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How to Hire for Results, Not Pedigree

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Most job descriptions are incredibly inefficient — even counterproductive — talent-screening tools. Here’s a better way to make hiring decisions based on results, not resume.


Consider this: A typical job description lists a catalog of required skills, experiences, academic degrees, and personality traits. A typical job, on the other hand, boils down to five or sixperformance objectives that ultimately measure an employee’s success. That looks like a disconnect to me. And a fairly inefficient way to go about hiring.

Over the last 20 years, my firm has presented to more than 400 business groups like Vistageand YPO. At the beginning of each session we ask, “Who would you rather hire, someone who had all of the skills listed on a job description, or someone who could deliver the results required?” Except for one dubious company owner in New Jersey, roughly 10,000 leaders have answered “results.” I’m guessing you would, too.

Here’s how to get started on the path to hiring for results.

Describe the Objectives, Not the Person

A list of skills, experiences, degrees, and personality traits is not a job description. It’s a person description. And just because a person has all of the skills and abilities listed, it doesn’t mean the person is both competent and motivated to do the work required. Worse, it overlooks all of the great people who can do the work, but who have a different mix of skills than listed on the traditional skills-based job description. Unless the supply of top candidates far exceeds the demand for these people, the use of skills-infested job descriptions will backfire.

What Six Goals Are Non-Negotiable?

As an alternative, use your next job description to define the actual work that needs to be accomplished. Every job, from entry-level to president, has five to six performance objectives that define success. A few examples: design a product to meet certain specs; build a project team to upgrade a facility; make 12 presentations per month to C-level officers; reduce costs by 10% during the first year; and rewrite the software for the online store to handle a 3X surge in traffic. Together, the objectives you identify become a performance-based job description.

What Have You Done Lately?

If you can prove a person is both competent and motivated to do the work described in the performance-based job description, then you can be sure that person has exactly the skills, experiences, academic degrees, and competencies required for success. The best way to get your proof? For each of the job’s performance objectives, ask the candidate to describe a significant related accomplishment. (Here’s a link to the full version of the Performance-based Interview I recommend.) This way, you’re judging each candidate not based on what they have, but rather what they do with what they have.

A performance-based job description is a powerful tool for finding and hiring stronger people. It opens up the pool to more outstanding talent including diverse candidates, returning military veterans and high-achievers who don’t fit the traditional mold. Using past performance as a predictor of on-the-job success makes far more sense than box-checking skills, asking generic behavioral-based questions, or trusting your gut. Getting it right starts with defining the work that needs to be done. And often that’s the toughest part.

Who would you rather hire, someone with all of the skills, or someone who can deliver the results?