As most of you know, I think the continued use of traditional skills-infested job descriptions prevents companies from hiring the best talent available. By default they wind up hiring the best person who applies. That’s the same reason I’m against the indiscriminate use of assessment tests. While these tests are good confirming indicators of on-the-job performance, they’re poor predictors of it (square the correlation coefficient to get a sense of any test’s predictive value). Worse, they filter out everyone who isn’t willing to apply without first talking with someone about the worthiness of the position.
I was blathering on like this recently, when I not only advocated for the scuttling of traditional job descriptions and pre-assessment tests but also made the claim that traditional skills-intensive resumes were equally dangerous, since they also filter out some really good people who might be more competent, but possess a slightly different mix of skills. If the best person who applies for a job is equal to the best person who is available, this is not a problem. However, you need to consider the 80% of fully qualified passive candidates who didn’t apply, diverse candidates of different shapes and sizes, returning military vets, and high-potential candidates who are light on the skills listed when making this quality of hire assessment.
As many of you know (since you attended a recent webcast) as part of my new book I asked a senior attorney at Littler Mendelson (the top U.S. labor law firm) to validate the legal implications of using performance-based job descriptions instead of traditional skills-infested job descriptions. He documented his views in a white paper stating that performance profiles were far superior from an objectivity standpoint, and more than fully compliant.
Of course, if we banish both job descriptions, pre-assessment tests and resumes, what are we left with? Which even I consider a fair question. For the answer, I’ll go back to the first time I proposed the idea to a client more than 30 years ago.
The hiring manager was the VP/Controller of a Los Angeles-based public company. He had given me the search assignment to find a GM for one of its electronic parts distribution divisions. Preparing the performance-based job description was easy, since I have always prepared these for every search I conducted. I just got the hiring team together and asked “what does success look like?” For this position, it was increase gross margins in their core business by 20%, lead the upgrade of the distribution technology, rebuild the national sales team, and set the company up on a course to grow at least 15-20% per year for the next few years.
Then I asked the hiring team for some relief on the “10-15 years direct industry experience, at least five years of direct P&L responsibility, an MBA, deep knowledge of electronics at the component level, strong leadership skills, deep values, strong verbal and written skills, and great interpersonal skills,” if I could find someone who could meet all of the performance objectives. They tepidly agreed, but asked a fair question: how would I assess the person if we didn’t use a resume? I responded that, of course, we’ll use a resume, but we need to read between the lines, focusing more on what the person accomplished with their skills and experiences rather than the absolute level of them.
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I then put five S’s on the whiteboard standing for Scope, Scale, Sophistication, Systems, and Staff. The idea was that if a person’s accomplishments were comparable on these five measures then he or she was a viable candidate. The person ultimately hired had managed a team of 200 people, was using state-of-the-art technology to manage his business, was working for a well-known manufacturing and distribution company, and had full P&L responsibility for a profitable and growing business, although a little smaller, but one he turned around. The person didn’t have 10-15 years of direct industry experience, didn’t have an MBA, had limited knowledge of electronics, and I don’t have a clue if his written communications were any better than C+.
The person was extremely successful, and after a few years become the Group VP/GM. None of this would have happened if we used a traditional job description and screened the resume on a list of skills and experience that filter out the best people. This is pretty much the same story on the subsequent 1,000 or so placements my firm made in the next 20 years.
Matching skills and experience written in a poorly thought-out job description to what’s written on a resume never seemed like a great way to start the talent acquisition process. Adding some type of pre-assessment test to further weed out the weak in an attempt to add some level of legitimacy to a flawed process seemed even more incomprehensible. Since we promote people based on their performance, why don’t we hire them the same way? That’s why we should ban descriptions, pre-assessment tests, and resumes whenever the supply of top talent is less than the demand. Which just might be always.