When Being Great in the Hiring Process Is Overrated

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Nov 17, 2022
This article is part of a series called Flashback.

If you want to make your hiring a routinely formal business process, being pretty good at everything is usually good enough. The real problem with hiring is that sourcing, recruiting, interviewing, and every other aspect of the hiring process are typically just a bunch of loosely connected activities. Improving only your website or aggressively shining up your brand image will not do much unless all other aspects of the hiring process work reasonably well together.

In the hiring process upgrading effort, it’s usually what doesn’t get changed that causes the most problems. Here are a few examples of these hidden flaws in the hiring process:

  • Traditional (a.k.a. boring) recruitment advertising that is seen, read, and acted upon only by a candidate with the time to check out the other 50 – 75 look-alike jobs available in your neighborhood
  • A time-consuming online application process that only the unemployed have the time to complete
  • Unprofessional interviewers who first can’t accurately assess candidate competency and who then go on to cheapen the job by overselling and under-listening
  • Poorly written job descriptions that are too hard to find and read more like legal boilerplate than career opportunities.
  • Recruiters who don’t know and can’t anticipate the major objections of top candidates in the first phone call.

If these hidden flaws remain hidden, next year your recruiting services vendor will probably be making some excuse as to why the new ______ (insert “recruiting advertising,” “career site,” “branding,” “employee referral program,” “tracking system,” “online testing,” “interviewing program”) didn’t work as promised.

You’ll get far better results if you make sure that every hiring process you now use is good enough before trying to make anything first-class. When it comes to recruiting and hiring, I’ve found out that good enough is usually good enough. And not until you’re good enough at everything is it time to get really good at the stuff that seems to matter the most.

In my opinion, this is how you need to implement a formal business process for hiring. An industry buzzword for this type of formal process improvement program is Six Sigma. GE was one of the industry leaders in implementing Six Sigma quality programs throughout their organization. Here’s how GE defines the Six Sigma process:

“First, it is not a secret society, a slogan or a cliche. Six Sigma is a highly-disciplined process that helps to focus on developing and delivering near-perfect products and services. Sigma is a statistical term that measures how far a given process deviates from perfection. The central idea behind Six Sigma is that if you can measure how many ‘defects’ you have in a process, you can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and get as close to ‘zero defects’ as possible.”

While no hiring process can ever be Six Sigma, “Two Sigma-Plus” is a reasonable target. This is about an 80% – 90% effectiveness rate. Given the importance of hiring top people to company success, more attention, more resources, and more money must be invested to make hiring a formal business process. As you begin this effort, here are two things to consider:

  1. Don’t copy someone else’s sourcing and hiring processes. Your company has unique hiring issues (pay, location, types and numbers of jobs, growth opportunities) that can’t easily be morphed from one company to another. For example, a great company with great jobs has a far easier time finding and hiring top candidates than an unknown company with average jobs. Yet many experts point to these types of systems as role models, when they’re often not appropriate.
  2. Recruiting service vendors are interested in maximizing their own revenue, not in improving your hiring process. For example, pushing more advertising might not be the solution to a company’s inability to hire good people. It might be unprofessional managers or boring job descriptions. Don’t let your recruiting services vendors drive your company’s hiring process.

A company’s hiring process refers to everything related to recruiting and hiring — for example, all sourcing activities, the interviewing and assessment techniques used, the size and capability of the recruiting team, and the technology infrastructure (website and candidate tracking system). Three marketplace factors (described below) have the most impact on how the hiring process is designed:

  • Candidate supply. Having many candidates to choose from is a far different challenge than having too few. The first can be solved with great systems to screen out the weak from the strong. The second requires more hands-on sleuthing by recruiters who know how to network with everyone possibly connected to the ideal candidate.
  • Company reputation or brand. A little-known company or one facing tough business challenges must work far harder to convince the best to apply for a job or accept an offer than a well-known or prosperous company. This difference affects website design, how job descriptions are written, and how hard recruiters need to work to convince someone to just come in for an interview.
  • Competitiveness of the job. Unattractive jobs tend to be filled by less discriminating people, unless a recruiter intervenes. If you have great jobs that pay well, your company doesn’t need to work as hard to get candidates to accept offers. In this case, recruiters just need to be good administrators who work well with candidates and hiring managers. If your jobs are less than ideal, recruiters must have great job knowledge coupled with strong counseling and influencing skills.

These are the types of considerations that must be taken into account as a company builds a formal business process for hiring. You can start by creating a hiring plan that roughly indicates who you need to hire and when they need to be on board. List all of your sourcing channels in sequential order from low cost to high touch — for example, online advertising to third-party recruiters. Then guess at how many of the candidates you’ll be hiring will come from each of these channels.

Next, figure out if you have enough resources and recruiters with the right skills to handle all of the open assignments. This exercise can help create the framework for your hiring process. Map it in more detail to see where the big holes are and which parts work and which ones don’t. Fix these first. In some cases, you’ll need additional resources to meet the hiring plan. In other cases, you’ll want to make sure that each of the sourcing channels you now use is optimized before adding costly new sourcing approaches. Maybe you just need better ads, a simpler website, or recruiting training — not a new branding program.

Then figure out which parts can be automated. Don’t automate the parts that don’t work — you’ll just be more inefficient faster.

Yet that’s what many recruiting service vendors offer. Instead, optimize the process manually first to get the bugs out, then automate whatever makes sense. Once you have the hiring process mapped out this way, then is it time to start improving it.

In creating a Two Sigma formal business process for hiring, seek balance above all else. Try to be pretty good at everything instead of being great at just a few things. If we’ve learned anything in the last five years, it’s that there is no silver bullet. When it comes to hiring, being pretty good at everything is good enough.

Editor’s note: This article is part of our Flashback series, which reaches into ERE’s archives to bring you stories that still have significance today. This piece is adapted from the original version, published 20 years ago. It’s striking how the insights and themes in this article still seem current — perhaps for better and for worse. 

This article is part of a series called Flashback.
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