How to Convert Your ATS into a Recruiting Machine

Recruiters need to become advocates for improving quality of hire. Unfortunately your ATS vendor is holding you back.

Advocacy starts by recognizing that there are two talent markets. One targets candidates who are willing to take lateral transfers and endure the demeaning nature of the traditional hiring process. This is the job market. It’s about volume, speed, avoiding mistakes, and efficiency. But it comes with a cost: It puts a lid on quality of hire. The ATS vendors have built their systems to efficiently process all the data management requirements of this job market.

The other market targets strong people who are interested in career moves. This is the career market and it’s the key to improving quality of hire. The process used to hire people in this market – and this is a bigger and more talented group – is much slower, more intense and more competitive. Some ATS vendors have begun addressing these differences, but I believe recruiters need to push them to accelerate their efforts. With this in mind, here are some ATS product design ideas that actually will improve quality of hire. (Contact me if you’re interested in learning which ATS vendors are moving in this direction.)

1. Implement a “Scarcity of Talent” strategy.

This strategy involves attracting people in rather than weeding them out. This requires that the UX (User Experience) for the career path option is based on how the best people change jobs. One big difference: Most people will be open to discuss the potential of a job switch if it represents a career move, but this is a much slower give-and-take process.

2. Don’t force candidates to apply.

Instead, offer people two options: one for careers and one for jobs. Eliminate the apply button for the career path option. While the career path is slower and requires a persistent recruiter and a fully-engaged hiring manager, time to fill and cost per hire is the same since you’ll be spending more time with fewer people.

3. Define a career move as a 30% non-monetary increase.

Be overt about this. As you begin your discussions with those in the career market, tell them that a career move is the sum of a bigger job, faster growth, more satisfying work and more important work. Some candidates will balk at this, wanting to know the compensation right away. Tell them it won’t matter if the job isn’t a career move.

4. Redefine the job description.

The 30% non-monetary increase is determined by comparing what you need done and where the job could lead, to what the candidate is now doing and where he or she is going. That’s why you need to develop a performance-based job descriptionthat defines the core challenges in the job and the upside potential to make the comparison. This step is the tipping point for opening the door to more top tier prospects.

5. Consider the job posting marketing collateral.

Do not publish your internal skills, experience and competency-laden job descriptions for either market. There is no law requiring you to do this! Published job postings need to describe compelling customized career moves without the generic boilerplate. You’ll push your referred and direct sourced prospects to this posting to get them to instantly see the career opportunity inherent in your opening.

6. Let candidates disqualify themselves.

Your new compelling postings will attract a lot of people who are unqualified, but you can add a simple pre-step into your process to eliminate these people. As part of this, require interested prospects to submit a half-page write-up of a major accomplishment most related to the big challenge in the job instead of a submitting a resume.

7. Shift to a “small batch, high touch” process.

Done properly, you only need 10-15 direct sourced candidates and 3-5 referred prospects to hire one great person. The key is to cherry pick the people you target using “Clever” Boolean to pre-select people who would naturally see your opening as a career move. For example, an award-winning marketing manager at a big company would be open to discuss faster career growth at a mid-size company.

8. Metrics really matter.

Since you’re dealing with just a few people, you need to track why people aren’t responding to your messages and why they opt out. This instant feedback is critical for both process control and process improvement. As you’ll discover, most people opt out before fully understanding the 30% career move opportunity, or never engage in a conversation because it wasn’t clearly spelled out in your messaging.

9. Measure Quality of Hire pre-hire.

This Talent Scorecard measures quality of hire pre-hire using my two-question Performance-based Interview. The key is to evaluate the candidate’s major accomplishments most related to the performance objectives of the job. This is comparable to a pre-hire performance review. You need to measure quality of hire for every hire to ensure your process is actually improving quality of hire. If not, start over again with step one above.

If you look closely, you’ll discover that this “career” process is comparable to the one that’s historically been used to find and promote people internally or rehire people you’ve worked with in the past. It’s not a big leap in logic to suggest that you should find and hire people you don’t know the same way. What’s surprising is that the ATS vendors built a process to efficiently hire strangers at scale. It’s time recruiters and hiring managers stand up and fight for a better point of view: Hire for quality, not for cost or efficiency.

Don't Change Jobs Unless You Get a 30 Percent Increase

Time is your most valuable asset. Too many job candidates waste it by making long term career decisions using short term information.

