This is the second post in a two part series on what is why staffing so often fails to get results.
Resume screening is so dull and time consuming that it often gets treated as a clerical task assigned to a junior team member. Junior people often lack the judgment to do much more than look for keywords or years of experience. The lifeless Job Description is a perfect guide for this dull task. This tedious cycle of simplistic evaluation ensures that all context is fully and completed removed from consideration of both the job and the job-seeking candidate. By its very nature, this guarantees that every exciting, “out of the box” candidate is ruled out, without any consideration whatsoever.
Next, the resumes of people with the “right” keywords and years of experience are passed to the hiring manager, who is, by definition, short-staffed and too busy to look at them. After weeks elapse, the busy manager grabs the stack of resumes and asks himself or herself one question: “Which of these resumes is least likely to waste my time?” Managers vividly remember every moment wasted interviewing bad candidates, so, to avoid making that mistake again, they look for any reason NOT to see most of the resumes. At some level, we all know that great employees often have mediocre resumes and mediocre people often have great resumes. We certainly know that a resume is, at best, a very poor representation of a real, live, thinking, breathing human being. We know a resume cannot even attempt to represent the values, intelligence and work ethic that make someone “fit in” and contribute to an organization. Unfortunately, the crushing pressure to “save time interviewing” completely eclipses these considerations, and we proceed to overlook about a third of the best candidates.
Now that the manager has selected 3 or 4 “good looking” resumes of candidates to interview, the recruiter or admin assistant tries to get them scheduled. This is not easy of course, because the manager is short-staffed and overscheduled. So, about a month after the job description was initially posted, candidates finally get in to see the manager for a first interview. Of course, the best candidates who initially applied have already received offers from other firms, so they decline to even interview. Luckily, the less desirable candidates, who are not getting job offers, are still available to interview.
These less desirable candidates are a bit skeptical about any firm that takes a month to schedule a first interview, but they need the interview practice and want to learn a bit about the job, so they figure “why not?” Inevitably, many of these people will drop out once they learn the true nature of the job or will be ruled out because they don’t “fit,” but not until they have consumed most of that valuable time the manager has been “saving” all along.
The interview is when the hiring manager finally gets his or her chance to critically evaluate a candidate’s ability to drive business results. Of course, this assumes the manager has been trained to think hard about the desired results, can articulate them, and evaluate the critical competencies necessary for a candidate to achieve at that level. Unfortunately, very few companies have the process in place to think critically about how to drive business results.
So, the manager plows ahead, typically without any training on how to methodically interview and evaluate the critical competencies required for job success. To make matters worse, often the manager must waste half of his or her precious hour with the candidate providing the context that the job description left out.
After each interview, the manager goes with his or her “gut feeling” for the candidate, backed by a quick evaluation of technical capability. To compound the flaws of the earlier resume review process, the manager never examines just how many assumptions about the candidate he or she has made without ever asking. Because there was so little time left to ask questions during the interview, the manager simply assumed that if the candidate worked at such-and-such firms; or did such-and-such kinds of jobs; or claimed such-and-such expertise; that they must possess certain values and be good at certain things. These “time saving” assumptions are almost always wrong.
To reduce hiring risk, managers often include colleagues in the interview process. Because managers rarely take the time to reconcile their own expectations, they certainly do not reconcile differing expectations with other interviewers. Consequently, each interviewer looks for different things in the interview. Unsurprisingly, each interviewer finds different points to like and dislike about each candidate and, regardless of their individual hiring track records, each interviewer’s point of view is considered. This strikes the perfect balance of considering the unimportant and irrelevant right alongside the important and the relevant.
And what happens to the candidates? They walk out of the interview still unclear about the job, a bit confused by the varying expectations of the different interviewers, but vaguely cheered by the fact that there were so few other candidates competing for the job. They did their level best to answer vague questions like “Can you handle a fast-paced environment?” and “Are you a team player?” Not wanting to appear an idiot, they never stopped to examine what exactly the interviewers actually meant by these vague questions.
The manager walks away from the interview process thinking “Well, this person could probably do the job…certainly better than that other person…and I sure would like to get the position filled…even if the other interviewers disagree with my choice.” Specific performance expectations were never discussed; specific competencies required to do the job were not methodically evaluated; and the best available candidates were never even interviewed. Sadly, when the pressure to fill a position becomes intense, without intentionally meaning to do so, most managers will overlook such potential problems in the rush to “get it over with” and “get back to work.”
The Old-School Search Firm Approach
For 20, 25, 30 or even 35% of annual salary, surely search firms and placement agencies should be able to avoid the pitfalls in recruiting? After all, recruiting is their business. Surely they can understand what business results you want to achieve and then provide valuable context to job candidates? Unfortunately, despite their hefty fees, few recruiters at any level have the business acumen, discipline and rigorous process to delve into why a position must be filled, to fully understand the position, its inherent challenges and its intrinsic rewards.
A few high-end retained search firms can conduct a good job analysis but, with minimum search fees of $75k, they are simply out of reach for most positions. Less expensive contingency fee staffing firms are essentially commission-based tele-sales organizations and have neither the time, nor incentive, nor inclination to do this rigorous analytical work. And, why should they? It would only take valuable time and erode their profit margin.
Strikingly few headhunters seem to understand how top performers process information, assess risk and make decisions. Still fewer actually know how to design predictable, efficient recruiting strategies that take advantage of the wired, interconnected, online world in which we live. Tragically, the entire recruiting industry seems mired in the past; by keeping information closely held; relying primarily on a technology more than 130 years old – the telephone – to reach candidates one at a time; while paying hefty commissions to recruiters to “make deals.” That business model is both wildly inefficient and increasingly out of step with the times.
Candidates, of course, have long since moved beyond “being sold to,” and don’t look to commission-oriented sales professionals to help them make any serious purchasing decisions – not a TV, not a car, and certainly not their career. Smart consumers and candidates are wary of bias and, therefore, research big decisions long before they ever venture into a retail store, a car showroom or an interview situation. Candidates use online tools and social networks to gather information, assess risk and decide which opportunities to pursue. And, when they find what they want, they move fast.