How to Measure Candidate Quality

Jan 12, 2006

Measuring candidate quality is something many companies struggle with. But its importance is obvious: It’s how you can assess the usefulness of your sourcing channels and of the recruiters involved; if done properly, it’s also a way to assess the quality of the candidates hired compared to their subsequent on-the-job performance. This feedback is a great way to measure the quality of the interviewing process and even of management skills. For the past 15 years, I’ve been using performance-based hiring in combination with a 10-factor candidate assessment template to capture this needed information.

Here are some sample versions of this form that you might want to download as you read this article. The form itself consists of ten measures of candidate quality, each measured on a one to five scale. This scale is non-linear, with a one consisting of everyone in the bottom half. A two is someone who is competent, but not motivated to do the work. This is typically the second quartile. A three is someone totally qualified and motivated. This is a top 10 to 15 percent person. A four is a person who exceeds expectations (top 5 to 10 percent), and a five represents superstar performance (top 1 to 5 percent). The scale is objective, and requires evidence of actual performance to justify any ranking. This is a critical aspect of measuring incoming candidate quality. Some of the ten factors measured include competency to do the work, motivation to do the work, comparable team skills, comparable problem-solving ability, and achievement of comparable results. In order to measure candidate quality, it needs to be made in comparison to expected job performance. This, of course, varies with each job. I suggest using a performance profile to capture this information.

A performance profile is a list of the top five or six performance objectives the candidate needs to achieve during the first year. For a sales person, the objectives could be tasks like “achieve quota consistently within 90 days” or “develop three new accounts per quarter.” For a manager, objectives could be tasks like “rebuild the team within four months” or “lead the successful companywide launch of the new program to measure candidate quality.” The key is to ask the hiring team to clearly define what the person taking the job needs to do in order to be considered successful. During the candidate interviews, you’ll determine how well the person handled similar tasks. The difference between this and the performance profile represents candidate quality. In addition to the use of a performance profile, there are two other things you need to do to begin to measure incoming candidate quality:

  1. Train everyone on the interviewing team on how to conduct a performance-based interview. This is a simple change. Just use the one- and two-question interview process I’ve been writing about for the past three years. The key is to get detailed examples of accomplishments comparable to those listed on the performance profile. This is how you obtain the objective evidence you need to rank the person on the one to five scale noted above.
  2. Change the way the hiring decision is made so that this objective evidence can be fully utilized. This is a big change. The key to this is the implementation of some type of formal and deliberative assessment process rather than the traditional up/down voting system. Most evaluation systems are based on members of the interviewing team providing some type of yes or no decision right after interviewing the candidate. This approach is laden with problems. For one thing, it allows for too much subjectivity without any accountability. It’s impossible to learn much about a person in 30 to 40 minutes, yet people who conduct this type of interview have a say equal to those who conduct longer, more in-depth interviews. The up/down method also gives more weight to a no than a yes, and it’s always easier to say no. This type of process allows emotions, biases, and intuition to dominate the selection decision.

If members of the interviewing team are not held accountable for the quality of their assessments, not only can you not measure candidate quality — even worse, you’ll hire the wrong person. This could be someone who gets by on presentation, personality, and some basic skills rather than performance. They are competent to do the work, but they’re not motivated. An even more serious problem is not hiring a top performer because the person was either a little nervous or not a great interviewer. If you have any of these problems occurring today, you’ll eliminate them with this change.

One way to increase objectivity is to ask members of the interviewing team to suspend their judgment about candidate quality until they’ve all had a chance to share the information gathered. This could be in some form of formal and deliberative post-interview assessment process. This is where the 10-factor candidate assessment template comes into play. If the recruiter can lead the assessment process, all the better. Rather than the yes/no process, go through each of the ten factors and ask the interviewing team members for their one to five ranking with some analytical justification. This is key. You want real facts and details, not feelings. For example, “I don’t feel the person would fit” is not satisfactory for a one or two rank on team skills.

On the other hand, something like, “The person has never been recognized for team skills nor ever led even a small project,” would be. Substantive proof like, “At Acme Supply, the person led the implementation of the SAP installation and was nominated as employee of the year by her co-workers,” might get the team to reconsider an emotional “no” vote based on incomplete information. What’s important here is to share information before voting and then use objective criteria to make the one to five assessment. Adding up the scores provides a final tally with which to compare candidates. To make the process even better, you might want to use the performance profile as the basis for the onboarding process and for ongoing management. This way, new employees will have a clear understanding of job expectations upon starting. Managers can then track and review their subsequent performance. At certain intervals (say 90 days and six months), a formal review process can be implemented, using the same 10-factor template. This way, you can compare actual performance to what was predicted during the interview. The differences can be attributed to a number of variables: generally weak interviewing skills or significant changes to the original performance objectives. Regardless, this type of feedback allows you to refine your interviewing systems. The use of a performance profile in combination with the 10-factor candidate assessment template will allow you to get a good grasp of candidate quality. There are other huge benefits:

  • By clarifying expectations upfront, it will be easier to reach consensus among all members of the hiring team when they assess candidates. This will result in a significant time savings by eliminating the need to see more candidates.
  • Recruiters will become more productive because they know exactly what they’re looking for. You’ll be able to measure their effectiveness by seeing how many candidates are presented ó and if the hiring team agrees with their quality assessment.
  • You’ll attract better candidates, including more passive candidates. Performance profiles can be used to generate the copy used in job descriptions. Top people want to know the challenges and growth opportunities before even considering applying. Better jobs attract better people.
  • You won’t need to pay compensation premiums to attract top performers. Job stretch and job growth are far important than compensation when it comes to accepting an offer. A performance profile that clearly describes significant growth opportunities offers a great way to minimize the need for large compensation increases.
  • Managers become better managers. Clarifying expectations up front has been shown to be the number one trait of all top-performing managers.
  • You’ll hire better employees who are both competent and motivated to do the work you want done. This will improve performance and reduce turnover.

So if you’re looking for a better way to measure candidates, you might want to consider using a performance profile in combination with a 10-factor candidate assessment template and performance-based interview. Collectively, I call this performance-based hiring. You might want to call it a great way to make hiring top people a systematic business process.

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