HIRING: It’s Never Been Easy!

We all know that putting a strong team of people together helps our organizations thrive and grow and is paramount to achieving growth goals.

I stumbled upon an interesting HBR article (Hiring Without Firing) written by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz published in the Harvard Business Review. Claudio is a top global expert on leadership and talent and was ranked by Bloomberg as one of the most influential executive search consultants in the world.

The article began with the premise that hiring has never been easy.

“About two thousand years ago, officials in the Han Dynasty tried to make a science of the process by creating a long and detailed job description for civil servants. Archaeological records show that those same officials were frustrated by the results of their efforts; few hires worked out as well as expected!” 

“Surveys conducted by both business academics and independent consulting firms found that between 30% and 50% of all executive-level appointments end in firing or resignation!” 

This astonishing statistic might possibly extend to lower level positions as well. But why do organizations find themselves in this position? 

More and more, success depends on competencies that are intangible and rarely found on a person’s resume. Previous experience, once the “sacred cow” of successful hiring, can be meaningless in an era when organizational forms are continually being invented and reinvented and job responsibilities sometimes change overnight.

The article addresses The Ten Deadly Traps of Hiring. See if you can relate to any of them.

  1. The Reactive Approach: I call this the Rebound Effect. “Get me someone like Sam but with more … OR…without the baggage! The problem; focusing the search on the familiar personality and effective competencies of the predecessor rather than the job’s requirements going forward. Focus on the job!
  1. Unrealistic Expectations: Job descriptions are usually filled with contradictions; “forceful leader and team player” or a “high-energy doer and thoughtful analyst.” The job specs are usually compiled without considering the critical priorities that the new employee should accomplish. Focus on Key Accountabilities!
  1. Evaluating People in Absolute Terms: Joe is a good manager or Sally works hard. How can a hiring team intelligently assess a candidate’s performance without a full understanding of the circumstances in which it was rendered? Joe may be a good manager of process but not people. And Sally may work hard, but only when a promotion is in the offing. Dig deeper: Ask context questions. 
  1. Accepting People at Face Value: Hiring Managers readily believe answers to their interview questions and the information on resumes. Unfortunately, many job candidates don’t tell the FULL truth, or at least they often finesse it. The fact is, the hiring process isn’t very conducive to complete candor. Consider assessments for behavior, motivation and skills.
  1. Believing References: References, especially those provided by the candidate, are of extremely limited value. Is the reference credible? After all, most references care more about the relationship with the candidate than about helping a perfect stranger make a good hire. Take references with a grain of salt.
  1. The ‘Just Like Me Bias”: The full gamut of judgement errors comes into play in the hiring process. The most pervasive bias of all is the tendency to highly rate people who are just like you! Sometimes the job would be better filled by someone with a different perspective or different skills. Acknowledge your bias.
  1. Delegation gaffes: Most executive want to make the hiring decisions personally, and rightly so. However, many executives delegate the critical steps leading up to that point. Such delegation would not be bad if the people creating the job description were properly briefed on the nature of the job and top managers remained involved in the hiring process. Another delegation gaffe is that executives allow first-round interviews to be conducted by staffers who are either ill prepared for the evaluation or who don’t have the right motivation. If you delegate; don’t abdicate.
  1. Unstructured Interviews: Most interviews are loose conversations that cover subjects from the candidate’s and interviewer’s mutual acquaintances to recent sports contests; a friendly chat. The most damaging cost? Rejecting a highly qualified candidate who simply didn’t excel at chitchat. Use structured interviews.
  1. Ignoring Emotional Intelligence: Hiring Authorities rarely look at the soft data; the candidates emotional intelligence. And yet, emotional intelligence is a critical predictor of professional success. According to research conducted by Daniel Goldman, author of Working With Emotional Intelligence, the components of emotional intelligence are twice as important for excellent performance as pure intellect and expertise. Hired on experience and fired on personality.
  1. Political Pressures: As Claudio notes, the most spectacular hiring mistakes have been the result of well meaning people who just happen to have agendas. People like to hire friends, as an example, and often circumvent the process and evaluation criteria.. Some agendas are more Machiavellian. When joint ventures appoint senior executives, parters engage in all sorts of backstage scheming to get their candidates elected, hoping to have an ally in charge, regardless of skill. 

One of the most interesting aspects of this article is that it was published in 1999! While there have been significant changes in recruitment technologies and strategy over the past 20 years, there is a propensity to make the same mistakes again and again. Hiring has never been easy. Let’s not make it more difficult than it already is! Stay with the process and evaluation criteria as agreed upon!

Thank you Claudio for an interesting read, albeit 20 years later!

Jim O’Hara is the President of Kellen James – Performance Advisors, an Advisory, Diagnostics and Talent Consultancy that helps organizations hire more accurately, lead more effectively and grow more efficiently. To learn more about the Job Benchmarking Process and assessments, connect with Jim on LinkedIn or jim@kellenjames.com.


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