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To Recruiters, Hiring Managers and Candidates: Violate These Laws of Human Nature at Your Peril

by
Lou Adler
Aug 10, 2012, 1:28 am ET

Here are some basic truths about people regarding hiring and getting hired:

  1. There are very few people who have an economic need to look for another job, are willing to take a lateral transfer, and are high achievers. Yet most companies spend most of their time and resources looking for these kinds of people. For proof, look at any 20 job postings on Dice, Simplyhired.com, LinkedIn, or Indeed.com and see who they’re trying to attract.
  2. The military has a tough screening process for selecting officers. But once selected — and with no experience — they are given some serious training and responsibilities far in excess of their current ability and asked to deliver extraordinary results. Most of them succeed. Yet these same people when they leave the military aren’t given a fair chance because they don’t have the “right” experience.
  3. There has been more research done on why people perform at peak levels, why they underperform, and why they leave jobs, but much of this is ignored when it comes to assessing competency and fit. Google’s Project Oxygen and Gallup’s Q12 are the most notable. None of this has to do their level of experience. Most of it relates to doing work they find satisfying and important, and working for a supportive manager. Here’s how to capture this during the first meeting with the hiring manager.
  4. Candidates who are too eager turn off people, and those who aren’t eager enough turn off people. Companies who are too eager when they find a hot prospect, either turn them off or pay too much to hire them. Asking insightful questions is a better way to demonstrate interest whatever side of the desk you’re on.
  5. Cultural fit is critically important — but few companies actually define it, and even fewer know how to measure it. For proof, ask the next 10 people you meet at your company to define its culture and how they would determine it during an interview. This is a good way to determine if your company’s culture is real or imaginary. If you’re a candidate, ask every interviewer the same question.
  6. Most managers would hire a top achiever who is a little light on skills and experience and modify the job accordingly, but their hiring systems prevent them from ever seeing these people. That’s why I recommend using performance profiles for any important job and banishing job description.
  7. In the first 5-10 years of a person’s career, people who get promoted more rapidly or assigned to the toughest projects tend to have less experience than those who don’t. Yet when we hire someone from the outside we want more experience. Why don’t we want more achievement?
  8. First impressions and interview presentation skills do not predict on-the-job performance — even for sales positions — yet most people think they do. Past performance, discipline, and commitment are the best predictors of future performance, yet somehow we overlook the top-performing and committed (sales) person because they look, act, or sound somewhat different than we imagine they need to be.

With these basic truths in mind, here’s my quick list of corrective actions for recruiters, hiring managers, candidates, and everyone else on the interviewing team.

  1. If you don’t know what it takes to be successful on the job in your company, don’t interview any candidates until you do. How else are you going to determine competency, motivation, and fit? Here’s a article that will show you how to figure this out.
  2. If you’re a candidate being interviewed, and the person interviewing you doesn’t know the job, ask this question: “what does the person taking this job need to accomplish in the first 6-12 months in order to be considered successful?” Then ask, “why is this important and what resources are available to pull this off?” If the person interviewing you is the hiring manager, and doesn’t know the answer, or stumbles about, I would be concerned about taking the job if offered.
  3. If you’re a recruiter, don’t present an opportunity to anyone unless the hiring manager tells you what it takes to be successful on the job. If you do, you’ll waste your time screening people on the wrong criteria.
  4. If you’re a passive candidate, talk to every recruiter who calls and see if they understand the real job, it’s importance to the company strategy, and how well the company is doing overall. Make sure you ask these questions before you ask about the money or the location. If you filter jobs out too soon because of the money, you’ll never get a chance to hear about true career opportunities.
  5. From a career growth standpoint it’s better to be underpaid than overpaid. Compensation increases always follow performance, not lead it. So if and whenever you get the chance when changing jobs, don’t fight for a big short-term compensation bump; instead, figure out some way to get a big bump based on your performance. (Recruiter Tip: send the linked article to your candidates if you want to minimize compensation challenges.)
  6. If you instantly like a candidate, force yourself to ask the person tougher questions. If you don’t like the candidate right away, force yourself to assume the person is extremely qualified, treat the person as you would a consultant, be respectful, and listen carefully to everything said. If you do this for just 30 minutes you’ll be shocked. For one, you’ll discover many of those you thought were initially tops, are more personality than performance. Even better: they’ll be a few who initially turned you off who are great. These are the people that everyone else overlooked.

