Why Your Managers and Firm Get Hiring Wrong and What to Do About It

Group Interview Process
GettyImages/Compassionate Eye Foundation/Dan Kenyon

The hiring process is abysmal in a good number of the firms I encounter in my work as a consultant and coach. Everyone nods their heads affirmatively when they talk about the need to get the right people in the right seats. And then they proceed to contradict themselves by executing a series of what can only be described as bone-headed processes that would stress the patience of a statue.

Five Things that Managers and Firms Get Wrong in the Hiring Process:

  1. Critical context is lost in translation when the recruiting and pre-qualifying work is delegated to others including the human resources recruiter. Too many managers effectively outsource this important work to individuals who do not understand the role, the function, the strategy, and the expected future needs of the organization. The ill-informed recruiter armed with a listing of generic specifications and a vague job description ventures forth blind and deaf in pursuit of someone who might look like they will fit. The lack of quality in this process is appalling and it is time to build it back in to our organizations. 
  1. We write position requirements descriptions with no basis in reality. Someone is having a good laugh when they write many of the job requirements descriptions I see. It does not matter that no one can truly fill the letter of these ridiculous listings of super-human capabilities and never-before encountered experience sets. It’s not likely the CEO would earn a second glance for many of the mid-level manager descriptions found on corporate websites and job boards. The basis in reality for many position descriptions is completely missing in action, filtering out potentially desirable candidates. It is time to get real about our position descriptions in the hiring process.
  2. The hiring managers exacerbate the quality deficient talent identification and assessment process by coming to the situation unqualified to interview and screen candidates. While one might find fault with the firm for failing to train managers on proper behavioral interviewing techniques and on helping identify and eradicate many of the cognitive biases that bedevil us when forming opinions of people, individual managers truly own this responsibility. It is time for managers to step up and cultivate the skills so essential to a successful hiring process. The organization should enable this activity.
  1. Mangers often fail to scout beyond their own borders. The most effective executives and senior managers I have encountered are relentless talent scouts looking for individuals with the attitudes, values, and behaviors so essential for success in their areas. Frequently, the best talent does not come from the same place or have the same background as everyone else on the team. It is time to take of the blinders and start looking for talent in unusual places.
  1. Too much emphasis is placed on someone’s shiny pedigree and not enough on the set of experiences that define the individual. This in my opinion is a book length topic. Imagine two individuals vying for the same position. One has an impressive pedigree and a fast progression path in her background and the other has a series of struggles and challenges to go along with her ultimate successes. Most filtering processes would quickly rule out the latter individual or at least push her to the back of the line, in favor of the trappings of capability associated with the first individual’s pedigree. This brutally stark bias to deemphasize character, values, and the ability to learn is one of the major contributors to suboptimal hiring practices. It is time to begin rethinking how we weight the key criteria for consideration.

Seven Ideas to Reform and Improve the Hiring Process in Our Organizations:

While the answers are strongly hinted at in the above content, it is worth singling them out. Here are seven ideas that should make it on the agenda as your firm strives to strengthen the quality and effectiveness and humanity of its hiring processes.

  1. As managers, we must accept responsibility for this critical issue of talent identification and selection. Part of being responsible for this is investing time and energy in developing our skills, seeking feedback on our performance, and evaluating our actual successes and failures over time.
  1. The other side of manager responsibility is accountability. Managers must be held accountable to talent identification and hiring, not just the performance of the individuals already on their team. A scorecard should be developed that tracks a manager’s success for finding, hiring and developing people over time and this scorecard should factor in the ongoing development and progression of the manager.
  2. Human Resources (H.R.) has to get in the game and help us all improve. H.R. must both enable improved hiring practices by helping ensure that managers gain critical training in behavioral interviewing and job design, and stop taking on recruiting assignments they have no context for. They can either take the time to truly dig into the needs of the manager, function, and firm, or they should recuse themselves from the process. Stop the garbage-in/garbage-out when it comes to recruiting and qualifying talent, particularly with over-inflated position descriptions.
  1. Everyone must link arms and focus on the true priorities for hiring talent including alignment with the firm’s values, the capacity to learn, and the potential for growth.
  2. We must stop hiring clones. Tackle diversity, not just in race, gender, and culture, but by digging deeper to look for people with unique experience-sets and ways of thinking. This is more difficult than it sounds and requires commitment, education, measurement and reinforcement.
  3. Invoke a group effort to stomp out the biases. Part of being human is that we bring our experiences, thoughts, values and ideals along with us. While this is a positive, it can also bias us when it comes to hiring decisions. Use the broader group to help check each other for biases and call them out as they emerge.
  4. As a firm, strive to develop a reputation for excellence in the hiring process. I have lost track of the number of big name firms that treat job seekers and even interviewees in a manner that is crass, coarse and eminently disrespectful. Every individual who is part of the process deserves a proper and timely response as to direction and where possible, constructive feedback and context for why things might not be moving forward. Start treating your potential talent with respect and word will spread. There is literally no excuse for the way many candidates and respondents end up being treated by clueless managers, human resources functions and senior management that accepts this as part of the personality of the firm.

The Bottom Line:

We give lip service to the essential work of finding and engaging the right talent. It is time to put some teeth into the process and focus on quality at each step and to connect this quality initiative to the outcomes of the organization.