Over the years I’ve conducted more than my fair share of recruitment, and how I view this practice has also changed quite a bit too. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learnt many lessons along the way. In fact, I’m still learning them, and that’s the reason for this article.
In my early days, working for a large corporation, we would carry out what you might call ‘bulk recruitment’. Now, this process was entirely rigorous, and initially required a tailored CV application and cover letter – a simple requirement which is rare in itself these days (and which I intend to return to)! If successful at this stage, the candidate progressed to a phone interview and, after that, underwent assessment days whereby psycho-metric tests and basic numerical and literacy exams were carried out. We found these tests to be a good base to work from since, without these basic skills, the job would, of course, be impossible. Once these were complete, the successful candidates would be invited in for a group-activity day and/or be asked to give a presentation to a panel of assessors. Remember, all this took place before any sort of face-to-face interview, even for mid-level positions. At the executive level, something called ‘Top Grading’ was also introduced in the final interview stages (which I was subject to myself). Here, candidates were asked what I can only term ‘soul-searching’ questions, for example, about early childhood and choices and how they impacted later life.
In more recent years, I have found that many workplaces – my own included – have defaulted to simply a CV sift and face-to-face interview for hiring, which tends to be more ‘chatty’ in style. I imagine things drifted this way for a few reasons: first, the rigorous process I mention above is without doubt time-consuming. Too often, when businesses need to hire, there’s the feeling that the additional pair of hands was needed yesterday, and, in many ways, I think companies could stand to plan for the future a little better in this respect. Not doing so leaves hiring managers vulnerable to the mistakes that hasty decisions bring. The other big reason, of course, has to be expense. Assessment days like the ones I mention above aren’t cheap – particularly if using third-party assessors or bought in psycho-metric testing.
Some might also argue that more informal styles of interviewing have the benefit of giving me the chance to get to know my candidate somewhat … in a human way. And it’s true: I do like to know who I’m dealing with, why they want the job, and what’s important to them when it comes to their career. It’s also true that it can also be handy to see facial expressions and body language during these types of conversation – I’m not arguing against these very valid points. However, this style of interviewing has been proven to be less effective … if human interaction and intuition are the only tools in your interviewing tool-box.
Let me give you an example: I once recruited a sales-person to work in-store at the flooring shop I part-own. I chose a great candidate (let’s call him Matthew) with great sales experience, and a very personable, likeable demeanour. Matthew had impressed me at interview-stage by telling me all about his track record and I liked him very much - he seemed perfect for the job! During his first month at work, however, I noticed Matthew was struggling to sell – even when customers came in-store wanting to buy. When I questioned Matthew about why he didn’t seem pro-active when it came to helping our customers choose carpeting to suit, he told me that he was colour blind and simply couldn’t recognise or distinguish certain shades of carpet.
You see, I had made a mistake here. I had assumed that just because Matthew was a successful sales rep. in a previous company, that he could do the same job for me. I hadn’t tested this assumption in any measurable way and I had allowed my like for Matthew and his past to be the deciding factor .
Now, I am not suggesting that recruitment is a perfect science that we can measure using standardised testing and get right every time. It’s more about increasing the odds of success by picking out the best bits of ‘old-fashioned’ recruiting and mixing them with newer, more human, techniques. After all, choosing the right fit is an obligation I owe to my candidates as well as my company. If a candidate leaves his/her current job to come and work for me, then I want to make sure they are right for the job and won’t feel disappointed or out of depth and want to leave because I’ve recruited them for a role they are simply incapable of.
What I like about the idea of devising a test of some sort prior to a face-to-face interview is that it forces me to clearly understand and profile the job that I am recruiting for just as much as it allows me to test a candidate’s capabilities. It doesn’t allow me to be lazy or ‘buy into’ people just for being likeable or for their previous successes. I can devise a process that is specifically tailored to the job at hand. For example, sales representatives at LibertyPay, should be able to do simple mental arithmetic – after all Payments are a numbers business.
We can apply the same lesson to internal recruitment too; for example, an excellent sales representative doesn’t automatically translate into an excellent manager, yet high performers tend to get promoted on this basis alone. It doesn’t make sense and, at worst, could lead to an unhappy manager with unhappy team members …and that’s bad news for me.
I think, by forcing myself to really break down the job role I am recruiting for into its most ‘simple’ or straightforward requirements, I can get much better at choosing the right recruiting tools for the job (rather than simply looking for the right key-words in CVs).
I would say the same thing about education, i.e. university degrees. I never vet CVs in the initial recruitment process based on having a degree or not, although I know that for some companies having a degree – any degree – gets a foot in the door. For me, all degrees aren’t made equal. In fact, I see many candidates who would have better spent those years gaining hands-on experience because their degree in basket-weaving doesn’t have any credibility in the work environment. Not to take anything away from genuine candidates who have relevant degrees in their field of interest, I am just saying: I’d take experience over education any day.
In the same way that previous experience doesn’t necessarily dictate future ability, a degree doesn’t tell me enough about what a candidate can bring to the role I am recruiting for. I believe candidates would do well to remember this and, rather than simply listing successes in their CVs, tailor them accordingly for the role they want.
I’ve seen many articles about recruitment from the point of view of recruitment agencies, so I thought I’d throw in my two-pence from the point of view of a CEO who’s still trying to perfect the art. Do let me know in the comments if you agree or not.