Ridiculist: More Silly Recruiting Ideas

Nov 18, 2011
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

I owe the term “Riduculist” to Anderson Cooper. Every so often he discusses something so silly it defies explanation. This article deals with an email solicitation I received recently that was so ridiculous, I laughed out loud.

Job Failure and Job Success

My profession is studying jobs and designing tests/exercises/interviews that measure both skills and attitudes. Extensive job experience and exhaustive graduate studies have brought me into contact with hundreds of managers in large corporations. One of my first activities has always been to interview people, either in the job or supervising the job, and ask: “What are all the reasons employees succeed or fail in this job?” The following responses are typical:

Can’t manage time, Makes bad decisions, Can’t get along with people, Doesn’t seem to care, Can’t sell, Can’t lead others, Poor communicator, Not honest in dealing with people, Poor communication with customers, Poor planner, Doesn’t follow up, Can’t learn new information, Poor attitude, Doesn’t show initiative, Can’t see the forest for the trees, Doesn’t consider enough information, Never anticipates consequences, Has poor judgment, No tact, Not a “people person,” Ignores deadlines, Inflexible, Doesn’t like the work, Not a team player, Doesn’t support organizational goals, Can’t see the big picture, Can’t make a decision, Bad fit

Now that we know what people who supervise (and do) the job say, let’s look at how HR usually answers the same question:

No one helped them, Not given direction, Bad management, Never trained, Bad fit, De-motivated, Not really sure, Personality conflict …

(Yes, it’s usually a very short list.)

Notice the difference? Managers and job-holders cite about 80% skills-related items and 20% attitude-related ones. HR, on the other hand, almost always attributes performance to victimization. I think this is a pretty significant finding, don’t you? Now consider the following claims from the email vendor:

The vendor says:

  • Our research shows 89% of bad hires are due to attitude such as coachability, emotional intelligence, and temperament.
  • Source credibility for this data is attributed to articles in Fortune, IndustryWeek, and other newsstand magazines.
  • Almost everything about job attitudes can be discovered from an interview.
  • You can learn all your need to know by attending a 60-minute webinar.

On what planet?

Obviously the vendor’s body of research has been kept completely secret from the hiring-science community. Sure, if an employee arrives on the job with a full complement of skills, attitude can have a big effect. But, by completely ignoring ability, do you think this vendor is appealing to people who supervise the position, or the HR community? More to the point, if this product ignores 80% of job experts’ data, do you think their product can possibly be as good as they claim?

I’ve been on the end of many of interviews and can say with certainty most magazine authors are less-than-expert in the subject matter. In fact, they work hard to find simple sound-bite answers to complex questions, seldom caring about hard research because it makes for dry and uninteresting reading. In short, articles published in mainstream media are a better indicator of clever PR than expert peer-reviewed research. If you want opinions, visit the newsstand or bookstore. If you want facts, read unbiased hiring research studies.

Measure attitude using only an interview? Sure. For one thing, everyone knows a smart candidate can dance rings around a typical interviewer. For another, interviewers neither have the training nor the experience to be personality psychologists. Anyway, abundant literature (I know… booooring!) shows clinical evaluations (e.g. trained psychological experts) are inaccurate predictors of job success. You won’t find this information in the WSJ or HBR because it is not “catchy.”

Hard Facts

In my experience, there are thousands of training-program vendors, thousands of junk-science test vendors, and a few hundred professional selection tool vendors. Seldom will you find both training and professional selection technology coexisting — the technology and philosophy is totally different.

If a vendor’s website talks all about training, it’s a good idea to pass. You see, developing a professional hiring test takes more than drafting a few questions. It takes months of editing and statistical analysis to demonstrate it actually predicts some aspect of job performance. BTW: This would be a good time to revisit the manager’s succeed-or-fail list.

If you are responsible for making hiring decisions, be careful of self-promoting vendors entering the hiring and selection marketplace. Professionally, I never found one sufficiently qualified in the science of test development to develop a product that will eliminate dead-wood candidates. And believe me, if you use junk-science tests, you will learn the hard way they don’t work as advertised. Furthermore, all that dead-wood will be on your payroll.

This warning is true for all products that suggest they can teach you to analyze a candidate’s motivations, use self-reported personality surveys to match performance with a data base of job titles, predict job performance without actually measuring skills, or use any other method that is less than comprehensive or validated. From a legal perspective, the user, not the vendor, is always responsible for test use.

I have been accused by some of promoting “assessments?” Get real. It’s semantics: Interviews, resume reviews, application blanks, surveys, tests, sourcing, and so forth, all all assessments. Assessment is just another word for test, and, valid tests are useful tools for evaluating qualifications. If you don’t have proof your test/interview/assessment predicts job performance for your job in your organization, then you will assuredly turn away good people and hire useless ones.

Why should you worry? Experts estimate poor employment decisions cost about six month’s salary, not to mention perpetuating HR’s professional reputation for quick, ineffective solutions to complex problems. Forget vendor hype. Simple, one-step hiring solutions are nonsense. They don’t deliver.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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