If you're looking for a new job, about to get a new job or think you'll ever change jobs you must follow these somewhat conflicting and irrational rules, which aren't either:

  • Unless you're desperate, don't ever accept an offer that doesn't include a minimum 30% increase.
  • If you're not looking for a new job but are open to consider changing jobs, don't use compensation, location or the job title to decide whether to have an exploratory conversation.
  • As far as your career goes, time is your valuable asset. Don't waste it. What you do over the next 3-5 years will define the next 10 to 15.

I've been working with candidates both active and passive for years. Even the best, including those who are perfectly happy and are not looking, often violate these fundamental rules of career management. The most important is the one about time being a valuable asset. Sometimes not looking for a new job is riskier than looking for one.

From a career management standpoint understanding the above rules starts by categorizing all job-related decisions into these four buckets.

The "Having" bucket: This is what candidates put on their resumes in terms of skills and experiences and what companies list on their job descriptions. Using a "having" approach to match candidates with jobs overlooks all of the best people who can do the work but have a different mix of skills and experiences.

The "Getting" bucket: This is what recruiters and candidates both want to discuss during their first conversation - the job title, company name, location and compensation package. Both parties filter each other in and out based on this start date criteria with the excuse, "I don't want to waste anyone's time."

The "Doing" bucket: This is what a person will actually be doing on the job during the first year or so and who the person will be doing it with. Most candidates never learn about this "doing" since they've either filtered themselves out during the initial "getting" conversation or they were filtered out because they didn't "have" the ill-defined requisite "must-have" skills.

It's important to note that if the doing part of the job offers an increase in job stretch, job satisfaction and job impact it might offset the need for a big compensation increase. Collectively these are a big part of the 30% increase mentioned in the title and described in the graphic below.

The "Becoming" bucket: This represents the collective future opportunity inherent in the new job, if the person hired is successful in the "doing" part. This is also part of the 30% increase and can be estimated by comparing the candidate's current rate of growth to the underlying rate of change of the new opportunity.

As part of our Performance-based Hiring training programs I suggest to recruiters and hiring managers that to hire the best talent they'll need to offer a minimum 30% non-monetary increase in order for the person to change jobs. I refer to this as the 30% Solution as shown in the graphic. It represents the sum of job stretch (a bigger job), job impact (a more important job), improved job satisfaction (a mix of more satisfying work) and faster job growth.


The good news about this is that most candidates are willing to offset their need for a large compensation increase as long as the job offers a minimum 30% increase in career opportunity. The bad news is few candidates ever get the chance to have these discussions.

For job seekers you need to consider any job change a strategic decision. This is what you'll be doing and becoming in the new role. Too many job seekers overvalue what they'll be getting on their start date with some vague promise of the actual job and future opportunity. This is the primary reason job satisfaction is universally low around the world and turnover is unnecessarily high. So when you get a call from a recruiter, take it. Have an exploratory discussion. Then have the recruiter describe the job in terms of challenges, problems and performance requirements before deciding to get serious.

Recruiters and hiring managers need to embed the "30% Solution" into their everyday processes. It starts by searching for candidates who would see the job as a career opportunity, not a lateral transfer. Once on the phone with a prospect they need to engage in an exploratory conversation to see if the 30% increase can be found. Unfortunately too many box check skills and negotiate the terms of an offer before the person has any knowledge about the job or the opportunity.

The bottom line for job seekers is not to make long-term career decisions using short-term information. More important, the next time you get the chance spend more time negotiating the scope of the job, not the compensation increase.


How to Eliminate 50% of All Hiring Mistakes in 30 Minutes

I’ve been interviewing and placing job candidates for 40 years and tracking their subsequent performance for almost as long. Based on this and training more than twenty thousand recruiters and hiring managers on how to actually predict on-the-job performance, one problem always stands out:

The best person for the job is frequently not the one whose hired. The best presenter more often gets the nod.

By overvaluing interview presentation skills over past performance we sometimes hire people who are strong but just as often hire people who are not. This causes a worse problem: Not hiring the best performer because he/she is not a great interviewee or doesn't look or sound quite right. This problem is summarized in the graphic.


Getting past the veneer of presentation skills and digging into a candidate’s past performance can eliminate both problems. In fact, by just following the simple steps below it can be done in the first 30 minutes of the interview.

Define the work before defining the person doing the work.

Most job descriptions including your company's look like this list of more than 800 jobs on for mechanical engineers in the Chicago area. Other than the common generic responsibilities the requirements define what the person hired needs to have in terms of skills, education and experience. These are not job descriptions, they’re “person descriptions.”

