Avoiding a Few Common Recruitment Pitfalls

One way to begin re-assessing the recruitment process is by analyzing current practices in order to identify areas of weakness

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.

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  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • If a manager is biased toward hiring, say, a “star” salesperson, does that company really need a “star” salesperson for that position (which often implies higher levels of pay)? What if that particular sales job entails less volatility/variability, and what is needed is a highly organized account manager who is better at maintaining partner relationships rather than pushing new product or service sales?
  • 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.
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