Hiring is not easy today, and it wasnʼt easy over 2000 years ago. The Chinese Han dynasty attempted to create a scientific hiring process for their civil servants. They developed detailed job descriptions for various jobs. Historical records show that the people who created these job descriptions were not happy with the results of their efforts. To their chagrin, few of those hired performed as expected.
Today, organizations are still trying to hire employees — with the same unhappy results. So, if hiring has never been easy and is truly a daunting task, then hiring in todayʼs business environment makes it doubly so. The supply of people to hire is shrinking. The supply of people who have the capability of being top performers is shrinking at the same time.
Experience confirms what the Chinese learned in 207 B.C.; it is impossible to make hiring a science. On the other hand, a systematic approach to hiring greatly enhances the odds of hiring a top performer. Making a sound hiring decision takes time and discipline. The hiring process is often sabotaged by 10 chronic mistakes.
Most open jobs are the result of someone being fired or an unexpected resignation, so the organization begins looking for someone with the same qualities of the person who left. In actuality, the organization should be focusing on the job competencies necessary for future job success.
Organizations put together job descriptions that would take a super hero like Superman to live up to those expectations. Most times these job descriptions are put together without considering the “outcomes” the new person is expected to achieve. They often list every little detail of the job. I call it the “soup to nuts” approach. How could anyone ever be expected to live up to some of these awful job descriptions?
Most interviewers have their favorite set of questions they ask regardless of the situation or job. A couple of the more common ones are, “Where do you want to be five years from now?” Another is, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
The people who ask these questions have in their minds good and bad absolute answers. The problem with absolute answers to absolute questions is that they are opinions provided in a vacuum and should be treated in that manner. A candidateʼs absolute opinion is taken as fact, and you have no way of knowing if the opinion has any truth to it.
During the interview process, candidates are readily taken at face value. Most interviewers willingly accept a candidateʼs answers to their interview questions. Worse, they believe what they read on the resume. I tell my clients that the resume is the second greatest story ever told. Many candidates slant the truth in their favor.
Think about this for moment: what are candidates looking for? Perhaps they want to leave a bad job, they need to make more money or they think maybe they can catch on with a better organization. Why wouldnʼt a candidate have his resume doctored to highlight their successful positions and play down or eliminate others completely?
Candidates want to put their best foot forward. As in the movies, the director always attempts to get the best camera angle. It is the same with job candidates; they want to give you their best look. Sadly, many organizations never look beyond the candidateʼs efforts to promote their best camera angle.
Amazingly, interviewers usually believe what they hear from references. It is worth noting that a smart candidate would never list a poor reference or a reference that wasnʼt credible on their resume. Most information gathered from a typical reference is of limited or little value.
In what other part of our life would we trust the word of a total stranger? If you were to have major surgery, wouldnʼt you want to talk with some reliable sources to learn that the surgeon was highly qualified and had many successful surgeries? Yet when it comes to hiring a person we often take the word of a total, stranger.
Who hasnʼt been caught in this trap? Weʼve all been caught in the “halo” effect — letting one good characteristic overpower all other characteristics? The really tough one though is our tendency to place people who are just like us at the top of the heap. We feel they must be the cream of the crop! It helps us feel better about ourselves to hire someone just like us, yet the job may be better served by someone with different talents and skills.
Many managers delegate the important steps of the hiring process, reserving the right to make the final hiring decision. This includes having others conduct the first one or two interviews. Many times these interviewers are not prepared well for the interview and do not have the same level of motivation to conduct a good interview as the manager him/herself. Well qualified candidates may take themselves out of the process if they feel they are not important enough to be interviewed up front by the person they will work for.
Smart candidates, and even those that arenʼt so smart, have learned how to win in the interview, even in structured interviews. I ask those conducting interviews how they know if the candidate is giving his/her own answers — or are they a book, tape or seminar answer? They shrug their shoulders and say they donʼt know. More times than not, the answers are learned answers. The candidate simply turns on their in-head recorder and plays back to the interviewer the appropriate learned response.
Job interviews also can turn into a “nice visit.” Both the interviewer and candidate feel good about the experience, but little if anything about the candidateʼs ability to do the job has been determined. Worse, an excellent candidate may have been rejected because he/she wasnʼt good at making small talk.
Hiring managers are often intimidated by a superior to hire the superiorʼs friend. Often they are asked to forgo the organizationʼs standard hiring processes and procedures. In other instances, a manager will want to hire someone not quite as strong to increase their personal chance of being promoted at a later time. Yet another example of political pressure candidates gets jobs because of favors rendered.
Most hiring is done based on education, work history, and other hard data. What many organizations fail to look at is the soft data necessary to make an informed hiring decision. What competencies does the job call for to perform it successfully? Does the organization have a process of determining the necessary competencies? What does the organization use to evaluate the candidateʼs potential personality traits and behaviors needed to perform these competencies at a high level?
Psychologists have determined that this “soft data” is more than twice as important for superior job performance as intellect and expertise. The old saying is, “Hired on experience, fired on personality.”
Why donʼt more organizations measure a candidateʼs potential against a well developed competency model? Simply because during the interview most candidates appear to have job traits. People learn the behavior that is expected and then put it on public display during the interview process. The ultimate question is do they actually have them or were they for display purposes only?