Questions Every Corporate Recruiter Should Ask

Dec 20, 2011

Throughout the year I get many questions from readers, recruiters, HR, and vendors. In this end-of-the-year article, I’ll list a few of the most frequent ones.

Q: Recruiter … My system works best. I know, because most of my placements survive the guarantee period.

A: Good for you (or, for your business, at least). From my experience, only a really bad candidate will fail to survive a guarantee period, and most organizations will go to great lengths to avoid the pain of starting another search. Besides, it generally takes about 18-24 months before an employer can separate job-learning from job-performance. Measuring success by guarantees is not the same as measuring success based on whether someone can do a job.

Q: Vendor … My system works great. It matches each candidate to a job profile.

A: Oh really? Do all jobs in the target profile perform the same work? Is every profiled-person a fully skilled, high-performing employee? Does each factor in the profile carry equal weight or are some factors more critical than others? Do individuals making up the profile actually match their own group average? Suppose there are two job groups of 100 people with the same average score. However, in one group, individual scores range from 10 to 90 … in the other group, scores range from 45 to 60 …  are the two groups really the same?

Q: Employer … Our attorneys recommend against tests. We interview candidates.

A: Interesting. What do you call it when: 1) you have something you want to measure; 2) you ask a candidate questions; and 3) you score the answers? Tests/application blanks/sourcing venues/interview questions/resume reviews and so forth = tests. And, their accuracy varies widely. By the way, corporate attorneys tend to be trained as contract experts, and labor attorneys tend to be litigation experts; so, it is really up to HR to do the front-end prevention work (scary, yes?).

Q: Recruiter … Job-fit is more important than anything else.

A: Maybe. Let’s break apart the job into pieces, starting with the critical competencies used to get the job done; then we add manager-fit (may change), department-fit (may change), organizational-fit (usually stable until the next merger/sale/acquisition), and job-fit (probably constant) … now, which “fit” category are we speaking about, and why does fit trump everything else?

Q: Vendor … Our personality tests accurately predict on-the-job behavior.

A: Hmmm. While some of the better-developed tests include scales that identify inconsistent answers, does every personality factor make the difference between job-success and job-failure? Even if you can identify specific performance factor(s), can you actually be sure candidates don’t try to fake good, attempt to match a specific job profile, present an idealized image, or report their true self? In a controlled experiment, I once compared ratings from experienced professionals (e.g., experienced people trained to observe and classify behavior) with 266 candidate personality test reports. Guess what? There was almost no correlation between test scores and behavior.

Self-descriptive personality tests are poor measures of performance. If behavior is critically important in your job (i.e., managers, salespeople, customer service, and so forth) the best way to get a trustworthy reading is to put the candidate in a position where he or she must show you what they can do.

Q: Employer: We don’t have to worry about being sued by the EEOC.

A: Not right away. Consider this. Two companies each hire 100 people. The Great-Hire Company uses a combination of validated behavioral interviews, tests, and simulations. They screen-out everyone who cannot demonstrate (i.e., show) required skills. The Know-Em-When-We-See-Em Company uses traditional interviews. They screen-out people who cannot pass an interview. Which company has the better-skilled workforce? Which has a better career path and deeper promotion pool? Which is more productive per employee? Which company is less likely to get sued for wrongful termination or not promoting protected groups? Forget about the EEOC. Start worrying about organizational bench strength.

Q: Vendors and Recruiters: You are just trying to get people to use tests/assessments.

A: They already are…I’m just trying to get them to use better ones; that is, identify more and better skilled employees.

Q: Employer … We use tests, but don’t use the scores to make hiring decisions.

A: Then don’t give your test until after the candidate is hired.

Q: Employer … we’re satisfied with our present interview and test system.

A: That either means one of two things: 1) you know precisely the cost of low performance, have done formal job studies, validated all your tests, ignore personal anecdotes, and track adverse impact at every decision point; or 2) you never calculated the cost of a bad hire. Which group do you belong to? In case you belong to the second, you might like to know that traditional interviews and unvalidated tests produce enough poor employees and managers to cost your organization anywhere from 10% to 50% of base annual salary. This number comes from recruiting, lost opportunities, turnover, training, coaching, employee mistakes, over-staffing, litigation expenses, lost salary, and so forth.

Q: Recruiter/Employer … we ask our hiring managers to define job requirements.

A: That’s a big problem. Who knows more about what it takes to do your job: you or your manager? Managers might define overall performance, but job holders know the most about what the job takes moment to moment. And, senior managers know how your job will change in the future. You think you can get all that from a hiring manager?

Q: Recruiter/Employer … if we did all that, we would never hire anyone.

A: Are you saying that if you identified critical competencies by interviewing incumbents, managers, and visionary managers, and then used validated tools to screen-out everyone who did not meet the job requirements, no one would pass? Hmmm. Please tell me how you explain all those people already doing the job?

Q: Trainer … just hire the people. We’ll train them to competency.

A: You read a book on this, right? Have you forgotten the number of times you were asked to train an incompetent person into a competent one? Or cringed when asked to link training dollars to either behavioral change or personal effectiveness? Training might enhance skills, but it seldom, if ever, changes a job-incompetent person into a job-competent one. Training is a skills enhancer, not a magic wand.

Q: Vendor/Employer/Recruiter … we use a popular intelligence test to make hires.

A: You know, of course, intelligence tests are both good and bad? The good part is smarter employees (i.e., higher scoring candidates) tend to do better than their less-smart team members. The bad part is you run the risk of: 1) filling an organization with people who are too smart for the job; 2) adversely rejecting too many members of a protected demographic group; 3) hiring people who practiced the test multiple times on multiple job interviews; 4) or restricting the size of your candidate pool. Intelligence tests are great performance predictors, but only if they pass the Three-Bears-Test: too much, too little, or just right for the job.

Q: Vendor/Employer/Recruiter … why is the intelligence test so important?

A: It is not critically important in all jobs … only jobs where the person is required to learn, solve problems, analyze information, make sound decisions, and so forth. It’s common sense really. Put a team of one dozen dull employees alongside a team of one dozen smart employees, and who do you think will do better?

Q: Vendor/Employer/Recruiter … the DOL ‘Guidelines and ‘Standards don’t apply to me.

A: Actually, they apply to everybody with a role in recruiting, evaluating, placing, training, or promoting employees/managers. If you don’t follow the ‘Guidelines and ‘Standards, then hiring and promoting fully-skilled employees will never be more than a game of chance. Test liability? That is always responsibility of the test user. EEOC? That’s the least of your worries.

Q: Vendor … my tests are approved by the EEOC and validated for all jobs.

A: And pigs can fly. The EEOC does not approve vendors. Tests have to be validated job by job, unless, after doing a job analysis, one a test user can transport (e.g., borrow) another user’s validation work.


This is by no means a complete list. But the logic is clear: if you don’t follow best practices, your employees and managers will range from good to bad; and, bad employees means higher turnover, more training expense, excessive recruiting costs, increased legal exposure, more people to do the same work, and wasted payroll.

If you don’t do it right, you will do it wrong. There is no alternative.

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