From what I’ve seen over the past 30-plus years, most hiring problems can attributed to the problems described here. While the solutions offered are pretty simple, they do require some discipline. First, make sure you understand the performance expectations of the job in the real environment and culture before you interview any candidates. Second, don’t make any instant judgments: wait at least 30 minutes before you make a no decision. It takes a least a few more hours to make a yes. Third, don’t be too surprised when you start making fewer mistakes and start hiring more top performers who are excited about the work you’re offering. Commonsense sometimes makes sense.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Karim Kovacevic

    My 30+ person firm places a heavy emphasis on culture – at some points, I dont know whether our culture drives the firm or the firm drives the culture – and cultural fit, but I’m curious how one measures it.

  2. Rachel Moran

    Very interesting article. This would be a great resource to send to hiring managers prior to even starting the process. Also, would be great to use during succuession planning.

  3. Jacob Madsen

    Again a very valuable piece from the highly respectable Mr Adler, – thank you with gratitude for insight and educating the world of talent acquisition/recruitment. Been fortunate enough to be employed in companies where out of a 100% 30-40% account for background/skills/ability in doing a job/filling a role, remainder being 60-70% about passion, engagement, and culture fit.

    It is and will at all times be the most deciding factor in any company, the factor deciding whether a company being a success or failure. The history of the world has million of exampleas of this and so it will always be.

  4. Human Nature Powers the Job Search and Hiring! | Solid Rock Career Planning.com

    [...] Human nature has always driven higher. As I said 1000 times: People hire people they already know before they even think about talking to people that never seen in their life. [...]

  5. Keith Halperin

    Thanks Lou, Lets go through your points:

    Here are some basic truths about people regarding hiring and getting hired:
    1. There are very few people who have an economic need to look for another job, are willing to take a lateral transfer, and are high achievers. Yet most companies spend most of their time and resources looking for these kinds of people. For proof, look at any 20 job postings on Dice, Simplyhired.com, LinkedIn, or Indeed.com and see who they’re trying to attract.
    Since when are hiring managers reasonable?

    2. The military has a tough screening process for selecting officers. But once selected — and with no experience — they are given some serious training and responsibilities far in excess of their current ability and asked to deliver extraordinary results. Most of them succeed. Yet these same people when they leave the military aren’t given a fair chance because they don’t have the “right” experience.
    Very few people today are in or have direct contact with the military. Most of our servicemen and women come from poorer economic backgrounds different from those of hiring managers at many companies, particularly at “employers of choice”. Any company that hires largely exclusively from top/elite universities is implicitly ant-veteran- few veterans (especially noncoms) have attended /graduated from top/elite schools.

    3. There has been more research done on why people perform at peak levels, why they underperform, and why they leave jobs, but much of this is ignored when it comes to assessing competency and fit. Google’s Project Oxygen and Gallup’s Q12 are the most notable. None of this has to do their level of experience. Most of it relates to doing work they find satisfying and important, and working for a supportive manager. Here’s how to capture this during the first meeting with the hiring manager.
    How many managers are willing to hire performers better at what they do than the managers are?

    4. Candidates who are too eager turn off people, and those who aren’t eager enough turn off people. Companies who are too eager when they find a hot prospect, either turn them off or pay too much to hire them. Asking insightful questions is a better way to demonstrate interest whatever side of the desk you’re on.
    Well put. I think candidates should be treated like welcome guests and made to feel special and important, but not fawned over.

