10 Outside-the-Box Wacky Ideas for Hiring Better People

Mar 4, 2004

[Note: Don’t forget to defend you desktop. You can now help design the next generation ATS system. Take my survey and determine which features are most important. If you’re now using an ATS, you can also rank its performance against this new “best in class.” Preliminary survey results will be published next week. We’ll also be having another instant conference on this topic, so stay tuned. Your future is at stake. ó Lou Adler] Over the past few years I’ve made some pretty wild assertions on these pages about how to hire better people. While they have caused quite a stir, and despite the inevitable nay-saying, they’ve all proved out to be extremely effective. Here are my choices for the top 10 wackiest ideas on how to hire better people.

  1. Recruiting processes must be designed to hire great employees, not great candidates.
  2. Traditional job descriptions prevent companies from hiring top people.
  3. Behavioral interviewing has limited value in assessing candidates for bigger jobs.
  4. You only need one question to assess candidate competency and motivation.
  5. Historical cost and time metrics are useless for process control.
  6. Job boards aren’t worth squat unless you know the secrets of semi-sourcing.
  7. Stop looking at the resumes of, or talking with, unqualified people.
  8. Applicant tracking systems need to be designed and based on the needs of great recruiters and top candidates.
  9. Networking is still the best way to find and hire top people.
  10. The quality of the recruiting team determines the quality of the people hired.

If you’re not hiring enough top people, you’re probably limiting yourself by not thinking out of the box enough. To get started try implementing some of these ideas. They are further described below. Where appropriate, hotlinks to the original wild and crazy articles are provided. If nothing else is working maybe it’s time to get wacky.

  • Hire top employees, not top candidates. [article link] Top employees are competent and motivated to do the work, they work well with others, and they exceed expectations. Top candidates, on the other hand, have great resumes, are enthusiastic, on time, and prepared, and make good first impressions. If too many of your new employees fall short once on the job, you’re probably hiring top candidates instead of top employees. This typically happens when you overvalue presentation skills at the expense of performance. Research shows that only one-third of the best employees present well, and two-thirds of those that present well aren’t top employees. So you’re missing a lot of great people and making a lot of mistakes by using the wrong measurement stick.
  • Make sure your job descriptions define success, not skills. [article link] It’s been shown that clarifying expectations upfront is the key to achieving peak performance. When you over-emphasize skills and experiences to screen candidates, you inadvertently preclude the best employees from consideration. Here’s an idea: minimize the use of traditional job descriptions in any of your public postings. Instead, describe what people need to achieve with these skills and some of the opportunities available. Then watch the quality of your candidates soar. It’s what people do with what they have that determines their success, so play this part up. This is why performance profiles that list the real job deliverables in priority order is the first step to hiring stronger people.
  • Combine behavioral interviewing and the one-question interview. [article link]> For higher level positions, traditional behavioral interviewing has limited value. Part of this is due to the fact that multiple behaviors are needed to perform more complex tasks (e.g., management plus initiative plus team skills). The other part is the need to assess the environment, culture, and performance requirements of the job during the interview. These problems are solved by asking candidates to describe their major accomplishments in great detail. This is the one-question interview (download my Performance Evaluation Interview for a great how-to guide). Then use behavioral questions to clarify how each task was accomplished. This way, you can assess how the candidate’s mix of behaviors and skills were used to achieve results.
  • Use better metrics, or measure the right stuff in real time. [article link] For strategic game-breaker positions, candidate quality must be the key driver, not cost or time. Quality still should be the primary metric for any important positions that directly affect company performance. For less important positions, time to fill and cost per hire are valid measures of success. Frequently these are the positions that can be outsourced. However, to impact results here you still should measure activity when it occurs, not weeks or months later. This is the big lesson learned from TQM and Six Sigma: errors need to be tracked and eliminated as close to the time they occur as possible.
  • Use semi-sourcing and job branding to improve job board advertising. [article link] There are many top people who look at job boards infrequently, generally after a particularly bad day. These are what I call semi-active candidates. While these people want another job, they won’t jump through hoops to apply unless the job is attractive. If you design your advertising to attract these less-active candidates, you’ll be able to find some exceptional people at very low cost. To attract their attention, make sure your ads are highly visible and compelling, and then make sure that you describe opportunities rather than emphasize requirements. If the jobs directly tie to the company strategy, all the better. This whole process is called job branding. Now consider this: the Corporate Executive Board’s Recruiting Roundtable has shown that job branding is one of the two most important things you must do to hire top people. Don’t forget, though, that you must call these people within 24 hours (the half-life of semi-active candidates), so efficient backend systems are important.
  • Pre-qualify everyone. Recruiters spend too much valuable time looking at the resumes of, or talking with, unqualified candidates. Stop. The best applicant tracking systems have great filtering systems to rank order resumes (look at Resume Mirror or Burning Glass if yours doesn’t do this). If the candidates at the top of the sort aren’t good enough, don’t look at any more resumes. Instead, run a more compelling and visible ad, or expand your sourcing channels. Also, make sure all referred candidates are pre-qualified, whether you obtained these names by networking or through the employee referral program.
  • Candidate- and recruiter-friendly ATSs should not be optional features. [article link] Most ATSs are designed around a requisition-based workflow. Recruiters don’t work this way. Their work is based on task priorities. The best ATSs adjust for this by providing customizable desktops with folders and alerts to ensure that important data is pushed to the recruiter daily. Semi-active candidates don’t have time to apply, so candidate-friendliness must also be an integrated ATS design feature. Unfortunately, too many ATSs were designed to meet the needs of the purchaser rather than their primary users. Recruiter productivity will soar along with better candidates with the addition of these two features.
  • You’ll still find the best people through networking. [article link] You should be able to hire at least 50% of your people by aggressively networking with your best employees, top candidates, industry experts, vendors, customers, and trade association members. This is a vast source of untapped and readily available talent. To start this, you’ll need great recruiters working the phones asking for the names of top people, not for those looking for jobs. Then you must brand your jobs as described above, clearly describing the deliverables. Of course, you must make sure the application process is super easy. When networking is done properly, you’ll quickly have many more great people checking out your website and attempting to apply. Don’t disappoint them.
  • Great recruiters are needed to hire great people. [article link] The best people always have multiple opportunities. They get counter-offers, have second thoughts, and consult spouses and advisors for advice. Recruiters are the ones called upon for this extra information, counseling, and hand-holding. They must know the job, they must interview well, and they must be able to negotiate fair offers despite having too many other things to do. Make sure you assign your strongest recruiters to handle your strategic game-breaker positions. Then, even if you don’t do everything described above, you’ll still be able to hire the best people for these critical positions. Unless the hiring managers do it themselves, the quality of the people a company hires correlates directly with the quality of the recruiters involved. My biggest wild and crazy idea is the possibility that hiring top talent can be a systematic business process. You’re 90% there if you do everything described above. Wow! Now that’s the wackiest idea of them all.
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