Quality of Hire: Does Source Matter?

Aug 3, 2004

Where do the best performers come from? Is there a particular type of candidate that is more often successful and more often regarded as a high performer than other types? Many writers and speakers on the subject of recruiting make the case for hiring only “A” players. In most cases an “A” player is associated with being a passive job seeker ó someone who is currently employed and presumably somewhat happy in his or her current position and company. All other candidates are considered less desirable. This group of pundits believes that happily employed people are most likely to be the best performers. Some even make the case that the people who are the most difficult to convince to leave their current employer are the best of the best. According to their arguments, anyone who is unhappy in their current organization or with their current boss who starts to look for a job is less desirable than someone who is not looking at all. Similarly, a person laid off because of his or her organizations’ economic performance, because of a decision to exit a particular product line or service, or because of offshoring to lower costs would be much less desirable. They would argue that a truly excellent employee would have been retained no matter what the circumstances. Anecdotes abound amongst recruiters and hiring managers on what types of candidate makes the best hire or employee. The table below gives a listing of candidates as most pundits would rank them in terms of descending quality. Not everyone will rank these exactly the same, but for the most part this represents how various candidates would be ranked.

Candidate TypeReasons for Presuming QualityBelieved Benefits
Current EmployeeFamiliarity with culture, job requirements, politicsLonger tenure, productivity
Employee ReferralInternal relationships, perceived culture and skill fitTenure, cultural fit
Ex-employeeFamiliarity with culture, politicsSpeed to productivity
Current Intern/Co-opFamiliaritySpeed to productivity
Competitor’s EmployeeIndustry competence, similar job skillsCompetitive intelligence
Vendor’s EmployeeIndustry competence, internal relationshipsTechnical knowledge, productivity
Passive – EmployedNot looking, therefore performing well at current job, competentLonger tenure
Active- employedInterestCompetence, fit
Active- unemployed
Passive – Unemployed

But the bottom line has to be the answer to these questions:

  • Does the source of the candidate really matter?
  • Is this type of ranking a legitimate way to reduce the number of candidates we have to deal with?

If it is true that a high quality employee 1) performs better than the average employee, 2) stays with your organization for a long enough period of time to make a noticeable contribution, and 3) is respected by his or her hiring manager and fellow employees, shouldn’t we look for traits and competencies that would help us get these things? If a quality hire quickly demonstrates motivation, competence, and cultural fit, shouldn’t we also look to see what competencies and traits will show us these things? I am not convinced that the source the candidate comes from will consistently deliver on any of these. Here are some of the reasons supporters give for either position. Reasons for using a ranking of candidates by source:

  1. Some make the case that, statistically, you are more likely to find a good candidate among the employed than the unemployed because it is very difficult to know why someone left their previous employer. Falsification of reasons is widespread, and most organizations will not release any specific information about why someone left. Even in cases where the parting was not completely voluntary, the employee may be able to negotiate an agreement with the employer to state that she left voluntarily.
  2. Common sense says that employees who can navigate the corporate political environment and who survive are better than those who cannot.
  3. Even if the list is not absolutely accurate, experience shows that it is right more often than not. Case after case shows this.

Reason against using this type of ranking:

  1. We see what we want to see. When we make a good hire, we only notice the hires that fit our preconceived notions of quality. If an active or unemployed candidate gets hired and is good, we tend to overlook and underreport it.
  2. Why someone left an employer may speak as much or more about the quality of the employer than that of the employee. There are many very bad employers who literally drive away good people. It is really the very best who choose to leave bad employers or bad bosses.
  3. Frequently those who avoid layoffs or who are considered great employees may simply be politically astute and clever at keeping in the good graces of their boss, even when disagreeing would be best for the organization. We all know of “PC” employees who never get laid off and who consistently get good raises despite poor performance.

Whatever you or your hiring managers believe about ranking candidates, there are tools to really improve your chances of making a good selection. These tools include a recruiting website and process that provides candidates with accurate job previews and good information about your organization, screening and assessment tests, better interviewing techniques, internships, and probationary employment terms. By focusing on identifying employees who have the competencies, skills, and cultural fit the organization needs, recruiters can expand their pool of candidates and avoid the prejudiced and highly suspect way of selecting candidates by source. I hate to even think about how many wonderful potential employees have been lost because of this shoddy kind of thinking, and how many organizations are performing poorly because they really don’t have the “A” players. Quantitative data based on solid assessments should be the foundation of your recruiting practice, not the voodoo and anecdotes of the past.

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