Since clarifying job expectations has repeatedly been shown to be the number one driver of performance, it’s important to define the work that needs to be done before defining the person doing the work. Most jobs can be defined as a series of 5-6 performance objectives. Here’s an example of one and the instruction manual on how to prepare one for any job.

Getting the job is not the same as doing the job.

Emotions play a big role in who gets hired. Most managers overvalue first impressions, affability, assertiveness and communication skills. Techies overvalue the depth of technical skills. Most interviewers quickly eliminate those who “just don’t fit,” using some nebulous criteria including those who seem quiet, less interested and introspective.

One way to overcome these biases is using a scripted 30-minute interview for all candidates whether they make a good first impression on not. This delay forces objectivity into the assessment. At the end of 30 minutes you can then determine if it makes sense to seriously consider the person. Using a talent scorecard with specific ranking guidelines quickly separates the objective interviewers from those who over rely on emotions or their intuition. This entire process is summarized in the video below.

Recognize that strangers are treated differently than acquaintances and referrals.

In a recent post, I contended that people who are personally connected to the interviewer in some way – even loosely – are evaluated differently than strangers. Strangers are assumed unqualified to start. Under this premise they are judged largely on the depth of their skills, level of direct experience, personality and first impression. These are terrible predictors of performance and fit. The connected person begins with a significant advantage: they’re assumed competent. The subsequent assessment is slower and based on the person’s track record of past performance and ability to learn new skills. Here’s a simple way to assess everyone the same way.

Managers ask irrelevant questions and assess people on meaningless facts.

Brain teasers were proved not too smart long ago, although it took a huge study by Google before these questions were shown to be useless. I had a GM client who related strong organizing and planning skills with an orderly desk, and wanted to visit every candidate’s office as part of the assessment. This past year I had a client who assumed people who cancel interviews at the last minute due to a family crisis lack a strong work ethic. Since it’s hard to know when a hiring manager or someone on the interviewing team will go ballistic I suggest using more panel interviews. This way everyone hears the same questions and answers and everyone keeps everyone else honest.

The typical hiring process is too transactional.

Filling jobs with those who are the most skilled is totally different than hiring the strongest person possible. The former is largely a box-checking exercise with the compensation determined by supply and demand. The latter involves spending more time with fewer candidates focusing on their past performance, upside potential and intrinsic motivation to actually do the work that needs to be done. When people are hired this way there’s an instant improvement in quality of hire, an increase in job satisfaction and a huge reduction in unnecessary turnover.

There are a lot of great people who don’t get hired because they don’t fit some misguided stereotype of success. And it’s not because these people are different or odd. It’s that the traditional approaches for hiring and stereotypes are flawed. Bottom line: Don’t use the interview to make the hiring decision, use the interview to collect the evidence needed to make the hiring decision.

3 Ways to Ensure Your Interviews Are Set Up to Identify the Best Candidate, Not the Best Interviewee

Interviews are a crucial part of the recruiting process and when I surveyed recruiters as to what their purpose is, I got the following responses:

  1. Assess competency and fit: 100%
  2. Take money off the table: 20%
  3. Demonstrate to the candidate the recruiter is a career counselor: 13%
  4. Defend good candidates from bad decisions: 13%
  5. Assess someone who doesn’t want to be interviewed: 0%

I would argue that while assessing competency and fit is important, the purpose of the interview is actually all of the above. As a recruiter, getting tough-to-impress passive candidates to the interview is quite the feat, and you cannot completely leave the assessment process up to overworking hiring managers who are likely to make mistakes and often times fall for the best presenter instead of the best candidate.

To ensure that the best people make it to the interview and that you are setting up the candidate and the manager for a productive discussion, following these steps:

1. Set the stage by preparing a performance-based job description that describes the job as a series of performance objectives rather than a list of skills and experiences.

Of course you need to get the hiring manager to agree to this profile as the criteria for hiring. Surprisingly, this is not hard. For example, one client wanted a top-notch circuit designer with a MSEE and 10 years of applicable experience. When I asked if he’d interview someone who had less experience but had designed similar state-of-the-art circuits to some acclaim, he instantly agreed.

2. Ask candidates to describe work they’ve accomplished that best compares to what needs to be done.

I suggest the most significant accomplishment question as the primary means for this. This involves 15-20 minutes of digging into each of the person’s comparable accomplishments that best relate to those on the performance-based job description. A pattern soon emerges of where the candidate excels and what organizations best meet their needs.

