Why Good Candidates Fail: Beware the 90 Percent Job Fit

Feb 11, 2014

I receive frequent requests for pre-employment tests that provide a job fit score. These scores provide a pseudo “Dummies Guide to Hiring” — a lazy manager’s approach to screening job applicants.

Make no mistake about it: assessment systems that include a score make it easy to screen out high-risk candidates.  They are a time-saver and reduce the assessment learning curve for recruiters and hiring managers.

But the inclusion of a job fit score or “hire/don’t hire” rating is susceptible to abuse and misuse. It’s not the inclusion of the score that is inherently bad. The problem arises when Mike the Manager hires or rejects a candidate based exclusively on the score alone.

For example, let’s say Andy Applicant completes a pre-employment test for a management position. The assessment report determines Andy is a 90 percent fit. Cathy Candidate “scores” 79 percent. In the hands of most managers, Andy is the winner. Let’s get this guy signed up and on the schedule today. But not so fast Mikey. Haste makes waste … or in this case, haste makes a bad hire.

Six months later, Mike the Manager calls me wondering why Andy is failing. “How can that be?” he asks. “Maybe your test isn’t any good.”

Employees fail for many reasons even when they “pass” the pre-hire assessment with flying colors.

The No. 1 reason why a good candidate fails as an employee in situations like this is that the hiring manager relied on the job fit score and didn’t read the assessment. Job fit scores don’t eliminate the need for managers to interview. Job fit scores aren’t a substitute for due diligence.

Assuming a candidate passes through the resume check, recruiter’s screen, a face-to-face interview, and an employee test, it is reasonable to expect that the candidate has some potential. (If not, your screening process and recruiters skills may need serious help!)  Through my research and reviewing thousands of employee test results with clients, it is common to see final candidates with job fit scores of 80 percent or higher.

On the one hand 80 percent or higher scores mean the company screening and interviewing processes are working …up to a point. A high job fit score is however no guarantee of job success. For most of our clients, a job fit score of 80 percent reveals a candidate with a high probability of success; below 60 percent indicates a high rate of failure.

But yes, there is that other hand.

Looking at the 80 or 90 percent fit without looking at what triggered the 10 to 20 percent miss can be a grave error.  How many high potentials have you hired who just can’t keep their mouth shut?  Or have a temper that is tolerated because they excel at what they do … until one day they flip out at a customer or co-worker? Or they tend to juggle so many balls that eventually they drown in missed deadlines and overpromises? Or the scope of work and pace of change catches up to them and you find them looking like a deer in your headlights?

Everyone has an Achilles heel. No one is a perfect match. Circumstances change. Coworkers and team members change. Competitors change. We all reach a point that takes us out of or beyond our comfort zone and natural talent. What was once a perfect match becomes a bit imperfect. Job fit scores tell us how likely it is that the job applicant will succeed when compared to other employees in similar roles. The not-such-a-good-fit component — the gap between the score and 100 percent match — reveals why they might not work out. Most everyone ignores the gap, however small it is. And that’s a big mistake.

A 90 percent fit or “recommended for hire” is nothing to sneeze at. But ignoring what might trip up the candidate in a new role, in a new environment, or how he manages more responsibilities may be short sighted.

When reading the results of pre-employment tests, R-E-A-D the report or at least the executive summary. Managers and recruiters must look beyond the score. Seek out outlying traits, styles, values, and skills that might eventually raise their ugly head. Not only is this a good hiring practice, but it opens up opportunities for the high-potential candidate to recognize potential performance hiccups in advance and develop the skills and ability to mask or overcome them.

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