In my last Recruiting Daily post, “Why Bad Hires Happen To Good Recruiters,” I tried to explain why even the best talent acquisition pros in the business make misinformed, misdirected hiring decisions every day.
Bad hires happen. And it’s because of four primary and pervasive causes, or at least my first hand observations over the course of my career in this business would lead me to believe.
These, in turn, can really all be distilled in a single, simple statement: employers make bad hires because of bad recruiting, specifically a lack of proper due diligence or digging into a candidate’s real story.
This might not always be a ton of fun on the front end and might seem like it can slow an already painfully slow process, but the time required to backfill a bad hire and reinvent the req-related wheel are far more costly (and frustrating) than simply getting it right the first time. Which, let’s face it, is kind of what companies expect from recruiters anyway.
Guilt Free Recruiting: 4 Tips For Never Regretting Another Hire.
Now that we’ve gotten the sources of bad hires out of the way, I’d like to discuss a few more ways that recruiters can specifically avoid making the most common hiring mistakes. Here are a few solutions for specific prehire problem areas you can actually use to make sure bad hires don’t happen to you.
While I know many of these tips and tricks might seem like no brainers, many of the world’s most sophisticated talent organizations still rely on a completely unstructured, entirely subjective prescreening process that’s really nothing more than hiring managers’ personal preferences or broken business processes.
Given the fact that so few employers actually employ these really straightforward, but really obvious action items, forgive me if these come across as patronizing or polarizing.
It’s just that they’re problems that are, in fact, really easy to fix (unlike bad hires, which represent one mess you never want to have to clean up).
Problem: The candidate lacks technical or functional expertise and doesn’t have the skills they need to actually deliver in the job for which they were hired.
Solution: Anyone can claim to be an expert in something – and, judging from social media profiles or professional services RFPs, there are far too many “experts” out there for this to really mean anything, anyway.
But expertise is more than just sticking the right set of keywords on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
Any recruiter who even remotely knows their requisition should never get fooled by buzzword bingo or making a choice based off a candidate’s presentation style instead of professional substance. But as we all know, deep screening for technical skills and job specific expertise is not a strong suit for most recruiters out there.
That’s why I’d recommend taking candidates who look good online for an offline test drive – the only way to see if a candidate is going to work out is by well, working. Ideally, this task involves giving the candidate an actual problem or challenge simulating actual job experiences or requiring real work samples that this position was created to overcome (and if there isn’t one that’s obvious, it might be time to reevaluate the role).
Alternatively, it can be an issue that your company has recently solved, a precedent that makes it easy to see whether or not the candidate is going to cut it since you already know the answer (and they should, too – or at least come up with something that’s more than superficially similar).
It’s uncanny how quickly this litmus test screens out candidates from candidont’s, if you will. If they’re really an “expert” at anything more than using the word expert to describe whatever keyword happens to be in question, you’ll know. It’s the people who push back on really basic situational simulations or simple skills testing you should be wary of when administering these assessments.
Sure, there’s some time and money involved in these trials but even if you simply pay people for their time, you’re going to only compensate them for the work they deliver. And if they don’t deliver, then you know they’re not going to work. That’s OK – it doesn’t have to cost you thousands to figure it out.
Problem: The candidate has all of the technical or functional expertise and they’ve even worked at a competitor. Let’s hire them!
Solution: While many positions and hiring stakeholders want candidates with deep domain expertise, industry experience or skills specific to your market, customer segment or vertical, you’re also running a risk.
That risk is you’re likely find a hammer who thinks everything else is a nail – and they already have your company nailed just because they’re coming from a competitor.
Someone who’s done it before will do it again, even if what they did isn’t what’s going to work this time.
This is why pattern recognition is so important for figuring out whether or not a candidate’s skills are truly transferrable, or, conversely, determining whether or not a potential new hire with a less traditional profile or limited industry experience has enough expertise to make a move make sense for either of you.
One example of a company who does a great job with pattern recognition testing, particularly for campus recruiting and emerging workforce positions is the prescreening process in place at Procter & Gamble. They require less experienced workers to apply the requisite business acumen required to anticipate (or at least appreciate) new or nuanced situations.
To start pattern recognition testing at your company, just start out by simply trying to discover exactly how much, if any, research the candidate has done into your specific market, customers, company and job – or if they already know enough to know how to articulate the often subtle similarities or slight differences between their current or past roles and the one you’re considering for their future.
Other baselines include determining whether a candidate has the intellectual curiosity required to dive in and ask the right questions needed to develop the right solutions and strategies. That’s why “no” is never the right answer to the inevitable “any other questions?” at the end of every interview.
A candidate without the ability to appreciate or articulate the small but significant contrasts in both strategy and operations is a candidate who is unlikely to be able to adapt well to these new situations when they arise on the job. And they always will.
Problem: You’re too busy to read every resume and the candidate talks a good game about past performance. But… they’re making it up.
Solution: Past performance is the original predictive analytic involved in forecasting future success.
While past roles might have a slightly different set of responsibilities or reporting structure than the role you’re considering, seeing that someone has succeeded in overcoming even remotely similar challenges (and have the numbers to prove it) is essential.