I used this exact approach to persuade a CFO to hire someone to lead a worldwide implementation of a major ERP-based cost system. The CFO initially thought the candidate didn’t have the technical competence or fortitude to do the job. When I described how he did something similar at a larger firm and was recognized as a global leader in the company the CFO relented and re-interviewed and hired the candidate.

3. Take compensation off the table by showing that the job is a significant career move.

I’ve used these identical techniques for hundreds of searches over the past 20-30 years but have never had enough money in the compensation budget to pay these top-notch people what they initially wanted. However, by demonstrating that the job represents a career move the money became less important.

The key here is to suggest that a career move requires a minimum 30% non-monetary increase consisting of a bigger job, faster growth, more important work and more satisfying work. Just mentioning this as the purpose of the call is enough to get passive candidates to agree to a screening interview. Then, if the job is big enough, compensation is rarely a bottleneck by making it a negotiating item, not a filter.

These are the things you need to do to hire top tier passive candidates on a consistent basis. And most of it takes place during the interview. That’s why its purpose is much more than assessing competency and fit. It’s to make sure the best person, not the most charismatic interviewee, gets hired.

Demonstrate These 12 Soft Skills to Get Any Job You Want

soft skills
In a recent post I made the contention that soft skills are too important to be called soft. Whatever you call them, most rational people would consider the following not-so-soft soft skills the catalysts for fully enabling a person’s technical abilities.

Non-technical, Business and Leadership Skills Essential for Job Success

  1. Assertiveness in pushing the status quo.
  2. Courage in challenging bad ideas, bad decisions and bad processes.
  3. Influencing others who are not direct reports - especially peers and executives - to make difficult decisions.
  4. Making commitments and taking responsibility for doing what you said you would without making excuses.
  5. Collaborating, negotiating and reaching agreement with cross-functional teams on challenging and competing objectives.
  6. Problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills that not only uncover the root cause of any problem but also figure out the optimum solutions.
  7. Organizational and project management skills to ensure complex team tasks are completed successfully.
  8. Taking the initiative and doing more than required to meet expectations.
  9. Communications skills to present ideas clearly and distinctly to the required audiences.
  10. Adaptive customer service skills regardless of who the customer is.
  11. Cultural fit with the hiring manager’s style, the pace of the organization and the values of the company.
  12. Leadership skills to not only figure out the best course of action but also to marshal the resources to deliver the solution.

While these skills are obviously important for on-the-job success, most hiring managers aren’t too good at properly evaluating them. The following is our recommended approach, but candidates need to take control if they’re not being assessed properly.

How to Use Performance-based Hiring to Assess Soft Skills

Despite the value of this performance-based interviewing approach, here’s how candidates can intervene when interviewers go off track:

  1. Before the interview prepare one or two personal examples for each of the non-technical skills listed above that best demonstrates the ability. You’ll be describing these throughout the interview.
  2. Prepare a short write-up (a few paragraphs) for each example that includes lots of specific details (i.e., names, dates, facts, results, numbers and percentages). Writing them down is a great way to remember them.
  3. Reverse engineer the job during the interview by asking the hiring manager (very) early in the interview to describe some of the challenges and problems the person in the job is likely to face in the first 3-6 months. This is a great way to demonstrate assertiveness and confidence, too.
  4. Provide an example of something comparable you’ve accomplished that best demonstrates your ability to successfully handle the problem, task or challenge.
  5. Include in your example not only some specific facts and details but also how you used some of the non-technical skills to get the results.
  6. Start asking questions about some of the most significant problems to demonstrate your ability to get to the root cause of a problem. This is a great way to demonstrate your technical and process problem-solving and thinking skills.
  7. Describe at a pretty high level the plan of action you’d take to implement the best solution if you were to get the job. This is a great way to demonstrate your strategic thinking, organizational and planning skills.
  8. Get into a give-and-take dialogue to not only better understand the circumstances and issues involved and to demonstrate your listening and communication skills.
  9. Express an interest in the job if you are, and then ask about next steps. If vague, ask if the interviewer believes there’s something missing in your background and, if so, use the above techniques to disprove it. This is a great way to demonstrate persistence and your negotiating and influencing skills.

Just by forcing the interviewer to ask you the right questions you’re demonstrating you possess most of the required soft skills. You’ll prove you have the rest with your detailed examples and the follow-up questioning approach suggested above. As you can readily see, these are not soft skills, since without them nothing will get done. However, with them, you’ll not only get any job you deserve but also excel at it.