Best-in-Class Hiring: The Tech Professional

In Part 1, we discussed how to simplify hiring systems and use a few good hiring tools to reduce hiring mistakes. Although they have been around for decades and proven through research, highly predictive hiring tools are seldom used. We hear, instead, about:

  • “Get to know the applicant” interviews (Ever take time to check out the accuracy of these?)
  • Searches for the perfect interview question (Let us all know when you find it.)
  • Silly psychobabble tests (Are you more like a trilobite or a nematode?)
  • Arguments like, “Yes, I am a staffing professional, but this takes a lot of work!”
  • “Are you sure science improves selection?” (Only for the last 3,000 years.)
  • “Employers seldom lose hiring lawsuits” (So, you believe poor hiring practices have no impact on current productivity?)
  • “I’m scared and don’t want to change.” (Hope your managers don’t find out!)
  • “It will reduce our diversity” (Are you talking about diversity of people or diversity of job skills?)
  • “It’s an alien plot to seize our minds” (It looks like they already have one success…)

Listening to these arguments is like listening to your physician explain why he didn’t have time to go to medical school, why your lawyer didn’t need to pass the bar exam or why your bookkeeper thinks accounting courses are a waste of time. Merging science with selection is not new, novel, or any more controversial than gravity. You might like to think of it as job security. The Technical Professional Position Performance differences among technical professionals are estimated to be about 50% of base salary. That means a company with 100 professionals earning an average of $60,000 will lose $3,000,000 (100 x 60,000 x 50%) due to performance differences. Of course, that happens each year. Technical jobs require specialized technical knowledge to solve business-related problems. They may be called chemists, accountants, physicists, engineers, actuaries, programmers, etc., but they all have in common special technical knowledge. Base-level knowledge is usually acquired through formal schooling. Once acquired, it requires constant updating through technical workshops, work experience, reading technical publications, etc. Technical professionals seldom fail because they don’t know their field; they tend to fail because they are unwilling to update their technical knowledge, have poor work attitudes, are interpersonally insensitive, have more commitment to their profession than their organization, have poor job fit, or have poor planning skills. Measuring Technical Professional Competencies The following section outlines a few common competencies for the technical professional position (they may not be all inclusive for your position, but that is the reason why “job analyses” are necessary). Core technical professional competencies include:

  • Technical knowledge
  • Ability to learn
  • Problem solving
  • Project planning
  • Prioritizing
  • Teamwork
  • Project leadership
  • Persuasion
  • Communication
  • Perfectionism
  • Primacy of work
  • Learning attitude
  • Initiative

It helps simplify these things if we organize these competencies by the skill areas described in Part 1. This way we can include the risk of not measuring a specific competency, while listing a few tools that will provide the highest degree of predictive validity. As always, each tool should be either content (or criterion) validated before use. 1. Skill area: Ability to learn, solve problems and make decisions.

Job Risk What To Measure Competency Name
Not having sufficient technical knowledge to do the job Basic, intermediate, advanced or expert technical knowledge Technical Knowledge
Not being able to learn new information Ability to quickly learn and apply information Ability to Learn
Making wrong decisions Ability to solve job-related problems Problem Solving
Most effective hiring tools: Technical test adjusted to the level required for the job; test of abstract and numerical ability; customized problem solving test; behavioral event interviews

2. Skill area: Ability to plan, organize and follow courses of action.

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Job Risk What To Measure Competency Name
Failure to meet deadlines or deliver projects Ability to plan complex projects to achieve goals Project Planning
Missing critical issues, project confusion, mixed messages Ability to set priorities when presented with conflicting objectives Prioritizing
Most effective hiring tools: Project planning case studies; behavioral event interviews

3. Skill area: The ability to get things done through people.

Job Risk What To Measure Competency Name
Interpersonal conflict Ability to get along with co-workers Teamwork
Failure to accomplish projects on time on budget Ability to lead project team without having formal authority Project Leadership
Failure to get people to work together or adopt a common objective Ability to persuade others to follow a course of action Persuasion
Inability to communicate Ability to present ideas and write effectively Communication
Most effective hiring tools: Project planning case studies; behavioral event interviews; teamwork problem simulation; presentation simulations; writing exercise.

4. Skill area: Specific attitudes, interests and motivations associated with doing a job (these are really not “competencies,” but we will stick with the term to avoid confusion).

Job Risk What To Measure Competency Name
Over or under detailed Willingness to risk being wrong Perfectionism
Poor work attitude General attitude toward work Primacy of Work
Unwillingness to learn new things Attitude toward learning Learning attitude
No initiative Attitude toward the status quo, preference for following rules Initiative
Most effective hiring tools: Behavioral event interviews; tests of specific attitudes interests and motivations

In the next article, we will describe competencies for hiring better managers. Managers are an expensive group as well?? particularly because their incompetence rate is estimated around 80% to 90%.