    5. Cultural fit is critically important — but few companies actually define it, and even fewer know how to measure it. For proof, ask the next 10 people you meet at your company to define its culture and how they would determine it during an interview. This is a good way to determine if your company’s culture is real or imaginary. If you’re a candidate, ask every interviewer the same question.
    I just said this elsewhere on ERE: It’s more important that someone do their job well and allows others to do their job well than that they conform to some “culture” which more often than not, is dysfunctional to some degree, so you might consider hiring for cultural “fix” more than cultural “fit”

    6. Most managers would hire a top achiever who is a little light on skills and experience and modify the job accordingly, but their hiring systems prevent them from ever seeing these people. That’s why I recommend using performance profiles for any important job and banishing job description. See my reply to Number 3. Most managers want someone who will make the manager look good, and that may or may not include being a high-achiever.

    7. In the first 5-10 years of a person’s career, people who get promoted more rapidly or assigned to the toughest projects tend to have less experience than those who don’t. Yet when we hire someone from the outside we want more experience. Why don’t we want more achievement? Sometimes achievement (outside of sales) is very hard to quantify. Experience isn’t hard to quantify.

    8. First impressions and interview presentation skills do not predict on-the-job performance — even for sales positions — yet most people think they do. Past performance, discipline, and commitment are the best predictors of future performance, yet somehow we overlook the top-performing and committed (sales) person because they look, act, or sound somewhat different than we imagine they need to be.
    Past performance is a good indicator of future performance IF the future performance is quite similar to the past performance. (Here is the fundamental flaw in Behavioral Interviewing!) A sales rep with an exceptional performance history, self-discipline, commitment can make an absolutely TERRIBLE Sales Manager, because it involves very different skills.

    With these basic truths in mind, here’s my quick list of corrective actions for recruiters, hiring managers, candidates, and everyone else on the interviewing team.
    1. If you don’t know what it takes to be successful on the job in your company, don’t interview any candidates until you do.
    How else are you going to determine competency, motivation, and fit? Here’s an article that will show you how to figure this out.
    This assumes that job success is static and not dynamic; that what is necessary to be successful today will also be necessary 6 months, 1 year, 5 years down the road. In rapidly-changing environments, this isn’t true. (Just ask the forced-out founders of many successful startup companies.)

    2. If you’re a candidate being interviewed, and the person interviewing you doesn’t know the job, ask this question: “what does the person taking this job need to accomplish in the first 6-12 months in order to be considered successful?” Then ask, “why is this important and what resources are available to pull this off?” If the person interviewing you is the hiring manager, and doesn’t know the answer, or stumbles about, I would be concerned about taking the job if offered. T
    This makes a great deal of sense, if you have the luxury to pick and choose…

    3. If you’re a recruiter, don’t present an opportunity to anyone unless the hiring manager tells you what it takes to be successful on the job. If you do, you’ll waste your time screening people on the wrong criteria.
    Oh, THAT explains it. 

    4. If you’re a passive candidate, talk to every recruiter who calls and see if they understand the real job, it’s importance to the company strategy, and how well the company is doing overall. Make sure you ask these questions before you ask about the money or the location. If you filter jobs out too soon because of the money, you’ll never get a chance to hear about true career opportunities.
    This also makes, sense, and assumes that the recruiter knows the answer…

    5. From a career growth standpoint it’s better to be underpaid than overpaid. Compensation increases always follow performance, not lead it. So if and whenever you get the chance when changing jobs, don’t fight for a big short-term compensation bump; instead, figure out some way to get a big bump based on your performance. (Recruiter Tip: send the linked article to your candidates if you want to minimize compensation challenges.)
    This assumes you’ll/they’ll be there long enough to be concerned about things. I suggest you act like a profit-maximizing CEO- work to get as much money in each quarter as possible as quickly as possible, and if it all falls down after a few years, you’ll at least have made out like a bandit (or a banker)!

