In this blog series, Spencer Stang, PhD, discusses why organizations fail to hire better employees, and gives insight into what companies can do to make better hiring decisions.
Occasionally, conflicts arise between being honest and making somebody upset, or not being honest and keeping people happy. My rule of thumb in these cases is that truth trumps tact. I would rather have somebody tell me the truth rudely than to have him or her pass along a polite lie.
I’ll try not to be rude, but the truth is that your employee selection process is almost surely broken. You may have put a great deal of time and effort into your process, and you also, most likely, know that it still isn’t where it should be. Here are six of the most common reasons your process is broken, and what you can do to correct them. As with all generalizations, some exceptions apply.
1. You Require Resumes
For most openings your best candidates aren’t in job hunt mode. Many of the people you would want to hire don’t have a resume and won’t bother making a resume based on a job posting–no matter how enticing. The first step of the selection process needs to be so easy that the curious candidate just falls into it. People always tell us, “I wasn’t really looking for a job when I saw the posting.” These are the people you want to attract!
Clients will sometimes say they want the application process to be challenging (e.g. send resume to apply) because it eliminates people who are too lazy to make a resume. There is some truth in this notion, but it is misplaced at the beginning of the process. The employee selection process is a two-sided relationship, and before you ask anything significant of a candidate, you first need to prove yourself to him or her.
In other words, show the applicant that the job is real, the company is real, the opportunity is real, and demonstrate that he or she will be treated with respect. Once you have established yourself, then it’s okay to ask applicants to do any number of assessments as part of your due diligence, and the applicants will understand and respect the process. Bottom line, you don’t want to ask too much, too soon, and you always want to treat candidates as you would want to be treated yourself.
2. You Immediately Make Candidates Create a Username and Password
Imagine that I tell you that I hold the secret to success and happiness. I go on to say that by following three straightforward rules, you are statistically guaranteed to be more successful and happy than the average person. All you have to do to learn these rules is create an account with a username and password . . . and the username is your private email. You can imagine that only a small percentage of people are going to create the account, because it is likely to be a waste of time. What if instead of making an account, you only had to scroll down the page to read the rules to happiness and success?
In this case, most people would scroll down–if nothing else for the sake of curiosity. Furthermore, after you read the rules, if they actually made sense, and they had a basis in research, the credibility of the source would go up significantly. Essentially, the more you prove yourself, the more credibility you build, the more information, time, and money a person will trade with you.
Respect must be earned, and immediately asking a person to create an account is not a way to earn respect. To see this in your current process, look up the number of people who click on your job posting and compare it to the number of people who actually apply. Most companies get fewer than one in ten people, and half of that loss is due to the “create an account” initiation process.
3. You Don’t Communicate Consistently and Honestly
Starting with the basics, if a person applies for a job with your organization, you should tell that person if he or she is no longer under consideration, and/or if the job is filled. If you don’t have the time to do this, then you don’t have the time to run a hiring process.
Note that in your communication process, it’s okay to tell candidates that the process is taking longer than expected, or that it has been put on pause for a time. Research suggests that when you don’t say anything, most people will actually assume that something is worse than the truth–so lean towards honest disclosure without getting into the gory details.
Finally, unless you work for the CIA, never lie. Don’t lie to make a candidate feel better or to cover for a mistake made by somebody on your staff. Don’t lie to keep your company from being sued. When you lie, it leads to a culture of lying that will ultimate hurt your HR team and organization.
4. You Collect Data on Candidates Who Have No Chance of Being Hired
In the era of Google and Facebook, data has never been more valuable. It’s so valuable that many organizations use morally questionable methods to get people to provide them with their personal information. Once you know that a person will not be hired, you should stop collecting data on that person as soon as it’s reasonably possible. Do NOT use the hiring process as an excuse to collect data that you or your applicant tracking system vendor thinks may be useful or valuable later. This is a creepy practice that is used by far too many organizations.
Most organizations with applicant tracking systems ask knockout-type questions as part of the process (e.g. are you at least 18 years old? Can you work in the U.S.? etc.). Some of these processes ask these questions after candidates have already provided an extensive amount of personal information (which is bad). Some ask these questions first, but then go on to collect personal information even if the applicant doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications (also bad).
By asking the knockout questions first and then eliminating people who don’t meet minimum requirements, we can respect each applicant’s time and personal information, and improve the legal defensibility of the entire process. The only thing that doesn’t happen by using a more respectful process is you don’t get to store gigabytes of personal data on unqualified applicants, that you are probably never going to use anyway (unless you actually are Google or Facebook).
5. Your Process is Not Customized to the Job
This is an easy one to spot. If you use the same selection process across your organization, then your process is definitely broken. To state the obvious, accountants, programmers, machinists, and programmers are all different. Asking applicants for different types of jobs to go through the same process either because it’s simpler, or because “corporate wants a standard process,” is not going to get you the accuracy rate your organization deserves.
It will also feel generic to applicants, who then may not take it as seriously. Your application process should ask different questions based on the job. If you use personality assessments (and you should), then you need to match the personality profile to the job. Additional assessments, including job knowledge testing and basic ability testing (math/reading) as well as the interview also need to match to the role.
Furthermore, the intensity of the process should vary based on the consequences tied to a bad hire. If you are hiring a maintenance supervisor at a refinery, the consequences of a bad hire could literally be life or death. In this case, it makes sense to put more time and effort into your process than you would if you were hiring a ticket taker at the local theater.
6. You Think Hiring is More an Art Than a Science
Over the course of my career, I’ve had many people tell me that hiring is “more art than science.” Typically, this happens when a person is about to hire somebody who has a relatively low probability of success on the job. In other words, it’s a catch-all excuse for not following decision science. I know this well because I’ve made the mistake myself. The very first person I ever assessed for a client interviewed extremely well, had a perfect background for the job, but tested very poorly (i.e., big red flag!). The client dismissed the test results and I went along with their assessment noting, “the tests aren’t perfect.”
Within six months, the new hire crashed and burned, and cost the organization a great deal of money. In hindsight, I should have known better, but I got caught up in the “art” of the process. My gut told me that this person was going to be great in spite of his test scores. I knew that statistically the tests were just as accurate as the interview process, and yet I put unwarranted weight on my own observations. Had I factored the test results appropriately, I would have made a different recommendation–the right recommendation.
This, of course, is just an anecdote, and anecdotes make for bad science. After having the opportunity to track hiring “exceptions” on a much larger scale, we have solid evidence that when it comes to predicting future job performance, science trumps art. When you hire someone who goes against the science, you are four times more likely to be hiring someone who is going to fail than if you hire someone recommended by the process (science).
In other words, you shouldn’t ignore your gut, but you also shouldn’t trust it. If you want to put probability on your side, your process should include properly validated and weighted measures of education, experience, soft skills, technical skills, aptitude, character, and personality fit. If you “feel lucky,” you can skip all that and opt for short cuts and trusting your gut. But I’m guessing that’s not a risk most organizations would knowingly want to take.
If your organization is already following the recommendations made in this post, then you are off to a great start. Next month we will focus on “Problem Seven” which gets into a more advanced diagnosis allowing you to optimize a process that is already working well.