On Becoming a Great Recruiter, Part 2

Jun 22, 2006

Managers have a hard time assessing competency and motivation, even though many have gone through some type of formal interviewing training. It turns out the real problem is not the questions being asked; it’s not knowing the job they’re evaluating the candidate against. Not knowing real job needs turns out to be the root cause of the most common hiring mistakes: hiring people who are partially competent, or hiring people who are competent but not motivated to do the work required. If you’ve taken the recruiter diagnostic assessment, you know that knowing the job and knowing your market are prerequisites to being a great recruiter.

Here’s a short reading list to get you started here. The books listed below are essential reading for all top managers and recruiters, and the articles will give you instant credibility when you suggest using a different approach as you take your next search assignment. The Required Reading List If you want to be a top 10% recruiter within a year, check these out:

  • First, Break All of the Rules – What the World’s Best Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The basic premise is if you want to hire and retain top people, you must clarify expectations and then hire people who want to do this work.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. This is a must-read classic. The seven habits represent the traits of top achievers.
  • SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. This is the bible for solution selling and great recruiting.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Golemen. You’ll become an expert on understanding team skills after reading this book.
  • Fortune magazine just ran (June 2006) a great series on teams. Every article is strong, especially the one about the Wharton MBA who joined the Marine Corps. Team skills are the hardest to measure during an interview. They won’t be after reading these articles. You’ll also be able to use this stuff to defend your good candidates from poor interviewers.
  • Harvard Business Review on Hiring the Right Leaders (May 2006). The authors describe why 30-50% of CEOs hired from the outside don’t make it. The conclusion: The hiring team didn’t match real job needs with the person’s abilities and interests. It offers more proof about why you need to define job needs up front.

The stage has been set. The key to minimizing hiring mistakes and opening the pool to more top people is to get your hiring managers to clarify expectations by defining real job needs. I refer to these types of job descriptions as “performance profiles”. The reference materials noted above will give you the confidence and evidence needed to 1) prove the case that traditional skills and experience-based job descriptions are useless, and 2) get the time you need with your clients to prepare a performance profile.

What Are Performance Profiles?

A performance profile describes the six to eight performance objectives a person taking the job needs to do to be successful. It differs from a job description in that it doesn’t describe skills or traits, but rather what the person needs to accomplish with his or her skills and traits. For example, instead of saying the person must have five years of accounting experience and be a CPA, it’s clearer to say “Complete the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley reporting requirements by Q2.” Once the list of performance objectives is developed, the hiring team should review and prioritize these objectives. This way, consensus is reached on job needs before the search process begins. Clarifying expectations up front not only increases assessment accuracy, but if the expectations are compelling enough they’re also the major reason why top people select one job over another. Compensation also becomes less important if the job is a great fit and good career move. Using the 2-question performance-based interview, you’ll be able to quickly determine how competent and motivated the person is to meet these performance objectives. After the candidates have been interviewed, consensus will also be easier to reach since everyone is using the same benchmark and assessment tools to evaluate them. Use the following steps and questions as a guide to preparing a performance profile with the hiring team.

Introduce the Concept of Performance Profiles

Start the conversation with the hiring manager by reading the paragraph above defining performance profiles and throwing in a few quotes from the books and articles. Then, suggest that it’s better to first describe the job, rather than the person taking the job. If a personal trait (like motivation or degree or whatever) is mentioned, restate that this is a personal attribute, not a performance objective, and for now let’s put the person in the parking lot. This helps reinforce the idea that the job and the personal skills and traits are different – and that confusing the two is the cause of most hiring mistakes. To start preparing performance profiles, first determine the top two to three major performance objectives. Ideally, the hiring manager and members of the hiring team are together when you ask these questions. It will be easier to reach consensus on real job needs if everyone who has a vote is involved in the initial discussion. The recruiter should lead the conversation by asking these questions. Collectively, they’ll help you uncover the most important part of the job and those factors that drive success.

  • What are the one or two major accomplishments a strong person in this role should achieve over the course of 6-12 months? (Use a shorter time frame if appropriate.)
  • Are there any big challenges or problems that need to be addressed?
  • What needs to be improved or changed? How will you know this has been accomplished? How long would it take to accomplish?
  • What are two to three other big things that a top person in this job would do on a regular basis?
  • What would a top person need to do first in the first 30-60 days to get started on hitting these objectives? These are subtasks that would give you a clue the person is moving in the right direction.
  • What do the best people do differently than the average person doing the same job?
  • What’s the environment like? (Consider pace, how decisions are made, resources, culture, level of sophistication, infrastructure, and the hiring manager’s style.)
  • Why would a top person want this job?
  • Why is this job better than competing jobs?
  • What will the person learn, do, and become as a result of taking this job?
  • Does this job tie into some major company initiative?
  • What are the critical technical skills required for job success? Once you have these, ask “What does a person need to do with these skills?” Then, ask if the manager would see someone from you who could do this type of work, but had less experience than specified on the job description. (This is a great way to switch a skill into a performance objective.)
  • From the above, what are the most important performance objectives? Select the top six to eight and put them in priority order.

I would suggest that before you ask these questions, you develop some rough answers first. To get these, you might want to talk to some of the best people you’ve already placed in this type of job and get them to help you put together a preliminary performance profile. Just as the meeting is about to end ask, “If I can show you candidates who can do this type of work extremely well, would you see them from me even if they didn’t have all of the skills and experiences described in the original job description?” As long as they say “yes,” you can end the meeting. If they say “no,” start the meeting over again. Here’s what you’ve accomplished with this exercise:

  • Demonstrated your confidence and job knowledge.
  • Become a true partner in a cross-functional team.
  • Switched the decision criteria for hiring a person from skills and experiences to performance.
  • Started training managers on how to more accurately assess the candidates you will present.
  • Increased the chance that you’ll be able to find more top people, since you’ll have a more compelling opportunity to discuss.
  • Increased the likelihood that you’ll be able to recruit and close candidates on career opportunity rather than compensation, since you have something tangible to offer.

Collectively, this is a remarkable outcome. Why don’t you try it when you take your next search assignment?

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