Insights into the forces shaping our industry.

Fear of Hiring

Hiring Advice

Fear of hiring is a powerful force. Just the thought of hiring a stranger and bringing them into your own formal social network of real humans (as opposed to virtual) is unsettling. What if the new guy isn’t what we thought he was? What if he disrupts the very fabric of our company? What if she doesn’t get along with the employees who have been here forever? And what if she actually outperforms all of the existing staff?

The fear of hiring has created some of the most elaborate hiring processes that outrival the mating dances of some of nature’s most evocative creatures. Most corporate hiring processes include most of the following steps: an application form (web-based or e-document), the resume submission, an application review by an HR functionary (which now can be done by a robot, Sophie), a preliminary phone interview with HR, a phone interview with the hiring authority, a test regimen (IQ, leadership,  psych profile, mental agility, behavioral attributes, etc.), personal interview, reference checks, background checks, second interview ( phone or personal), offer, drug screen and finally a start date.

Hiring processes generally include a team of participants; team validity is de rigueur these days. And in most companies one hesitation or concern is enough to cast the candidate out of contention, and the process starts anew. The process is fraught with personal preferences, including out-right prejudicial ones that clearly violate EEOC and often overlooks any tangible evidence that verifies their ability to perform. While large corporations have the most exhausting processes, small companies are not immune to blatant tribal hiring processes.

Ultimately, hiring should be based on two critical measures of success:

  1. Can the new kid actually do the job effectively?
  2. Can the new kid adapt to our company culture?

The devil is in the details of assessing those two variables. Adding layers and layers of process only measures the candidate’s perseverance. Hiring is a bilateral process of due diligence. Top talent, which has been reliably proven to deliver the highest return on investment, does not generally endure burdensome processes. If your hiring process is so exhausting, then it becomes interpreted to the best and brightest that the company ‘culture’ is a culture of indecisiveness.

So how do you effectively assess if a candidate can do the job effectively?  There are hundreds of assessment tests that lead you to believe they contain the secret sauce to picking the top gun. There are no validated tests that reliably predict performance. None. So spending money on tests may provide a data point in your differential equation of hiring the right guy; but it doesn’t guarantee performance. And if the test isn’t validated within your industry and channel; it is worthless and should be discontinued.

The same goes for references. References have to be conducted professionally to assess any potential conflicts of interest in the referral’s validity. Reference checks carry far more emotional weight than actual predictability of performance. In fact, the data of correlating strength of reference with actual performance is less than 9%. Said another way, reference checks have no validity to actual performance over 90% of the time. Plus, references run the risk of unintended consequences of exposing the candidate’s confidentiality, triggering a competitive offer from one of the referral companies or spreading rumors from a reference that harbors ill feelings.

Just this morning, I received an invitation to register for a web-based reference checking service; completely automated. How far must we go to remove humans from the noble act of interviewing and hiring? Online applications, web-based interviewing, web references, web testing, robotic interviewing.  We’re in a race to anonymity, where personal involvement is removed with the ultimate consequence a loss of responsibility or personal accountability. No one bats 1.000; no one has a perfect hiring rate and everyone has had a bad hire, but an occasional bad hire shouldn’t paralyze hiring.  Fear of hiring has spurred a liability-based hiring process that serves no one. So how does a company know they have the right fit?

Repeatable performance. There’s a reason the Miami Heat is considered likely to make the playoffs; same with the Blackhawks and the Yankees. Talented people tend to demonstrate their talent year over year, company over company. If a candidate is increasing results and responsibilities, the probability is very high that they will deliver results to your company. The caveat is, of course, as long as they are enabled to do so. In short… they have the resources and support to excel.

Which brings in the old principle of regression to the mean. If your company is a solid B company, making money and having fun, then trying to add an A player into that mix will fail. A players like to play against other A players; hiring an outlier who is an overachiever will result in one of two things:

  1. The A player will regress to the mean of the office and become a good producing B player, or
  2. The A player will leave.

In both cases, you will be disappointed with the new employee.

We’ve spent way too many years dealing with fear; 9/11, Great Recession, Financial System failure, Boston Marathon….  Those are real fears. Let’s get back to humanizing hiring… there are some really nice people out there; let’s try talking together as a new age strategy.