Managers Need You to Screen Out the Weakest Candidates

Aug 1, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure; Married in haste, we may repent at leisure. —William Congreve, 1693

If you work from a job description only to find it does not correctly define candidate requirements; if you send multiple candidates to the hiring manager only to him/her complain about wrong-skilled people; if turnover stubbornly stays high; if too many people fail training programs; if newly promoted managers fail on the job; if 80% of salespeople produce only 20% of sales, or if half the people you hire tend to sink to the bottom of the pool, then William Congreve defined your problem over 300 years ago.

Put another way, any organization that uses poor or inaccurate hiring processes is doomed to suffer the long-term consequences of poor employee and manager performance.


What would you do with a department whose decisions resulted in a 10-50% annual defect rate? That’s the estimated cost of turnover; job mistakes; too many people doing too little work; quality defects; poor customer service; barely acceptable productivity;  low sales; and, so forth that came from using typical hiring practices.

While you pray your line managers aren’t reading this article, consider the following.


Four major trends contribute to poor hiring practices: 1) bad metrics: e.g., recruiters tend to measure themselves more on quantity than quality; 2) shifted responsibility: e.g., after pre-screening,  recruiters tend to shift qualification responsibility onto hiring managers; 3) failure to adopt best practices: e.g., recruiters and hiring managers alike generally fail to embrace technology that has been around for decades such as job analysis and validation practices; and, 4) probably the biggest problem of all, recruiters tend to accept and defend the status quo.

The Problem of Past Performance

Aside from the silly questions asking about animals, and the best and worst things about you, almost every interviewer thinks he/she is a people expert (but, without all that pesky training). Every time they ask an interview question, they assume answers are correct and accurate, and that past performance “accurately” predicts future performance. But, think about it. Predictive accuracy from any interview technology depends almost entirely on the candidate’s truthfulness, level of performance, and how closely future job skills map to the past.

No experience=no data. No truthfulness=no data. No relevancy=no data. No future job clarity=no data.

Is it any wonder organizations hire weak-performing employees? Interviews only screen out the worst of the worst.

Screen-Out Versus Screen-In

We would like it to be otherwise, but hiring is all about probability. No one has perfect foresight. The best we can do is concentrate on reducing mistakes. If someone is insensitive, then customer service jobs are a bad bet. If someone is dull, then jobs requiring intensive problem-solving and decision-making are bad bets. If someone is disorganized, then a self-directed job with minimal supervision is exceptionally chancy.

An effective organization uses its hiring and promotion systems as screen-out tools to reduce the probability of unqualified people. While this might seem politically insensitive or socially incorrect, do your line managers really want to hire employees who take extra time and energy just to meet minimum standards?

Best Practices

I won’t underestimate the challenge faced here. People who want to adopt best practices will have to learn an entirely new way to define jobs in terms of the skills and motivations necessary to get them done … and I am NOT talking about what they produce on the job. Hiring skills and motivations should be thought of as the things people carry in their heads from one job to another. Not everyone has the innate skills and motivations to be a rocket scientist; but, we need to remember not everyone has the skills and motivations to be a maintenance worker, either. Different jobs=different skills and motivations.

Interviews are quick and easy and inaccurate. They have a place in the process, but only when focused on discovering and evaluating specific skills and motivations critical to the future job, as well as only when they are highly structured, behaviorally based, and truthful (good luck with that last one). Interviews should be considered verbal tests, subject to all the requirements of any professional test. And, speaking of good tests, they need to be an integral part of the hiring or promotion process. Every measurement should be based on the skills and motivations defined by job requirements and business necessity, and validated using professionally acceptable methods (after all, you want to trust the scores to predict performance, right?)

Forget about the legions of tests marketed openly on the Internet. Most are pure junk. Unless they were developed using professional test standards, they are probably inaccurate, unstable, and predict only vendor test revenues. Furthermore, the test user, not the vendor, is responsible for test use.

Finally, because a better selection system screens out more unqualified people, in the near-term expect to spend more time kissing frogs to find your princes or princesses. In the long term, lower turnover and increased profitability will help offset this problem. Don’t even think you will get credit, however, line managers will claim they did it themselves.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.