How Performance Profiles Will Make You a Better Recruiter

For years, I’ve been writing about the use of performance profiles as the lynchpin of effective recruiting. Everybody who has ever used one for conducting a search has experienced better results. By this I mean more and stronger candidates, improved relationships with hiring manager clients, better understanding of real job needs, more consensus about candidates, candidates who are easier to close, a significant reduction in salary demands, fewer counter-offers being accepted, a reduction in turnover, increased job satisfaction and far better on-the-job performance. You’ll experience these same things once you shift to using performance profiles rather than job descriptions. (Here’s an article you can read for more background on this subject.)

Following is a performance profile my company prepared for a recent search for a department manager. It’s presented here without the tech jargon, so you can modify it for any management position. If you’re a third-party recruiter, you’ll also be able to use the performance profile to differentiate your search practice without having to compete on price (you won’t have to reduce your fees!). A performance profile is a well-thought-out, prioritized list of the top six to eight things a person in the job needs to do to be considered successful. It describes the primary performance objectives, plus the key sub-tasks and challenges a person is required to achieve. By looking for people who have accomplished similar tasks, you’ll tend to find more top performers by matching their motivating interests and skills directly with real job needs.

To be most effective, these objectives should be SMARTe (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results-defined, and Time-bound, and with a description of the environment and culture). This ensures that recruiters, hiring managers, candidates, and everyone on the interviewing team are on the same page. This is how you reach consensus more quickly, by getting everyone on the hiring team to agree to real job needs before you begin looking for and interviewing candidates. The result is a huge time savings, achieved by minimizing the number of candidates who need to be seen. The performance objectives noted below represent the general scope of activity for a first-line manager. The examples represent a number of different positions. By preparing performance objectives this way, the balance between team and individual competencies is better understood. More importantly, it gets managers and other interviewers to shift their decision-making away from subjective criteria like skills and experience and toward something more measurable: past performance doing comparable work. When you think about it, it’s what people do with what they have that determines their success, not the absolute level of their skills, experiences, and competencies. A performance profile captures this information in a very simple way.

Performance Objectives for a Department Manager

  1. Primary department performance objective. (Describe the most important performance objective for the position.) Some examples:

    • The most important performance objective for this department is to penetrate the international market and capture a 10% market share within two years.
    • Lead the launch of the new power supply module for market introduction within 18 months.
    • Lead the design effort for the GUI interface for the Oracle A/P system.
  2. Assess the current situation and prepare an action plan to achieve the major objective. Within two months assess the status of the primary objective and prepare the plan necessary to achieve the required outcome. Consider resource needs including budgets, people, other resources systems requirements, technology, and _____________. Identify critical action items and develop/implement appropriate plans to meet company needs.
  3. Conduct an operational review. By October conduct a complete operational review of all processes, procedures, methods, and tools to determine the department’s adequacy to meet the performance objectives of the department. Prepare a comprehensive plan of action for formal review with the executive team within 45 days.
  4. The second most important department objective. (An interim step necessary to achieve _____________ (primary objective) is ______________.) For example, within two months identify the key resource needs to accomplish the launch of the new product line, evaluate current status against the existing plans, and revise the plan as necessary to achieve the original goals.
  5. Assess and strengthen the team. Within three weeks meet all team members and evaluate their capabilities in line with ongoing objectives and department needs. Establish developmental and re-organizational plans as necessary for each team member to rebuild and strengthen the whole group.
  6. Eliminate the scrap problem. (Substitute any problem here.) The biggest problem affecting the department is low yield in the power supply manufacturing process. Within three weeks provide (technical, managerial, tactical, strategic) expertise to identify the cause of this problem. Eliminate the problem by December in order to ensure production ramp-up occurs on schedule.
  7. Organize the team to handle the Holister Dam retrofit project. (Substitute a major project here.) During the first 45 days, prepare a detailed tactical plan using Microsoft Project for implementation of the Holister Dam repair project. This retrofit needs to be completed by next June to meet community expansion plans. As part of this, identify key team requirements and a monthly staffing plan.
  8. Improve operating performance in the area of outbound sales performance. Some critical changes and improvements necessary to improve operational performance in this department include improving sales rep close rates and new lead generation. Within the first month, conduct an analysis of the problem and prepare a series of alternatives for consideration. Prioritize key changes and prepare a plan targeting complete implementation by the end of Q4.
  9. Conduct a trade-off analysis of whether recruiting should be outsourced. (Good managers have the ability to think tactically, technically, and organizationally within their team; solve related problems; and incorporate these in implementing solutions. Include an appropriate issue that demonstrates this type of decision-making or problem-solving.) One of the main issues facing the recruiting department is how to efficiently handle the international growth of our engineering department. Over the first few weeks identify the key issues needing resolution and the underlying problems. Specifically consider workforce planning in combination with the use of multiple or single source vendor solutions versus staffing internally for the ongoing program.

To prepare a performance profile like this for a specific managerial position, start by asking your hiring manager client to describe the most important thing the new person needs to do to be considered successful. This will be the number one performance objective on the performance profile. With this in hand, just fill in the blanks for the rest of the performance profile. You can even prepare a preliminary performance profile for the job ahead of time, and ask the hiring manager to evaluate it for completeness. Getting hiring managers to focus on objective criteria like this is far more meaningful (and legally sound) than using subjective criteria like years of experience, academic background, industry experience, and a bunch of skills. Here are the primary benefits of using a performance profile instead of a job description:

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  • All interviewers are on the same page. It’s much easier to reach consensus when job descriptions focus on what people need to do, rather than what people need to have.
  • You’ll be able to find stronger people. Top performers and high potential candidates who might not have all of the skills are more attracted to jobs that describes the challenges involved rather than the skills required. So use some of the exciting challenges in the job as part of your ad copy. Do not post the performance profile. Rewrite it for your job advertisements and make it compelling.
  • Interviewing accuracy is increased while hiring errors are minimized. By using the one-question interviewing process I advocate (this has to do with obtaining comprehensive examples of comparable accomplishments), interviewers are able to quickly observe competency and motivation to do the actual work required.
  • The performance profile can be used during the on-boarding process. Clarifying performance objectives becomes an important aspect of good management by improving understanding between the manager and new hire.
  • The performance profile can also be the basis for subsequent reviews. Using objective criteria that was agreed upon upfront to measure on-the-job performance can eliminate the confusion and confrontation surrounding the typical performance review.

Here are the two big reasons why preparing a performance profile before you ever start another search assignment will make you a better recruiter:

  1. You won’t need to present as many candidates, and those you do present will be stronger. A performance profile is far more attractive to a top performer. Also, you won’t be as constrained by having to meet artificial and unnecessary requirements.
  2. Your assessment of candidate competency will be much more accurate. Just make sure you get detailed examples of your candidate accomplishing some similar task. Fight for your candidate if you believe the person is qualified, but use facts and details to prove your assessment.

Over the coming months, I’ll be holding a series of free online workshops on preparing and using performance profiles. Send me an email ( if you’d like to attend one of these programs. In the interim, work with your hiring manager and complete the template for a specific job. Send it in for review. This will be the price of admission to the online workshops. But the real value will be instantly apparent: You’ve just become a better recruiter.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).