applicants by better targeting job promotions and building easy-to-take screening tests. We should also redirect them to where their skills are appropriate and link them to other positions internally or, through partnerships, to other organizations. Let some element of chance play a part.

Guideline #4:  Help hiring managers understand that continuous that development is part of the employment process. The 80/20 rule applies more than ever as new jobs and duties emerge, and recruiters are forced to define them and select candidates using them. Many companies have used development as a strategic edge – when you have people with skills and others don’t, you tend to win. Finding and developing current employees who have some, but perhaps not all, of the skills needed for a job will also become more common.

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Related Links

Your Approach to Hiring is All Wrong

How Important are Job Attitudes? (Academy of Management)

Top 3 Best and Worst Predictors of Job Performance

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