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Rethinking the Hiring Process from Nuts to Soup

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A few weeks ago I met with the HR VP of a major Fortune 500 company who was frustrated with her company’s current hiring processes. Not only were they not seeing enough strong candidates, but she also believed their current interviewing and assessment techniques were ineffective.

She contacted me as a result of an earlier post in which I made the point that if companies continue to use traditional hiring processes, they will continue to hire people just like the ones they’ve always hired.

To demonstrate the point, I drew a diagram similar to the one shown above. I suggested the success of all new hires could be categorized into three categories: those who lowered the overall talent level, those that raised it, and those that kept it the same. Most companies unknowingly take the middle and safe route by over-specifying skills and experiences, conducting behavioral interviews, adding in a collection of assessment questionnaires, and offering compensation packages designed to attract the middle-of-the-roaders.

On the negative extreme (the left side of the diagram) are those companies – or at least some managers within them – that hire fast, take shortcuts, and bend the rules to fill jobs as rapidly as possible. While they’ll hire a few good people, their mistakes will bring their overall average quality of talent down.

On the positive side are those companies who design their hiring process based on how top people find jobs and select offers. Hiring more of these people allows a company to quickly increase its overall quality of hire. Implementing this approach is what’s referred to as a “Raising the Talent Bar Strategy.” This is how they consistently raise their overall talent level.

The VP asked me what it would take to implement this type of hiring strategy. Here was my quick summary:

  • Stop defining and advertising jobs emphasizing skills and experiences. You can’t attract fully-employed stronger candidates who view these jobs as lateral transfers. Perhaps more important, there is no evidence that once the required threshold is reached more skills and experiences improve performance. The intensity of the experience is what matters.
  • Stop using indirect assessment techniques to determine if the candidate has enough skills and possesses the correct competencies. An indirect technique, like behavioral interviewing or an assessment questionnaire, is anything that needs some statistical measure to validate its use. The research shows that, at best, you’ll only be correct about 60-65% of the time using these indirect techniques. The problem is that while you’ll be pretty sure the person is technically competent and a reasonable fit with the team, you won’t be sure the person is motivated to do the actual work required nor work well with the hiring manager.
  • Start using direct assessment techniques. These can be close to 80-90% effective in predicting on-the-job success. Having someone perform the actual work is one type of direct assessment. These types of direct techniques are always used when moving someone laterally or promoting people internally. The predictability of using direct knowledge of the person’s ability to make these moves is extremely high. From a practical standpoint, a similar approach can be used when hiring people whom you don’t know. In this case, you first need to define the actual work that needs to be done as a series of performance objectives. Then you need to conduct a Performance-based Interview that focuses on having the person describe what he or she has accomplished that’s most comparable. (Here’s the complete guidebook for those who want to try it out during their next interview.)
  • Use assessment tests and behavioral interviewing to confirm performance, not predict it. During our discussion, I cited a test we ran in parallel with a major company that had been using one of the common DISC tests. Not surprising, over 90% of the candidates we presented using the performance-based interviewing process passed their DISC test but only 60% of the candidates who passed their DISC test first also passed our performance-based process. The big aha: if a person can do the work using the Performance-based Hiring process described above, he or she has exactly the personality style required. However, having the personality style doesn’t mean the person can do the work.

Most hiring mistakes are attributed to very loose hiring standards and limited validated processes. However, building a hiring process using indirect techniques in order to avoid mistakes and hiring people heavy on skills and experience is a recipe for not hiring the best people possible. As the HR VP commented as we left dinner, “This makes perfect sense and it’s something we should have implemented long ago. Let’s not wait any longer. Tomorrow might be too late.”


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.