Posted on June 8, 2018 by Heather
Unfortunately, recruitment isn’t an exact science, and I’ve often got it wrong, despite a great deal of due diligence including thorough reference checks. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to terminate an employee (hired by me!), who just wasn’t up to the mark, despite the high hopes I’d had for them.
Since starting my journey in HR, I’ve read countless books on recruitment, tried to analyse years of exit interviews and “failed” hires, and attempted to understand what can help reduce recruitment errors.
I’ve boiled it down to three things, largely based on my own experience.
Along with obvious functional or skill based competence, there are 4 prerequisites for helping to ensure your candidates don’t crash and burn :
The first “must have” is Agility. This is becoming increasingly important as our lives speed up, and technology evolves and changes at a rapid rate. Martin Friedman, in his latest book Thank you for being late talks about how life is accelerating, driven by huge changes in technology, the environment and globalization. These changes, he argues, are leaving most of us behind.
Agility is a core value which employers as well as employees should embrace. What does agility look like? Agility means fast decision making and the ability to learn quickly, which is essential as roles today merge and change. Agility means not sticking to one thing, regardless, when another way could work better. Agility means speed, a nimble approach which marshalls resources to achieve results fast. And finally, Agility means a solution oriented approach, rather than a focus on the problem.
How do you look for evidence of agility when you’re interviewing? Look for examples of when your candidate has come up with innovative solutions to problems. Quiz them on how they did this, and make sure they were the one responsible, rather than other people. Probe them deeply on the subject of change, and ask them to talk to you about examples of how they handled significant change in their lives.
The second requirement for a successful is Curiosity. There are 2 types of people in life – those who are curious about other people, their surroundings, the world and life, and those who aren’t particularly interested in knowing what or why things happen.
Curiosity is directly connected to the ability to create and sustain change, and those who are not curious will be more likely to accept average results.
Curiosity is easy to assess in an interview situation. I always start with the simplest of questions – “tell me what you do in your spare time?” Stock responses, like “listen to music” or “watch movies” are OK, if these interests are genuine, and passionate. Increasingly, younger people whom I interview claim not to read. This always rings alarm bells for me – while I don’t necessarily expect people to read copiously in this time of snackable digital content, a complete aversion to books, newspapers and even articles is worrying. On the other hand, a passion for reading suggests an imaginative and flexible mind. I also always ask the candidate why they want to work for the company. Some have clearly done their research, and are able to demonstrate their curiosity for my business. Others haven’t even bothered to google the company on their way to the interviews – they never get invited back for a second interview.
I’ve always made candidates applying for roles which require written communication skills (even e mail) to undergo simple grammar, spelling and comprehension tests. Even occasionally at more senior levels. You might think that someone with 8 years of experience would have fabulous written communication skills, but sadly that is not always the case. In addition to that, copy testing for creatives is usually part of the hiring process.
The real challenge though, lies in simulating behavioural attributes, particularly when under pressure. Everyone’s behaviour changes under stress, and we default to anger, over-chattiness, sullenness, defensiveness, and so on. I use a wonderful assessment tool called Extended DISC to help identify behavioural preferences for candidates. It is particularly useful to frame questions and probe particular areas which I may need the candidate to demonstrate in the role.
Some companies are also developing gamification of assessments, including Talent Litmus, who aim to put the candidate into scenarios which mirror real life as far as possible. Given the rapid development of virtual and augmented reality, it’s only a question of time before simulation becomes real, and candidate error is completely minimised. Here’s where it’s already happening.
Just as you’d check out reviews online before booking a hotel or a restaurant, it’s always good to get an endorsement for a candidate. Ideally from someone you know and trust, who has worked closely with the person.
Standard reference checks are a double edged sword – on the one hand they are a requirement to ensure that a person’s “story” is rooted in reality. On the other hand, they can provide a false sense of security. It’s not difficult to “fake” a reference check, and obviously candidates will only supply references of people who they know will give them a glowing report. I’ve inadvertently hired people who have given false references, using friends posing as referees, to create a web of lies around their experience. Though this is fortunately rare, as it takes a special kind of crazy to make up a reference check completely, it highlights a broader issue – the manipulation of reputation.
While even a glowing reference check may not mean the candidate will necessarily do well in your company (company culture can vary dramatically), a solid ref check from a trusted source who has really seen evidence of your candidate’s ability will go a long way to minimizing the risk of getting it wrong. And the ideal? Hire people you’ve worked with, and been impressed with yourself.