This article originally appeared in the HR Examiner. You can read the original here.
How exactly does hiring manage to disappoint everyone involved with it? No other routine work task delivers so little, so unpredictably.
Hiring ought to be simple because everyone wants the same thing. Executives always want to hire the very best people–passionate, committed top performers who will fit their culture and deliver results over many years. Everyone wants their recruiting process to be rigorous, highly selective, and completely predictable, resulting in a consistent flow of demonstrably outstanding candidates.
Hiring is very easy to do badly, and very hard to do well. So what causes most hiring failures?
It’s easy to see what’s in front of you, but hard to see what’s not in front of you.
Hiring only becomes predictable when you train yourself to look beyond the obvious. It’s far easier to just process what’s in front of you, and for some low-impact jobs, the easy path is good enough. But when the stakes are high, the path to ruin is paved with five easy assumptions:
Easy Assumption #1
The perfect candidates you imagined are all out there, you just need to find them.
What You Overlook: At the start of a search, you cannot simply accept the hiring manager’s definition of what a Top Performer looks like, because no hiring manager knows the full range of people in the market. “Top Performer” is not a firm and fixed definition; it’s relative, based on market conditions. The only useful definition for Top Performer is this: A Top Performer is someone who is demonstrably better than their peers at achieving the kinds of business results you require, while working in an environment similar to your own.
Where to Focus: You must look beyond the obvious candidate profile defined by the manager to see who they are ignoring. Finding the most highly qualified person for an open job requires an understanding of:
a) Who is in the job market, and
b) How your opportunity compares to their other options
The hiring manager may be the expert on what work must be done, but is rarely a job market expert. Consequently, the definition of the “ideal candidate” cannot come solely from the manager–it must be developed in partnership between the manager and someone with a real understanding of current conditions in the job market.
Where to Learn More:
To understand more about this concept, read:
- Understanding who thinks you offer the best job in town.
- What is a Top Performer?
- How market knowledge expands your options
- How market knowledge supports better decision-making
Easy Assumption #2
The resumes in front of you are a representative sample of the available candidates in the job market. No need to consider those who didn’t apply.
What You Overlook: Hiring suffers when you ignore the candidates you do not see, and no single recruiting approach (like job ads) provides a representative sample of the available candidates in a job market.
Managers routinely make the mistake of sampling bias, or selection bias. (If 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident sugarless gum, is that claim true of all dentists? Not if you only surveyed dentists walking past the Trident booth at a convention.)
The vast majority of hiring processes suffer from two forms of selection bias:
a) Not attracting a truly representative sample of people
b) Using the wrong selection criteria to decide who to interview (see #3)
Where to Focus: To overcome sampling bias, diversify your recruiting outreach strategy.
Easy Assumption #3
You can determine a lot about a person’s likely success in a role from their resume. The best looking resumes should always be interviewed first.
What You Overlook: When you limit your applicant pool to only the candidates with the good looking resumes, you reduce hiring rigor. A rigorous selection process has strikingly little to do with the factors found on a resume, such as a degree from an elite institution or work experience with a well-known organization. These factors can be correlated with success on the job, but they do not cause someone’s success. Many factors that translate into success cannot be discerned from a resume.
Where to Focus: Don’t limit who you consider by their resume factors alone. The only way to discover who does great work is to speak with at twenty well-qualified people who want your job–which likely means opening up the competition to candidates you wouldn’t normally consider.
Easy Assumption #4
When you demand observable passion and commitment from candidates early in the interview process, you weed out the bad apples.
What You Overlook: Too many hiring managers expect a candidate to be passionate and committed to their cause before ever speaking with them. Making candidates jump through hoops at the beginning of the hiring sequence will not weed out the uncommitted, but it will be very effective at making highly qualified people invisible to you (when they choose not to apply.)
Passion and commitment are not factors you will easily observe in resumes, cover letters, or even in a typical first interview–it’s not an attribute people carry around with them, like a coffee mug.
Managers who are looking for passion are often deceived by the charm of extroverts, mistaking enthusiasm for passion. But unlike passion, enthusiasm quickly fades.
Where to Focus: Trained interviewers know to focus on the harder-to-identify attributes like resilience, persistence, and determination. Truly passionate employees are the ones who show grit. What allows passion and commitment to flourish? Research shows that passion grows over time. Create a work environment that allows people to do the best work of their lives. Otherwise, no matter how enthusiastic someone might have seemed in the interview, their commitment will decay, not grow.
Where to Learn More: Read Parsing Passion in the Interview.
Easy Assumption #5
Face to face interviews are a good way to evaluate a candidate and predict their success on the job.
What You Overlook: In-person interviews are useful, but much of the important information you need is not visible, and much of what’s visible is not important.
Unwittingly, many hiring managers mistake confidence for competence, or confuse style with substance when a candidate “looks the part.” Like every form of discrimination, “appearance discrimination” or “lookism” has nothing to do with competence or ability–yet the unconscious mind often has a hard time reconciling that distinction.
Where to Focus: To reduce the risk of extraneous factors swaying your judgement, start your process with a blind audition/blind interview scenario, like on The Voice. A carefully structured telephone interview reduces the impact of appearance bias, allowing you to base your first impression on what each candidate has achieved, not how they look.
Likewise, supplementing the interview process with work sample testing allows you to test candidate competence by having them do actual work on the job.
Where to Learn More:
- Empty Suits Vs. Effective Executives
- Interviews Are the 3rd (Really 9th) Best Way to Select People
- The Differences Between Interview Skills and Working Skills
- Imagine Your Ideal Salesperson. You’re Probably Wrong
Most executives are firmly in the grip of these illusions. So change will not be easy. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”