Best-In-Class Hiring, Part 1

Jan 17, 2002

Hire the best! Put people with the right skills in the right jobs! Reduce turnover by increasing job satisfaction! Reduce hiring mistakes using one best interview question! Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t that a “no-brainer”? Show me an organization that intentionally hires anyone, puts unskilled people in the wrong jobs, and ensures that employees always work under adverse conditions, and I will show you an organization rushing toward bankruptcy. Seeing the Forest or Seeing the Trees? I looked over the list of most popular ERE articles from last year?? the ones forward to someone else. Interestingly enough, about 80% of them addressed sourcing. I see this as a real problem in perception?? and it might explain why many HR departments “don’t get no respect.” Yes, sourcing is important. And, yes a recruiter must source to find job candidates. But every line manager I know tells me they would rather have a few good people than several marginal ones. Anyone can source candidates, but it takes a true professional to separate the fully qualified ones from the pretenders. Best In Class In the next few articles, I’ll describe how to reduce hiring mistakes to the lowest possible level by systematically placing people with the right skills into the right jobs. I won’t promise that you’ll become a hiring expert by reading a few 1,200 word articles, that you can transform a terrible organization into a wonderful one, that you can convert a poor management team into a competent one, or that you will have a limitless supply of job candidates. There are plenty of other people willing to do that. However, in the next few “how-to-hire” articles, I’ll outline some best-in-class techniques to start your new year with high-performance customer contact people, technical professionals, salespeople, first-line managers, mid-managers, blue-collar workers, and executives. Peek-a-Boo, Can’t See You! Applicants like to play “peek-a-boo.” It is a natural tendency to cover interviewers’ eyes with a mask of friendly talk, superficial stories, and well-rehearsed dialogue. It helps them get the job. Aware of the applicant game, interviewers continually search for “best” questions that allow them to peek behind the mask. Unfortunately, almost every single study suggests traditional interviews have almost no ability to predict job skills, causing interviewers to lose the peek-a-boo game half the time. There are several reasons why, but we’ll leave those for a later article. “Belief Me Now Or Belief Me Lader” Hans and Frantz (of Saturday Night Live fame) advised people, “You can belief me now or belief me lader!” Well, when it comes to hiring people with the right job skills, you can also believe the experts now or believe them “lader”. No one will force you to follow expert advice, but you can save a lot of time (and a lot of your organization’s money) by incorporating what experts already know. If you use the techniques I recommend, you will hire better performing candidates than you ever thought possible?? and you will eventually have to do less sourcing. What the Experts Recommend Western scientists have been studying jobs and developing better hiring tools for over 100 years (Chinese emperors were at it for about 3,000 years). In almost all studies, they recommend using both a systematic approach and highly predictive tools. Well, this is easier said than done. It was only within the last 25 years or so that computer power and computer programs were up to the task of finding patterns among thousands of detailed job activities. The results showed the majority of job activities tended to cluster into five broad areas. These are:

  1. The ability to learn, solve problems, and make decisions
  2. The ability to plan, organize, and follow a course of action
  3. The ability to get things done through people
  4. Specific attitudes, interests, and motivations associated with doing a job
  5. Special physical abilities (we aren’t going to talk much about this one, because it is highly job-specific)

Clustering and Measuring Examining jobs using a simple five-part system helps make sense out of job description babble, uncovers areas where staffing professionals should dig for “how much,” and helps identify valid tools for accurately predicting each candidate’s job success. But defining skills is only the first step. You also have to find some way to accurately measure each skill area. Everywhere you look, there are gazillions of silly tools that provide warm, fuzzy feelings to hiring managers but are essentially worthless predictors of future performance (i.e., less than about 5% accuracy). You can “belief me now, or belief me lader,” but there are only a very small number of hiring tools in the 25% to 50% accuracy range. They are listed by skill cluster in the following table.

Skill Clusters5% Tools25% to 50% Tools
The ability to learn, solve problems and make good decisions
  • “Best” interview questions
  • General personality tests
  • Technical tests
  • Ability to learn tests
  • Background, behavior, consequence questions
  • Case studies
The ability to plan, organize and follow a course of action
  • “Best” interview questions
  • General personality tests
  • Planning cases
  • Special tests
  • Background, behavior, consequence questions
The ability to get things done through people
  • “Best” interview questions
  • General Personality tests
  • Job simulations
  • Background, behavior, consequence questions
Specific attitudes, interests and motivations associated with doing a job
  • “Best” interview questions
  • Broad motivation tests
  • Special tests of job related attitudes, interests and motivations
Special physical abilities
  • Casual observation
  • Medical examination

Stay tuned for Part 2: Hiring highly skilled technical professionals?? a rapidly growing group often called “knowledge workers.”

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