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Avoiding a Few Common Recruitment Pitfalls

by Karl Montevirgen
  • One way to begin re-assessing the recruitment process is by analyzing current practices in order to identify areas of weakness or pitfalls.
Avoiding a Few Common Recruitment Pitfalls
Photo: Bloomberg
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One way to begin re-assessing the recruitment process is by analyzing current practices in order to identify clear areas weakness, or pitfalls that are not easily transparent. Although such a topic exceeds the scope of this article, I will address a few potential pitfalls and solutions.

  • Teachability and Concept-Transposability - hire the person, not just the functionality: Depending on the candidate, hard and soft skills can be learned; people are “teachable.” The range or scope of one’s teachability, however, varies according to the individual. Skill sets are geared toward a given field of function and are therefore delimited within particular paradigms defining certain functional and conceptual thresholds. The ability for one person to jump from a given paradigm—which defines a skill “set”—to another, or transposing the attributes of a skill set to another is a unique creative capacity—a type of concept-transposability--that often goes beyond one’s job experience and academic credentials. Companies like Google are continually developing metrics in an attempt to measure overall high-performance capacity; often scanning employee characteristics that may not seem directly relevant to the actual job function. This reveals a deliberate inquiry into the less-transparent factors determining individual potential rather than obvious qualifications determining job success. When a candidate is being evaluated for a position, there’s always the possibility that the candidate’s potential might exceed the scope of a company’s means to evaluate the candidate; failure to identify the scope of a candidate’s potential may result in missed opportunities for the hiring company. For strategically-adaptive companies, the facility to learn new functions and ways of thinking is critical to success.
  • Cloning Bias: There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a cloning bias (hiring people who exhibit striking similarities in experience and background to a company’s top performers) unless a company is unaware of its influence on the evaluation procedures and outcomes. The logic behind cloning is simple: if successful performers exhibit characteristics A, B, and C, then it can be predicted more or less that candidates with those same characteristics might be successful in the company. A few caveats:
  • Cloning bias falls into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category and implies a belief that future conditions in a business environment are stable and therefore predictable. For companies who are attempting to adapt to new and unstable conditions, cloning biases can only hinder their adaptive efforts.
  • Although some companies intentionally utilize cloning-type criteria to fill certain vacancies, not all companies do this with intent. In other words, some managers (and their executives) are not even aware that they are driven by a cloning bias which, as an unintentional and unnoticed tendency, signals weakness in a procedure that is supposed to be studied and objective.
  • Thin-Slicing: effective and/or disastrous: Interviewing managers often don’t have enough time to give candidates a properly thorough interview. Unlike HR professionals, most managers are not trained interviewers or assessors. This poses something of a dilemma. Managers who interview candidates have a deep understanding of a given job function but little knowledge in assessment methodologies. HR professionals, on the other hand, are trained assessors, but they often don’t understand the intricacies of the job and what it entails. What often ends up happening is that managers begin thin-slicing candidates, or making judgments based on thin slices of information and experience. If a manager does not have a strong capacity to make objective evaluations, then the accuracy of the evaluation process may become somewhat indeterminate.
  • Exit the Old, Enter the New: As Laszlo Bock, Google’s Vice President of People Operations, often admits, “Interviews are a terrible predictor of performance.” One of the most admirable things about Google is that they took it upon themselves, with no external pressure, to experiment with and upgrade their recruitment and hiring processes. Taking a step back, this only makes sense. Google’s prominence in the tech industry is due to its management of creative assets: its people. As a market leader, Google’s intention is not just to stay ahead of the game, but also continually rewrite the rules of how the game is to be played (to their advantage, of course). They are one of the tech industry’s pre-eminent disruptors. Aside from Google, however, other companies have also implemented advanced recruitment and evaluation processes that are aligned with their corporate strategies. Both MetLife and Proctor & Gamble require sales candidates to analyze and provide solutions to multi-page case studies; HubSpot utilizes behavioral tests and simulations; General Electric pays particular attention to the alignment of talent management and corporate strategy.

For companies looking to thrive in an environment of change, its people are its greatest assets. Efforts to continually improve recruitment processes, corporate culture, and employee morale—all in alignment with strategic direction--can only serve to strengthen a company’s capacity to perform well.

A Note on Executive Recruiters

The goal of an executive recruiter, particularly one that specializes in a given industry, is to be the link between the industry insider (the interviewing manager) and the HR department. Because specialized executive recruiters combine industry-specific expertise with solid assessment knowledge and resources, they bring significant value to a company by providing industry-informed efficiency, objectivity, and expediency to the search and recruitment process.