    6. If you instantly like a candidate, force yourself to ask the person tougher questions. If you don’t like the candidate right away, force yourself to assume the person is extremely qualified, treat the person as you would a consultant, be respectful, and listen carefully to everything said. If you do this for just 30 minutes you’ll be shocked. For one, you’ll discover many of those you thought were initially tops, are more personality than performance. Even better: they’ll be a few who initially turned you off who are great. These are the people that everyone else overlooked.
    Very good advice.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  6. Ronald Katz

    Once again Lou speaks the truth, and as usual, the truths that many hiring managers and recruiters don’t like to hear. Only adjustment I’d make is to corrective step #2. The candidate should ask the recruiter what it will take to be successful in the first 3-7 months to be considered successful. It’s a small thing but many organizations won’t give a new hire a full year to demonstrate their abilities. The companies expect to see results sooner.
    Thanks Lou,
    Ron Katz

  7. Lou Adler

    @ronk – I don’t see your comment here yet, but it had to do with only defining the work 3-6 months out since that’s all the time they’ll give a person to perform. However, top people want to know 6-12 months out what the future holds. So if you don’t tell them, you won’t hire them.

    @keith – I missed your cynicism. No one said you couldn’t put dynamics when defining the job, e.g., handle multiple balls and projects that have shifting priorities and resources. This is also one way to define culture. Here’s another:

    Re:defining culture – the big drivers for culture are the underlying rate of change of the organization and the hiring manager’s management style. The latter is usually somewhere between controlling and laissez faire. If you don’t get these parts right it doesn’t matter how else you define culture, you’ll be hiring misfits.

  8. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Lou. “Work must needs,” as they used to say. You can call me negative, bitter, or sarcastic, but please don’t call me cynical. ;)

    “If you don’t get these parts right it doesn’t matter how else you define culture, you’ll be hiring misfits.”
    If you want your company to be adaptable, you NEED to hire misfits.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  9. Lou Adler

    @keith et al – here’s a video I prepared on how to measure culture and misfits – Keith will quickly see he’s off the charts! (PS – that’s a good thing)

    http://budurl.com/YTculture

  10. Richard Araujo

    I would add that you need to be honest and self aware, as does your company. The only way I’ve managed to improve hiring at my current company is to prep candidates for the management style, which is brutal, and the rates of change, which are high. However, the owners and managers think they’re styles are laissez faire when in reality they micro manage the living hell out of everyone, and they think their management of projects is amazingly stable and consistent when in reality priorities are changing day by day, and often mood swing by mood swing.

    Many recruiters are in the same position I am; self awareness isn’t the strong point of the management team, and they have a picture of what they THINK they are which differs significantly from what they ACTUALLY are. I find this is common in companies that are small, have grown quickly, and have not incorporated their employment goals into their branding. It also poses a problem when it comes to closing HMs with the candidate because very often the candidate they want – which in my case is usually people from large and heavily corporate culture companies – is not the candidate that will perform best in the reality of our culture.

    Being stuck in that situation does cause some cynicism, Lou. Not in the least because we’re told to get top shelf candidates with far from top shelf pricing, opportunities, and benefits being offered. Though I have to admit, it was even harder on the agency side. At least on the corporate side I can know the reality by experiencing it. Not so agency recruiters.

  11. Lou Adler

    @richard – thank you for your real-world experience. Actually, what you described is common and what my company spends most of its time trying to change – you have described a real culture, which is a tough one. All I can suggest is that you try to change the world, one search at a time -Good Luck

  12. Richard Araujo

    @Lou – Your methods have helped me get most of the departments in line and performing quite well. Management and upper level positions are where the resistance remains, and likely will from what I can see. Thankfully the CFO offers some support. However, we just spent two weeks ‘finalizing’ a job description which, when you read it, communicates barely anything about the company, the culture, or why anyone would want to work here. It does have a lovely listing of job responsibilities though.

  13. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Lou. The video made a very sensible OD approach to the problem.

    @ Richard: As mentioned, working for world-class jerks is far to common. Seems like a good place ot get out of ASAP.

    Cheers,
    Keith

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