Good thing that talent management has a pretty tried and true performance management process already in place.
And while the infamous STAR model (that’s situation, task, action and results, if you’re just joining us) is so overused it’s used for buzzword bingo in talent management circles, it’s another story entirely when it’s used when attracting and acquiring that talent.
Recruiters often forget that this same model works equally well within the context of a behavioral based interview as it does a formal performance review, and every bit as effective for measuring individual performance. The key to this approach is to ask as many open ended questions as possible to focus their responses on specific results that are directly related to their personal efforts.
Don’t let candidates use team or company accomplishments during their job tenure as a crutch. Instead, tease out what outcomes a candidate drove through their individual performance and what impact those results had on bottom line results.
There might be no “I” in team, but you have to keep an eye on the unique contributions each candidate drove themselves. If they can’t do that, chances are you’re recruiting the wrong person in that team, business unit or function (and you should probably call those references yourself, as an aside).
Standardizing and implementing the STAR method in any meaningful way requires investing precious recruiting resources – like finite time or budget – before candidates even come in the door.
That’s why recruiting organizations that are getting it right know that investing in preparation preempts perspiration, and know that it’s ideal to spend as much time as possible with the entire interview team to holistically discuss what success looks like for the role, how it’s going to be measured and what competencies are required for achieving these results.
I know, this sounds painful, but it’s uncanny how much this investment up front in the recruiting process will pay off further along in the process.
When everyone’s evaluation and competency models are aligned on an interview team, candidates not only move through process faster, but the risk of making a bad hire are more or less minimized. One of my favorite words of recruiting advice I’ve ever received is that you can ensure someone can deliver results only when they know what results you expect them to deliver.
Start the interview by defining or reiterating your expectations and make sure before moving onto discussing strategies and tactics for delivering results, the candidate is able to align these with only those outcomes you or your hiring manager truly care about.
Then, give them a baseline and benchmarks and you will both quickly know what they’re signing up for and what’s expected if they decide to move on with next steps. Even if they get an offer, this is the far better place to let them opt out than after they’re already onboard.
And yes, recruiters can – and should – take no for an answer. The right candidate will always give you the right answer when they know what the question is. The STAR method just helps recruiters hear it a bit better.
The Problem: The candidates never understood that they were actually in that category, unaware of their own inherent ineffectiveness. Simply put, the candidate has a great sense of self, but no self-awareness.
The Solution: You probably can’t help the fact that the candidates who leave the best impressions are also the ones who actually believe the lines they’re feeding you about your company being such a great place to grow a career.
Style can easily distract any hiring stakeholder away from substance, a subconscious tendency every recruiter must consciously resist.
So how do you not only identify something as amorphous as “self awareness” but also measure it in any sort of meaningful way? The answer isn’t asking them about their greatest strengths or weaknesses, meaningless questions unless the recruiter goes the extra step of asking the ones that will give them this information without getting some sort of canned response or well rehearsed white lie. That is, if you think you can handle the truth.
Getting a candidate to volunteer meaningful insights into intrinsic motivation by removing the inherent artifice of job interviews is really hard for any recruiter. But it’s not impossible.
I recommend using a combination of techniques to create what’s essentially a triangulation of structured feedback from the candidate, hiring team and references alike throughout the screening and selection process. For example, asking candidates probing questions designed to assess their self-awareness in the context of specific projects can be really revealing.
Here are a few of my favorites, and what answer you should be looking for (even if it’s not what you actually ask):
“Looking back, what could you have done differently for this project?” If they don’t temper their long list of success stories with at least a couple learning experiences, they’ll probably never learn anything.
“If you could leave out one preferred qualification or job duty from this requisition, which one would you take out?” The right candidates don’t want to take anything off – they want to add even more on.
“How would your boss react if I called him right now and made you a verbal offer on speaker phone?” If they already know the answer to that question or don’t give the matter at least a little pause, this isn’t their first recent recruiting rodeo. Don’t let them take you for a ride.
“If we extended your probationary period because we still weren’t sure whether we’d made the right choice after 90 days, how would you respond?” The ones who’d walk will balk. The really good ones will keep it real. Really.
Balance these responses by posing these same questions (obviously reframe as needed) to a candidate’s references to see whether their self-perception is on point or if they’re completely clueless (or in denial) about what their coworkers really think.
Then ask the hiring team the exact same questions. At the intersection of that triangulation lies the truth you should look for when interviewing candidates. Top talent knows how to play to the middle.
These are just a few good tips to help you avoid bad hires – or at least, they’ve always worked for me. That’s not saying you’ll never make another recruiting decision you’ll soon regret, but they should help prevent making bad hires by providing a good method to the recruiting madness.
Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Experience platform for both candidates and hiring teams. Ray has previously spent half of his career building Silicon Valley startups such as Red Answers and Adify (later sold to Cox Media); the other half of his career was spent in marketing and leadership roles at enterprise organizations including Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Booz & Co. and Intuit. Ray holds an MBA from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from McGill University.