When I first became a recruiter, one big frustration was having hiring managers reject good people for bad reasons. When this happened, the hiring manager would inevitably ask, “Do you have any other candidates?” and I would have to do the search all over again. For everyone involved — the recruiter, the hiring manager, and the candidate — this is a waste of time. And when it happens too often, it means the hiring process is broken.
To solve this problem, I often thought back to my work outside of talent acquisition. Before I became a recruiter, my job involved identifying and improving manufacturing and distribution process problems. As it turned out, I was able to apply many of the same techniques I learned in that industry to fix the hiring process. My ultimate goal was to double my placement rate in half the time. Although it took a number of years to get there, I did end up being successful. Here are the big changes required:
1. Know the job. If you don’t know what the new hire will actually be doing once on the job, it’s not possible to convince the best people to consider your opportunity or to conduct a proper interview. Guessing at performance, fit, satisfaction, and motivation is why too many candidates need to be seen in the first place. Instead of asking what skills are required, it’s better to ask the hiring manager to define the job as a series of key performance objectives. A shift to this type of performance qualified model opens up the candidate pool to more diverse and non-traditional candidates and creates the benchmark for conducting a performance-based interview.
2. Conduct A vs B testing. Despite 20+ years of research on the importance of clarifying expectations to maximize job performance, many managers won’t even agree to meet someone who doesn’t meet a checklist of skills. To demonstrate the difference, I would submit 2-3 candidates who were skills qualified in parallel with 2-3 who were performance qualified. It only took one great performance-qualified person for most managers to agree that this approach was a game changer when it came to seeing stronger talent and increasing assessment accuracy.
3. Fish with the big fish. It’s important to only spend time with semifinalists or people who can refer you to semifinalists. A semifinalist is someone who is performance qualified (meaning he or she can do the work as defined in point 1 above), possesses the Achiever Pattern (which indicates the person is in the top third of his or her peer group), and who would quickly see the job as a good career move. These are the people who will be seen by the hiring manager and who have a high probability of accepting an offer if extended.
4. Don’t take “no” for an answer. The most sought-after candidates need to be recruited, but most opt out quickly if the recruiter can’t get past the “I’m not interested” or “I’m happy where I am” excuse. Persistence is key here, but so is a deep knowledge of the job and how to conduct a career-oriented phone screen. Recruiting the strongest candidates is comparable to discovery selling where it’s more important to sell the conversation before pushing the job using generic and over-the-top hyperbole.
5. Only invite semifinalists onsite. One big time waster is having hiring managers meet candidates in person who are unlikely to get an offer or accept one if extended. Minimize this problem by having hiring managers conduct a scripted two-way exploratory phone screen that meets both the manager’s and the more-discriminating candidate’s needs. This process not only saves time by meeting fewer people, but also reduces the impact of first impression bias since the manager already has some understanding of the person’s performance and is less affected by the person’s personality or appearance.
6. Out fact the hiring manager. Many years ago, I convinced a very outspoken and strong-willed CFO of a major company that my director of cost accounting was one of the best in the country despite his soft-spoken presentation. The proof consisted of a detailed summary of a very complex costing system my candidate implemented for a major automotive manufacturer. Based on this proof, the CFO agreed to meet the candidate again and realized his first assessment was superficial. This company went on to become our biggest client as a result. The lesson here: Get detailed facts that prove competency rather than using emotions, feelings, and generalities.
Your company’s hiring process is broken if hiring managers need to see too many candidates to make one great hire. Most likely, it’s because the assessment guidelines are too generic. My solution to this problem was to fully understand the job and to learn what differentiated the best people doing this work from the average. Next, I learned how to become a better interviewer than my clients. As it turns out, this is what is necessary for any recruiter to prevent good people from getting rejected for bad reasons — and is a great way to double your placement rate.