Tom was hired because of his stellar academic record and experience at a top-tier firm. The interviews went very well and everyone was in agreement that he would be a great hire. He checked all the boxes they had specified including GPA, references, and experience that mirrored what they needed him to do.
He had everything the recruiter and the hiring managers wanted. Yet after just six months, it was apparent that he would not be successful. He lacked the team skills and motivation to dig into the work and did not get along with his peers. He was smart and capable but lacked relationship skills. Complaints were increasing, and his manager was upset that such a high-quality person was failing.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Our ability to choose people with the typical interview has little more validity than a flip of a coin. Unfortuanely, even when we try to be objective our beliefs, biases and assumptions come out. If interviews were valid and reliable we would not have average turnover exceeding 50+ percent per year or disengaged employees.
Recruiters and hiring managers alike have subconscious prejudices that predetermine how they rank one candidate over another. Rarely are these assumptions articulated or the prejudices uncovered. What happens is that the recruiter or hiring manager judges mainly on a simplistic set of criteria, backed by an interview and evaluation process that seeks to rationalize or justify those assumptions. Objective, repeatable measures of candidate quality are rare.
How To Improve the Measurement of Quality
How can we determine which candidate is “better” than another? How can recruiters and hiring managers define quality? And how can it be tracked?
We need better predictors of success than the input-based ones we commonly use, such as degrees, GPAs, previous experience, and years of experience. These input measures are easy to get, but unfortunately, both academic research and industry experience shows that they are unreliable.
We can use validated tests and screening tools but these are often expensive and candidates do not always like to take these tests. But there is an alternative.
Even without sophisticated data analysis, it is possible to define better the characteristics of high performers based on data. Working with hiring managers, we should list the characteristics, traits, and skills common to both the best and the worst employees in a role. These characteristics could be traits such as willingness to compromise, an open attitude toward new ideas, or frugality in business dealings. Or they could be competencies such as the ability to write accurate code or create spreadsheets quickly or the capability to edit complex documents. They could include the ability to complete goals and meet deadlines. And they can also include an assessment on the level of knowledge needed such as expert-level knowledge of a programming language or a manufacturing process. The criteria chosen need to come from several people and include a variety of perspectives.
Notice that all the ones mentioned are output-based measures, i.e., measures that can be seen or demonstrated in an employee's work. They are the opposite of input-based measures.
In Toms's case, the weighting was almost totally on what they assumed were his knowledge and ability. In the interview process, no one focused on whether he was motivated to work in this company or whether he fit their culture. A better understanding of what success is required in this role would have helped improve the interview and perhaps lead to a better decision.
Diagram 1 shows the four elements that should be considered when making a hiring decision. Each position will have an ideal mix of these elements and the amount of each element will vary considerably. For example, if you were hiring a nuclear engineer, you would most likely want someone with considerable knowledge and skills, and experience. Motivation and fit, while always factors, might be secondary. On the other hand, if you were hiring a salesperson, you would select more for motivation and experience than for particular knowledge or even cultural fit.
To make these determinations for a role, the recruiter will need to partner with the hiring managers, someone who already holds a similar position, and perhaps with human resources to determine this mix. For example, skills and ability might be the primary consideration for a programmer who works remotely and virtually. But a programmer who works in your office every day might require much more motivation and be a good culture fit to be successful. Every role will likely have a slightly different mix of required success elements.
It takes time and willing managers to partner with you. The result will be more acceptable candidates presented to the hiring managers, resulting in less wasted time and effort. And all of this without the need for a data scientist.
Educate hiring managers.
Very few hiring managers know much about selection or what it takes to assess a candidate. Even though you may have put all the managers through interview training, they have probably forgotten most of it and used less. Most of us are not disciplined enough or well enough trained to use the behavioral or structured interview process well. Nor should we expect most managers to become experts with these techniques, which are not core to their daily work. One area where recruiters can add value is pre-screening and evaluating candidates against these criteria. The criteria should be used to create behavioral interview questions or to choose an appropriate test.
You can spend small amounts of time presenting bits of this information over a few weeks and moving the managers to understand and accept. If you can, you could also hold seminars and use case studies and examples from your organization to help managers understand how important it is to use objective and verified criteria to select people.
Investigate and experiment with new tools for screening and selection.
It is still surprising that very few firms are taking advantage of the many online tools availabe to screen candidates before investing a large amount of time in interviews. a chatbiot can be added to the career site to engage candidates in a dialogue and mutual assessment process.
By defining up front what constitutes a quality candidate, we can reduce turnover and improve engagement. We can also remove much of the present frustration candidates have over why they were not chosen for an interview and reduce the number of unqualified candidates who apply.
By working with hiring managers, getting them to write down and define for you the competencies and traits of successful employees, and by putting those to use in your screening and interviewing processes, you can measurably improve candidate quality.
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