Here's an idea: Why not hire people for the work that needs doing, instead of the skills we think that work requires? Begin by asking yourself what your best employees do differently.


I come from engineering and manufacturing. In other words, I'm literal.

And so, when I first began recruiting, I took a very face-value approach. I walked the manufacturing or warehouse floor, found the gaps, and observed the people doing similar work quite well. That's all I needed for a job description; that's all I needed for an interview.

Today, I'd call this performance benchmarking. Back then, I called it focusing on the 'doing,' not the 'having.' And all these years later I still think it's the best approach to recruiting: Figure out what the best performers are doing differently, and hire people with a proven track recordof doing the same. Degrees and skill sets matter far less than an ability to deliver results.

It sounds so simple, yet few leaders or recruiters take this systematic approach to hiring. Here are four case studies to illustrate my point -- real-life examples of clients who have mismatched job descriptions to necessary deliverables so badly that failure was almost a foregone conclusion. Consider this an illustration in what NOT to do.

Case Study #1: Plastics molding company developing the international manufacturing and distribution capability needed to server the computer market within 18 months

Position: Operations manager

Work to be Accomplished: Within the first 90 days, prepare a complete plan of action assessing the project's primary challenges, technical restraints, and tax and cost implications. Then implement a staged roll out mapped to customer needs.

Actual Job Description: Required 15-20 years of high-volume injection molding experience, a solid understanding of P&L and financial matters, strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to think globally.


Case Study #2: Business analytics software company

Position: Sales rep

Work to be Accomplished: To achieve quota within six months by first preparing a monthly sales plan targeting the 20 highest potential accounts in their territory, then preparing a preliminary needs-analysis report for each company before the initial meetings.

Actual Job Description: Required 5-10 years of direct industry experience, a "can do" attitude, and a BS degree.


Case Study #3: Yellow pages publisher

Position: Outbound call center rep

Work to be Accomplished: Induce existing clients to renew their advertisements. Sales reps who keep clients on the phone making small talk for 3-4 minutes before asking for the order are able to achieve an 85% renewal rate.

Actual Job Description: Required a two-year degree, the ability to learn the selling process quickly, outstanding customer service skills, and strong attention to detail. (The people according to this criteria averaged a 55% renewal rate.)


Case study #4: Gaming company

Position: Software developer

Work to be Accomplished: Fully understand and document customer requirements before ever writing a line of code. This "define before design" concept was also true for a project leader handling one of the first SAP worldwide implementations, a factory manager charged with implementing a six sigma program, and a financial planning analyst given the assignment to upgrade the management reporting system at a big entertainment company.

Actual Job Descriptions for All Four Positions: Required specific skills, academic requirements and years of related experience. None required a history of developing product specifications with cross-functional teams.


The point here is that it's not just what people have that makes them successful; it's what they do with it that matters. More important, you'll discover that the best people typically have less experience and fewer formal skills than your run-of-the-mill job description requires now. That's what makes them the best -- they consistently do more than expected.