Similar to the critical examination of recruitment processes, companies ought to apply that same critical focus to executive recruiters. Having worked actively with executive recruiters, I have observed a few common and discouraging traits which, personally, have been major points of contention. I will list a few of these points in the following caveats:

  • Over-emphasis on sales and under-emphasis on evaluation systems and technologies: some executive recruitment firms I have worked with tend to over-allocate their efforts to sales (acquiring clients) while under-allocating time and effort to assessing and improving their recruitment and evaluation methods. To be fair, sales is one of the most important aspects of a business. Without strong sales, companies cannot prosper. That is a given. For the client or customer, however, the quality of a product or service must also meet or exceed demands and expectations. In the case of executive recruitment, the “quality” that clients pay for is the sophisticated means and processes by which a recruiter procures high-level candidates. Without quality of means at the core of its service offerings, an executive recruitment firm is merely a talent sales agency with little knowledge of its business.
  • It’s not “who you know,” rather it’s about “who you don’t know, but should”: I recently come across a few recruiters who based their business on having a wide network of industry contacts and connections. This is actually not bad, as it can help expedite a search. However I noticed that, once again, there was very little emphasis on the quality of search and evaluation means, which is a major point of value that a client pays for. Aside from the need for expediency, companies may need candidates that have yet to be discovered. Without effective means of sourcing and evaluating talent, such a business is pointless.

One simple but effective way to evaluate a recruiter is to pair up with someone who has expert-level assessment or HR experience and to probe the recruiter with questions. Ask about the recruiter’s methods and technologies. Even if a recruiter is utilizing simple methods within a narrow scope to evaluate candidates, a quality recruiter will be able to at least demonstrate a vast knowledge of assessment methodologies with almost academic precision, regardless of whether or not the recruiter uses every method or tool in his/her book. If the recruiter cannot demonstrate solid knowledge of classic, current, or experimental evaluation methodologies and theories, then there is a strong chance your executive recruiter is not at the level that s/he should be.

Conclusion:

The aim of this article was threefold: 1) to suggest the importance of taking an adaptive strategic approach to navigating business environments undergoing disruptive change; 2) to emphasize the importance of aligning recruitment practices with strategy; and 3) to emphasize the value of continually re-assessing and upgrading recruitment practices as a means to enhance and maximize a company’s industry-adaptive strategy.

Although the topics touched upon are complex enough to exceed the scope of a single article, I hope that this article presents a few valuable ideas on how recruitment, strategy, and adaptability can be combined to effectively maneuver through a rapidly changing industry landscape.

One way to begin re-assessing the recruitment process is by analyzing current practices in order to identify clear areas weakness, or pitfalls that are not easily transparent. Although such a topic exceeds the scope of this article, I will address a few potential pitfalls and solutions.

  • Teachability and Concept-Transposability - hire the person, not just the functionality: Depending on the candidate, hard and soft skills can be learned; people are “teachable.” The range or scope of one’s teachability, however, varies according to the individual. Skill sets are geared toward a given field of function and are therefore delimited within particular paradigms defining certain functional and conceptual thresholds. The ability for one person to jump from a given paradigm—which defines a skill “set”—to another, or transposing the attributes of a skill set to another is a unique creative capacity—a type of concept-transposability--that often goes beyond one’s job experience and academic credentials. Companies like Google are continually developing metrics in an attempt to measure overall high-performance capacity; often scanning employee characteristics that may not seem directly relevant to the actual job function. This reveals a deliberate inquiry into the less-transparent factors determining individual potential rather than obvious qualifications determining job success. When a candidate is being evaluated for a position, there’s always the possibility that the candidate’s potential might exceed the scope of a company’s means to evaluate the candidate; failure to identify the scope of a candidate’s potential may result in missed opportunities for the hiring company. For strategically-adaptive companies, the facility to learn new functions and ways of thinking is critical to success.
  • Cloning Bias: There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a cloning bias (hiring people who exhibit striking similarities in experience and background to a company’s top performers) unless a company is unaware of its influence on the evaluation procedures and outcomes. The logic behind cloning is simple: if successful performers exhibit characteristics A, B, and C, then it can be predicted more or less that candidates with those same characteristics might be successful in the company. A few caveats:
  • Cloning bias falls into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category and implies a belief that future conditions in a business environment are stable and therefore predictable. For companies who are attempting to adapt to new and unstable conditions, cloning biases can only hinder their adaptive efforts.
  • Although some companies intentionally utilize cloning-type criteria to fill certain vacancies, not all companies do this with intent. In other words, some managers (and their executives) are not even aware that they are driven by a cloning bias which, as an unintentional and unnoticed tendency, signals weakness in a procedure that is supposed to be studied and objective.
  • Thin-Slicing: effective and/or disastrous: Interviewing managers often don’t have enough time to give candidates a properly thorough interview. Unlike HR professionals, most managers are not trained interviewers or assessors. This poses something of a dilemma. Managers who interview candidates have a deep understanding of a given job function but little knowledge in assessment methodologies. HR professionals, on the other hand, are trained assessors, but they often don’t understand the intricacies of the job and what it entails. What often ends up happening is that managers begin thin-slicing candidates, or making judgments based on thin slices of information and experience. If a manager does not have a strong capacity to make objective evaluations, then the accuracy of the evaluation process may become somewhat indeterminate.
  • Exit the Old, Enter the New: As Laszlo Bock, Google’s Vice President of People Operations, often admits, “Interviews are a terrible predictor of performance.” One of the most admirable things about Google is that they took it upon themselves, with no external pressure, to experiment with and upgrade their recruitment and hiring processes. Taking a step back, this only makes sense. Google’s prominence in the tech industry is due to its management of creative assets: its people. As a market leader, Google’s intention is not just to stay ahead of the game, but also continually rewrite the rules of how the game is to be played (to their advantage, of course). They are one of the tech industry’s pre-eminent disruptors. Aside from Google, however, other companies have also implemented advanced recruitment and evaluation processes that are aligned with their corporate strategies. Both MetLife and Proctor & Gamble require sales candidates to analyze and provide solutions to multi-page case studies; HubSpot utilizes behavioral tests and simulations; General Electric pays particular attention to the alignment of talent management and corporate strategy.

