The Wrong Solution for the Right Problem

It’s important to segregate problems associated with implementing a systematic approach for hiring top talent into two different groups. The first involves the effectiveness, or quality, of the process itself. The second addresses the consistency, or how well the users implement the process. In this case, users are the recruiters, hiring managers and members of the interviewing team. Overall success depends on the two factors of the process: quality effectiveness and user consistency. As you evaluate and upgrade your hiring methods, you must make sure that you are solving the correct problem. For example, let’s assume that one of the sourcing channels in your hiring process produces more than enough top candidates. Yet if the quality of the recruiters calling these people varies from strong to weak, only a few of the great candidates will ever get to be interviewed and eventually hired. In this example, lack of success is due to the wide variability in recruiter competency, not the underlying hiring process. This is why Six Sigma methodology and process control metrics are so important in identifying problems and tracking performance. You need to be able to pinpoint the problem when an event occurs as soon as you can, and then implement corrective action. In this example, either train the recruiters to be better at calling candidates or reorganize the team so that only the best recruiters make the call. However, neither the training nor the reorganization should take place until you know what problem you’re trying to solve. If you’ve ever had an incompetent interviewer reject a great candidate for a superficial reason, you’ve experienced the problem first hand. A good sourcing and interviewing system that isn’t used correctly isn’t worth much. The key to an effective hiring system requires first that each step works effectively, and second that everyone does what they’re supposed to do. You can evaluate the quality of your own hiring process along these same two dimensions. Here’s how: First, does your hiring process now deliver enough top candidates for every open position in your company? If the answer is no, it could be that your underlying processes are flawed, or it could be due to the quality of the people implementing the process ó or some combination of both. If you’re successful some of the time, it’s probably a people problem, and if you’re never successful it’s probably a process problem. Use the following self-evaluation to help pinpoint what you need to do to get started on the road to systematically hiring top people. The sourcing half of a basic hiring process is described below. This is a pretty good one, and if you do everything as described it would yield a consistent flow of top candidates for most positions. As you read the quick description of each step, evaluate your own hiring process on these two dimensions:

  • Process effectiveness. This measures how well your process works if the rules are followed. You can rank each step from non-effective to effective on a 1-5 scale, 5 being best.
  • Process variability. This measures the spread between the strongest and weakest users. Obviously, the objective is to narrow the spread to increase consistency. Rank the variability from inconsistent to very consistent and on a 1-5 scale, 5 being the best.

Hiring Top People Step-by-Step

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  1. The quality and use of job descriptions. The best job descriptions are those that emphasize what the person in the job needs to do, not what the person needs to have. Clarifying expectations is the first step to hiring top people. All interviewers, and especially the recruiter, must know the job and use the same guideline when evaluating candidates. Rank your hiring system high on the effectiveness dimension if your job descriptions accurately reflect the real job. Rank your system high on the variability dimension if everyone on the interviewing team is using the same job description to benchmark candidates.
  2. Job branding. This is the marketing side of recruiting. Job branding is the integration of a great job, compelling ad copy that describes opportunities rather than lists requirements, the use of appropriate job boards, and a career website that links the company vision and strategy to each job. This must be backed up with an easy application process that minimizes the chance of top people opting out. Rank your job branding process a one if you don’t even have one, and a five if it hums. Then rank how consistently your recruiters follow the process.
  3. Sourcing, Step One: Reviewing resume databases. As soon as you get a new requisition, you should always review your resume databases first to see if there are any good candidates available. If you use advanced screening tools, you’ll be able to quickly move the best candidates in the pool to the top of the list. However, you must not call these people. Instead, send the best people an email describing your job in very compelling terms. In the email, ask if they’re still open to exploring new opportunities. With a compelling message, you can convert these dormant candidates into hot leads without having to waste your time calling people who are no longer looking. This is a good way to work with resume databases. If you do something like this that’s efficient and works, rank yourself a four or five on the process quality dimension. Then rank how often the process is followed by the recruiters on the team. A five means everybody does it every time. A three means a few people do it well, every now and then.
  4. Sourcing, Step Two: Targeting semi-active candidates. These are people who look infrequently, especially on bad days at the office. The best people are fully represented in this pool, but you need compelling and highly visible advertising to attract them when they do look. Your back-end processing must be first rate too, in order to quickly bring the best to the top of the search list. These top people must then be called within 24 hours of applying. This is how you quickly and efficiently find top people using job board advertising. If you use a good process like this and find good people on job boards, rank yourself high on the process effectiveness measure. Rank yourself high on consistency if all recruiters do the same thing every time. Rank yourself low on consistency if everyone does something different.
  5. Sourcing, Step Three: Employee referral programs (ERPs) and basic networking. The better ERPs are heavily marketed, well-managed, and include a means to pre-qualify all referred candidates. This way you don’t need to contact people who aren’t a reasonable fit. This is a great time-saver. Well-managed ERP programs like this consistently yield top candidates. ERPs can be taken to another level if top employees are formally and proactively contacted by recruiters and urged to provide leads to the best people they’ve worked with in the past. Recruiters can then contact and recruit these very strong referrals. An ERP program like this deserves a five for effectiveness. A good ERP would rank a four. If everyone does what they should every time, it deserves a five for consistency. A two to three ranking equates to a now-and-then kind of process.
  6. Sourcing, Step Four: Semi-passive candidates and advanced networking. If you can’t find enough top candidates using the first three channels, you need to be more aggressive in targeting semi-passive candidates. These are candidates who want you to call, but need to be convinced that the job you’re offering is superior to the one they already have. Being good at the process level at this step means that you have a ready source of pre-qualified names to call and network with, that you’re good at networking, and that you know when you need to implement this step. First, rank the quality of your system for semi-passive sourcing on this standard. Then rank the quality and consistency of the recruiters who have to make the calls. Most corporate recruiters have trouble contacting and influencing passive candidates, so the consistency factor on this step is usually low.

How do your company processes measure up on the six steps described above? First, consider the process effectiveness component. If you’re not at least a three on the effectiveness dimension for each step, then you should evaluate your underlying process before considering any automation project. Automating a flawed process will not improve your overall processing. You’ll just do bad things faster. Process improvement needs to come before automation. Next, consider the second dimension of process consistency at each step. If the spread is wide but the process itself is sound, then consider training your recruiters and interviewers to follow directions better, or reorganize the team by assigning the best people to handle each process step. If the spread is narrow but you’re not getting the results desired, you’ll need to redesign your underlying processes. To make hiring top people a systematic business process, you first need to implement an effective process. Then you have to control its variability through appropriate process control metrics. It seems to me that many HR leaders confuse the two issues of process effectiveness and user variability. Understanding this key difference is the first step in making hiring top people a systematic business process. This is Hiring 2.0.

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).