Why Wonder? You’ll Know!

Jul 10, 2006

I found the following phrase printed on a clever little gadget that attaches to my garage door. When the door is open, it sends a signal to a wireless receiver which flashes red to let me know my home is unsecured. When the door is closed, the receiver flashes green. Here’s the phrase: “I don’t wonder. I know.” What do garage doors and recruiting have in common? Both are doorways that, when left unattended, can let in undesirable elements. Take recruiting, both internal and external. A while ago, Jeremy wrote an article about the need to overcome a general recruiting industry inferiority complex. He made some good points, and I thought I would build on (i.e., steal) some of his ideas. For example, if I am correct, Jeremy’s key points were:

  • Recruiters seldom do the basics.
  • Recruiters are often treated like second-class citizens.
  • Companies=people=companies.

These are great points. And they are excellent examples of garage-door feedback.

Why Wonder?

“Why wonder?” refers to not knowing. In the case of garage doors, it refers to keeping out bad things and letting in good ones. That is, you don’t have to wonder if your garage door is keeping out rabid raccoons, teenage pranksters, and the occasional space alien.

Most homeowners would agree that these are undesirable garage inhabitants. In the case of recruiting, it means wondering if the recruiter is submitting unqualified applicants, people who require additional training, or employees who may quit prematurely. You know, undesirable organizational inhabitants. Professional recruiters may also wonder if buyers think they are really worth their fee.

You’ll Know!

“You’ll know!” refers to feedback. In the case of the garage-door gadget, it means seeing a light flash either red (open to alien visitors) or green (closed and secure). In the case of recruiting, it means getting a resounding “Way to go!” a grudging “At least I didn’t have to do it,” a “I sure wasted money on that one!” or a “Why should I pay an independent recruiter for something I could do internally?”

Feedback tells us how we are doing.

Key Points Revisited

Without people, companies are just a collection of buildings, property, and equipment. People quality=company quality. Although it takes employees to fill the buildings, manage the property, and operate the equipment, it does not take an expensive consultant to illustrate that employees are seldom equally productive (any more than it takes a meteorologist to warn that waving around a metal golf club in a thunderstorm can quickly lead to becoming a charcoal briquette). We respect firefighters who put out fires, doctors who cure illness, and engineers who build bridges that do not collapse. Would we feel the same about them if firefighters only put out half the fires, doctors only cured half their patients, or half our bridges had structural failures? Both research and practical experience shows about half the people hired fail to meet performance expectations. Who do you think brought those hires into the company in the first place? Feedback, both positive and negative, should be taken seriously.

If hiring managers know that their internal or external recruiters bring them employees with variable skills, or if recruiters know they seldom follow the basics, then any lobby for respect and recognition will invite the same warm welcome as our rain-drenched, club-waving golfer. Ka-Pow! So what are some recruiting basics? Well, on the surface, they are very simple. There are three steps: 1) know job requirements; 2) accurately measure each applicant; and 3) follow up.

Know Job Requirements More often than not, job requirements are based on discussions with managers and job descriptions. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about recruiters tossing qualified applicants over the wall and hiring managers tossing them back, complaining they don’t meet the profile. Why does “wall tossing” happen? Job descriptions are generally artificial and out-of-date, and managers often don’t do the subordinate’s job. Think about it. Unless your manager has done your job, how much does he or she really know what it takes? The idea that any manager is going to thoroughly know a subordinate’s job is often sheer fantasy. Job holders are the only ones who can explain day-to-day competencies; managers define what to expect. It’s a nice, neat package. (It helps to think of a job competency as a snippet of behavior or specific skill associated with successful or unsuccessful job performance.) In short, job competencies do not come from HR. They do not come from job descriptions, and they do not come from managers. The best source is interviews with job holders.

Accurately Measure Each Applicant

Interviews are inaccurate. In addition to not knowing clear job requirements, interviews are prone to personal interpretation and fabrication. In fact, every interview book or article I have read advises job seekers to say or do anything to get the job. The odds against the interviewer are substantial. However, what do we say to interviewers who maintain that they are completely objective and able to consistently spot applicant fabrications? Nothing. We need to have them stuffed and sent to the Smithsonian. What, you say? Tests are too restrictive and inaccurate? Sorry, folks; interviews are just another form of tests, and poor tests at that. Imagine this scenario:

Patient: “Hello, Doctor.”

Doctor: “Hello, Patient. What is your greatest strength and weakness?”

Patient: “I work hard, eat healthy food, and get plenty of rest.”

Doctor: “How would a collection of your best/worst friends describe you?”

Patient: “I tend to take my work home with me.”

Doctor: “Show me your last three years’ earning statements.”

Patient: “Here you go.”

Doctor: “Looks good to me. When would you like to become an astronaut?”

Every recruiter who wants to be recognized for his or her skills must become an expert in testing. This includes skilled behavior-based interview techniques, situation-based techniques, pencil-and-paper tests, simulations, case studies, scheduling exercises, and the like. Finally, they have to follow up on each hire, compare pre-hire scores with post-hire performances, and make adjustments as required.

Flies in the Ointment

Of course, recruiters have a few problems to overcome. As cited by Chapman and Zweig in a 2005 article in Personnel Psychology, untrained interviewers “brim” with confidence about their ability to predict job performance; they strongly believe rapport-building and sophisticated questions enhance their effectiveness and professionalism; and they think they can identify the best candidates regardless of the question structure they employ. What does all this mean? The least skilled recruiters are the ones most impressed with their own professionalism. Does anyone see a problem here?


When we started this article, we used the phrase, “Why Wonder? You’ll know!” On second thought, maybe it should read, “You know! Why wonder?” I hope a few people will take the risk to get smart and learn the basics of skill definition and measurement. This is the only way recruiters who take their jobs seriously can gradually earn respect and recognition for their contributions to the overall health of the organization. For the rest – the ones who think professional respect comes from public proclamations and self-promotion – Karnak predicts a bright flash and a loud boom in your future. Don’t worry. You’ll never see it coming.

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