It starts by defining the work that needs to be done - not the skills required to do it.

In this article, I want to present six common hiring problems that can be virtually eliminated by using Performance Profiles instead of job descriptions when taking the assignment.

But first some history. Before I became a recruiter, some 25 years ago, I had significant industry experience in engineering, finance and operations management. As a recruiter this hands-on background allowed me to very quickly start placing high performing CPAs, engineers, financial analysts and managers in related fields. Two to three sendouts per hire was pretty typical. Of course, I cherry-picked contingency search assignments, so this helped the metrics. As I moved into retained search and branched out to other fields, particularly medical science and senior management positions in functions I wasn't familiar with, I suffered a significant performance setback. Five to six sendouts per hire became more the norm and I lacked the confidence to fully represent my candidates. Even the candidates I presented weren't as good.

This all changed when I started working with a medical products company that was ultimately bought by Baxter International. What was different about this company, from the CEO on down, was that they refused to use job descriptions. Rather than focusing on skills, experience or academics, they focused on results. When I took an assignment they gave me a list of deliverables and performance objectives the person needed to achieve. They then made me prove that the candidates I submitted could achieve these results. I made about 10 placements at this company over a three-year period.

Two stand out. I placed a VP of Operations who was running an industrial products company and a plant manager who was running a high-precision plastic injection molding company in the electronics packaging industry. Neither had medical industry background, yet both had a track record of delivering results in comparable complex situations. Both continued to deliver exceptional results in their new roles.

This was an eye-opening experience. As a result, since the mid-80s I have refused to take an assignment where the hiring team wouldn't agree to a list of deliverables and performance objectives rather than the job description as the basis of the selection criteria. This is a Performance Profile. It lists in priority order the 6-8 critical tasks, challenges and deliverables a person needs to accomplish in order to be considered successful. Since then, we've prepared Performance Profiles for every conceivable job from college kids giving away samples of Red Bull and YMCA camp counsellors to engineers and managers in all disciplines; consultants and sales people who have unstructured jobs; retail clerks in fast food, nurses, housekeepers, VPs and CEOs.

If you're faced with any of the following common hiring problems, you might want to try substituting a Performance Profile for the traditional job description:

  1. Consensus is hard to reach. Since a typical job description doesn't define the work, members of the interviewing team use their own biases or understanding of job needs to assess competency. By getting all members of the hiring team to agree to the real tasks and performance objectives of the job in priority order, agreement is a natural outcome.
  2. Too many candidates need to be seen. When you don't know what you're looking for, you need to present extra candidates to make sure you get full coverage. This wastes a lot of time presenting the wrong people and using the wrong sourcing channels. Spending an extra hour up front defining the real job can save at least 20 hours per search assignment.
  3. Not hiring enough top performers. In the order of importance, here's why top people accept job offers: 1) the job offers stretch and long term opportunity; 2) the hiring manager is a leader and mentor; 3) the team is strong; 4) the company is solid and the job ties to an important company initiative; and 5) the compensation is fair. Top people will base their decision to accept an offer based on what they'll be doing in comparison to other offers and to their current position. The clearer this is and the more job stretch involved, the more likely the person will accept your offer as long as the compensation package is reasonable.
  4. Not seeing or hiring enough top passive candidates. Passive candidates won't even talk to you if you don't have a compelling job to talk about. A Performance Profile is your door opener. It also gives you the confidence you need to make the phone call and ask for more referrals. Make sure you have a short, compelling summary to send to the person when they say "Send me a copy of the job description."
  5. Candidates accepting counter-offers or competitive offers. Top candidates who are employed get buyer's remorse the moment an offer is accepted. Either they think the offer isn't good enough or they feel the unknown isn't as attractive as the known. This is human nature. Candidates who clearly know the job they're taking and the challenges offered tend to be more confident in their decision and are less likely to accept counter-offers. When the hiring manager gets more involved in the entire recruiting process, it's even that much less likely.
  6. Hiring managers won't make as many bone-head hiring mistakes. Here are the three most common hiring mistakes managers make: 1) hiring candidates who are competent, but unmotivated to do the work; 2) not hiring good people because they were uninterested in the job being offered; or 3) hiring good people for the wrong job. This is what happens when skills, competencies and experience are used to assess ability to do the work rather than past performance. Candidates who have excelled in the past will excel in the future if they are allowed to do comparable work that they like doing, especially if the work offers true job stretch. The best-selling book, First Break All of the Rules - What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, makes a great case for the tossing of job descriptions and the use of Performance Profiles.

It's pretty simple to prepare Performance Profiles. On your next search assignment, just ask your hiring manager to tell you what the person taking the job needs to do to be considered successful.