For companies looking to thrive in an environment of change, its people are its greatest assets. Efforts to continually improve recruitment processes, corporate culture, and employee morale—all in alignment with strategic direction--can only serve to strengthen a company’s capacity to perform well.

A Note on Executive Recruiters

The goal of an executive recruiter, particularly one that specializes in a given industry, is to be the link between the industry insider (the interviewing manager) and the HR department. Because specialized executive recruiters combine industry-specific expertise with solid assessment knowledge and resources, they bring significant value to a company by providing industry-informed efficiency, objectivity, and expediency to the search and recruitment process.

Similar to the critical examination of recruitment processes, companies ought to apply that same critical focus to executive recruiters. Having worked actively with executive recruiters, I have observed a few common and discouraging traits which, personally, have been major points of contention. I will list a few of these points in the following caveats:

  • Over-emphasis on sales and under-emphasis on evaluation systems and technologies: some executive recruitment firms I have worked with tend to over-allocate their efforts to sales (acquiring clients) while under-allocating time and effort to assessing and improving their recruitment and evaluation methods. To be fair, sales is one of the most important aspects of a business. Without strong sales, companies cannot prosper. That is a given. For the client or customer, however, the quality of a product or service must also meet or exceed demands and expectations. In the case of executive recruitment, the “quality” that clients pay for is the sophisticated means and processes by which a recruiter procures high-level candidates. Without quality of means at the core of its service offerings, an executive recruitment firm is merely a talent sales agency with little knowledge of its business.
  • It’s not “who you know,” rather it’s about “who you don’t know, but should”: I recently come across a few recruiters who based their business on having a wide network of industry contacts and connections. This is actually not bad, as it can help expedite a search. However I noticed that, once again, there was very little emphasis on the quality of search and evaluation means, which is a major point of value that a client pays for. Aside from the need for expediency, companies may need candidates that have yet to be discovered. Without effective means of sourcing and evaluating talent, such a business is pointless.

One simple but effective way to evaluate a recruiter is to pair up with someone who has expert-level assessment or HR experience and to probe the recruiter with questions. Ask about the recruiter’s methods and technologies. Even if a recruiter is utilizing simple methods within a narrow scope to evaluate candidates, a quality recruiter will be able to at least demonstrate a vast knowledge of assessment methodologies with almost academic precision, regardless of whether or not the recruiter uses every method or tool in his/her book. If the recruiter cannot demonstrate solid knowledge of classic, current, or experimental evaluation methodologies and theories, then there is a strong chance your executive recruiter is not at the level that s/he should be.

Conclusion:

The aim of this article was threefold: 1) to suggest the importance of taking an adaptive strategic approach to navigating business environments undergoing disruptive change; 2) to emphasize the importance of aligning recruitment practices with strategy; and 3) to emphasize the value of continually re-assessing and upgrading recruitment practices as a means to enhance and maximize a company’s industry-adaptive strategy.

Although the topics touched upon are complex enough to exceed the scope of a single article, I hope that this article presents a few valuable ideas on how recruitment, strategy, and adaptability can be combined to effectively maneuver through a rapidly changing industry landscape.

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