Assessing Soft Skills Talent Strategy

What You Need to Ask the Hiring Manager In Order to Source the Right Candidate

If a recruiter ever needs to present more than 3-4 candidates in order to make one great hire, there is something fundamentally wrong with the hiring process being used. And, if two of the remaining three aren’t aren’t strong backups, something is even bigger is wrong.

If a recruiter ever needs to present more than 3-4 candidates in order to make one great hire, there is something fundamentally wrong with the hiring process being used. And, if two of the remaining three aren’t aren’t strong backups, something is even bigger is wrong.

Having just finished a series of meetings with a group of hiring managers and their recruiters, I am more convinced than ever that lack of understanding of real job needs is the root cause of too few qualified candidates.

Use the intake meeting to gather the information you need to attract the right talent 

When I first became a recruiter, my early engineering and manufacturing background offered me the chance to only handle search projects where I had a complete understanding of the work involved. However, my recruiting effectiveness dropped when I started to get assignments for jobs I knew little about. I overcame this personal lack of job knowledge by being more inquisitive and asking the hiring manager this critical question when starting the intake meeting:

What does the person in this role actually need to do over the course of the year to be considered extremely successful?

As part of having the hiring manager describe a few major objectives, it was also important to define what the new hire had to do in the first few months to ensure the person was on track to achieve those objectives. This list of 6-8 time-phased key performance objectives (KPOs) soon became known as a performance-based job description. Preparing this type of job description ensured that recruiters and hiring managers were on the same page when it came to sourcing, assessing and hiring the strongest talent possible without wasting time and effort.

The biggest benefit of this shift was the ability to expand the talent pool to include more diverse, high potential and passive candidates who could do the work but who had a different mix of skills and experiences than listed on the typical job description. As important, these candidates were 2-3X more responsive to our outreach messages since the job was quickly seen as a potential career move rather than a vague and ill-defined lateral transfer.

Along the way we discovered that in order to gain a complete understanding of the job, it was important that the most important KPOs were written as SMARTe objectives (Specific task, Measurable, Action verb, Results defined, Time bound and include something about the environment, e.g., pace, culture, hiring manager, unusual challenges). As a minimum the remaining KPOs needed to describe the task, the action or change needed and some measurable result or deliverable.

Here are some examples of converting skills, experiences and competencies into these types of performance objectives:

  • Instead of saying the person must have 3-5 years of experience selling SaaS software to the Fortune 500, it’s better to say, “Maximize the territory plan to achieve a quarterly run rate of $250K within 12 months.”
  • For a 1-2 year software developer with experience using C# and .NET Core Angular, an aggressive KPO could be, “Within six weeks, establish best practices for how the team will handle application data on the front-end, using Angular with NGRX.”
  • “Complete the implementation of the updated FCPA international reporting requirements by Q2,” is much more insightful than saying the person must have five years of international accounting experience and a CPA from a Big 4 firm.
  • Asking “How is the competency used on the job?” helps clarify any trait that lacks context. For example, a competency like, “Excellent communication skills,” translates to, “Present quarterly status reports to the executive team.”

With this insight about the job, assessing competency became straightforward. Interviewers just had to ask candidates to provide examples of accomplishments most comparable to the KPOs listed.

Predicting quality of hire and on-the-job performance also became far more accurate than traditional behavioral interviewing techniques when the hiring team formally shared their evidence using this interviewing approach.

Aside from clarifying expectations upfront using a performance-based job description, which incidentally has been shown to be the #1 trait of all successful managers, this approach also ensures recruiters are screening on criteria that best predicts performance and fit. Unless recruiters understand real job needs, they’re unable to properly screen candidates or convince top people about the career merits of the role.

The biggest benefit of all though was that once on the job, performance and satisfaction soared. The reason was obvious: People were attracted, assessed and hired based on work they found intrinsically motivating! Clarifying expectations during the intake meeting was the key difference. Too often they’re not fully clarified until after the person starts and that’s why success and satisfaction is problematic.

It’s important to emphasize that making this shift to a performance qualified approach does not require any compromise in ability, fit, performance or potential. It only requires an understanding that the skills, experiences and generic competencies typically found in job descriptions puts a lid on the quality of people being seen and ultimately hired.