Candidate Quality and How to Measure It

Jun 14, 2005

For as long as I can remember, recruiters have focused on cost as a primary measure of their effectiveness and value to the organization. The most popular recruiting metric has been cost-per-hire, and recruiting functions have justified their existence by showing how much less expensive they are than an outsourced solution. But this has begun to change. Highly skilled talent is harder and harder to find, and demographic projections still indicate a long-term swing toward a candidate-driven market. Positions are open longer, and hiring managers are frustrated at the seeming inability of their internal recruiters to find good talent. The emerging, more important metrics are those of speed and quality, where recruiters are measured on how quickly they present candidates and on the quality of those candidates. In many organizations, outsourcing decisions are being made based on these metrics, and not on cost. Managers are finding that having a good employee when they need one is much more important than how much it costs to get him or her. But one hurdle still looms over all of this: defining what we mean when we say that one candidate is “better” than another. How do recruiters and hiring managers define quality? Who defines it? How can it be tracked? These are the tough questions that need answers. Here are a few ideas on how your organization can develop an effective definition of quality. 1. Establish a definition of quality and use it to select people. Most hiring managers do not have any definition of a “quality employee,” nor do they even have a performance management system that is much more than a popularity contest. Some managers will say that they know a quality employee when they have one, but they struggle with a firm definition. What recruiters need to be better equipped to do is to help managers develop that more firm, more quantified definition. The way to start is to unravel the characteristics of the best performers. It may also be very useful to look at the worst performers and see what it is they don’t have. By listing the characteristics that are common to both the best and the worst employees in a function, you will begin to develop a profile that can eventually be used for selection, performance management and development. These characteristics could be traits such as willingness to compromise, an open attitude toward new ideas, or frugality in business dealings. Or they could be competencies, such as the ability to create spreadsheets in a certain time or the ability to edit complex documents. They can also include a level of knowledge, such as expert-level knowledge of Unix or of a manufacturing process. Most likely, any definitions of quality would include elements from each of these categories. Notice that these are all output-based measures, i.e. measures that can be seen or demonstrated in the work an employee does. They are the opposite of input-based measures, such as length of experience or level of education. These types of measures tell you very little about the quality of a person’s performance. You may need to partner with your internal organizational development group or with your training department to do this. It does take time, and it takes willingness on the part of managers to partner with you in the process. The result, though, will be a much clearer understanding of what kinds of people need to be sourced and hired. 2. Educate hiring managers. Very few hiring managers know much about selection or about what it takes to assess a candidate. Even though you may have put all your managers through some sort of interview training, I am sure they have forgotten most of it and have used even less. Most of us are not very disciplined ourselves, and we cannot expect the typical manager to put in the time it takes to become an expert with these techniques. One area where recruiters can add value is in pre-screening and evaluating candidates against the criteria that you developed above. These criteria, remember, should have been determined in partnership with the managers. You can use lists of these and behavioral interview questions, or a variety of tests can be developed and used to measure these traits, competencies and knowledge. Managers can help you determine how to weight the criteria, and they should be well aware of the consequences of using the criteria. You can spend small amounts of time over a few weeks presenting bits of this information and moving the managers to understanding and acceptance. If possible, you could also hold seminars and use case studies and examples from your own organization to help managers understand how important it is to select people with the right skills and the right organizational fit and attitude. 3. Investigate and experiment with new tools for screening and selection. It is still a bit surprising to me that very few firms are taking advantage of the many online tools that are emerging to help screen candidates before investing a large amount of time in interviews. By using the Internet and your corporate website, you can ask candidates to engage in a dialogue and mutual assessment process. While you are looking at candidates’ skills and fit, managers can be looking at your organization and decide whether or not they like what they see. Many candidates I have spoken with have seen one side of an organization while interviewing, and another, less attractive, one after they are hired. There is still value in letting candidates email other employees for information about the company and its work life. There is also a need for job previews and better job descriptions that are based on reality, not on what we wish were true. By defining upfront what constitutes a quality candidate, you can remove much of the present frustration candidates have over why they were not chosen for an interview. You can also reduce the number of unqualified candidates who apply. Many do so because they do not know or understand your definition of quality. By working with hiring managers, by getting them to write down and define for you the competencies and traits of successful employees, and by putting those to use in your screening and interviewing processes, you can improve candidate quality in a measurable way.

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