To Recruiters, Hiring Managers and Candidates: Violate These Laws of Human Nature at Your Peril

Aug 10, 2012

Here are some basic truths about people regarding hiring and getting hired:

  1. There are very few people who have an economic need to look for another job, are willing to take a lateral transfer, and are high achievers. Yet most companies spend most of their time and resources looking for these kinds of people. For proof, look at any 20 job postings on Dice,, LinkedIn, or and see who they’re trying to attract.
  2. The military has a tough screening process for selecting officers. But once selected — and with no experience — they are given some serious training and responsibilities far in excess of their current ability and asked to deliver extraordinary results. Most of them succeed. Yet these same people when they leave the military aren’t given a fair chance because they don’t have the “right” experience.
  3. There has been more research done on why people perform at peak levels, why they underperform, and why they leave jobs, but much of this is ignored when it comes to assessing competency and fit. Google’s Project Oxygen and Gallup’s Q12 are the most notable. None of this has to do their level of experience. Most of it relates to doing work they find satisfying and important, and working for a supportive manager. Here’s how to capture this during the first meeting with the hiring manager.
  4. Candidates who are too eager turn off people, and those who aren’t eager enough turn off people. Companies who are too eager when they find a hot prospect, either turn them off or pay too much to hire them. Asking insightful questions is a better way to demonstrate interest whatever side of the desk you’re on.
  5. Cultural fit is critically important — but few companies actually define it, and even fewer know how to measure it. For proof, ask the next 10 people you meet at your company to define its culture and how they would determine it during an interview. This is a good way to determine if your company’s culture is real or imaginary. If you’re a candidate, ask every interviewer the same question.
  6. Most managers would hire a top achiever who is a little light on skills and experience and modify the job accordingly, but their hiring systems prevent them from ever seeing these people. That’s why I recommend using performance profiles for any important job and banishing job description.
  7. In the first 5-10 years of a person’s career, people who get promoted more rapidly or assigned to the toughest projects tend to have less experience than those who don’t. Yet when we hire someone from the outside we want more experience. Why don’t we want more achievement?
  8. First impressions and interview presentation skills do not predict on-the-job performance — even for sales positions — yet most people think they do. Past performance, discipline, and commitment are the best predictors of future performance, yet somehow we overlook the top-performing and committed (sales) person because they look, act, or sound somewhat different than we imagine they need to be.

With these basic truths in mind, here’s my quick list of corrective actions for recruiters, hiring managers, candidates, and everyone else on the interviewing team.

  1. If you don’t know what it takes to be successful on the job in your company, don’t interview any candidates until you do. How else are you going to determine competency, motivation, and fit? Here’s a article that will show you how to figure this out.
  2. If you’re a candidate being interviewed, and the person interviewing you doesn’t know the job, ask this question: “what does the person taking this job need to accomplish in the first 6-12 months in order to be considered successful?” Then ask, “why is this important and what resources are available to pull this off?” If the person interviewing you is the hiring manager, and doesn’t know the answer, or stumbles about, I would be concerned about taking the job if offered.
  3. If you’re a recruiter, don’t present an opportunity to anyone unless the hiring manager tells you what it takes to be successful on the job. If you do, you’ll waste your time screening people on the wrong criteria.
  4. If you’re a passive candidate, talk to every recruiter who calls and see if they understand the real job, it’s importance to the company strategy, and how well the company is doing overall. Make sure you ask these questions before you ask about the money or the location. If you filter jobs out too soon because of the money, you’ll never get a chance to hear about true career opportunities.
  5. From a career growth standpoint it’s better to be underpaid than overpaid. Compensation increases always follow performance, not lead it. So if and whenever you get the chance when changing jobs, don’t fight for a big short-term compensation bump; instead, figure out some way to get a big bump based on your performance. (Recruiter Tip: send the linked article to your candidates if you want to minimize compensation challenges.)
  6. If you instantly like a candidate, force yourself to ask the person tougher questions. If you don’t like the candidate right away, force yourself to assume the person is extremely qualified, treat the person as you would a consultant, be respectful, and listen carefully to everything said. If you do this for just 30 minutes you’ll be shocked. For one, you’ll discover many of those you thought were initially tops, are more personality than performance. Even better: they’ll be a few who initially turned you off who are great. These are the people that everyone else overlooked.

From what I’ve seen over the past 30-plus years, most hiring problems can attributed to the problems described here. While the solutions offered are pretty simple, they do require some discipline. First, make sure you understand the performance expectations of the job in the real environment and culture before you interview any candidates. Second, don’t make any instant judgments: wait at least 30 minutes before you make a no decision. It takes a least a few more hours to make a yes. Third, don’t be too surprised when you start making fewer mistakes and start hiring more top performers who are excited about the work you’re offering. Commonsense sometimes makes sense.

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