Competency is Not Enough- Job Fit is the Key to Better Hiring Decisions

Ability to do the work in relationship to fit is what drives motivation to do the work. Fit includes fit with the job, fit with the hiring manager and fit with the company culture and environment. Good people people underperform without fit.

Whether you're a recruiter, hiring manager or job seeker, the key to on-the-job performance has as much to do with ability as with job fit. Job fit relates to fit with the company culture, fit with the hiring manager's style and fit with the job itself. As far as I'm concerned, job fit represents the difference between a bad hiring decision and a remarkable career.

As part of our training programs working with hiring managers around the world I always start a workshop by asking if they would hire someone who met the following criteria:

  • The person has a track record of accomplishments comparable in scope, scale and size to what's required to be successful in the new role.
  • There is clear evidence the person's performance has been consistently in the top half of his/her peer group throughout the bulk of the person's career.
  • The person has been assigned to participate and lead important teams similar in scope and makeup to the actual job requirements.
  • The person has the capacity and track record for solving comparable job-related problems and making complex business decisions likely to be faced on the job.

Most agree they'd hire someone who met this criteria.

I then suggest that if a person is evaluated based on past performance doing comparable work and he/she has been successful based on the above criteria, the person obviously has the right mix of skills and experiences required. Some of those hired will have more, some will have less, but in most, if not all, cases this mix will be different than what's written on the original job description. In fact, the best people will have less. And diverse candidates by definition will have a much different mix of skills and experiences. That's what makes them diverse candidates.

I conduct this back-and-forth discussion to prove that filtering people on having some arbitrary set of skills and experiences is the worst possible thing companies can do to find and hire strong people.

Instead they should first define the work that needs to be done, the teams the new person will lead and work with and the problems and decisions the person needs to make to be successful. Then they need to find people who are both competent and motivated to do this work. This is how you hire stronger, self-directed team players who meet their performance objectives year-in and year-out.

The hiring managers in these training classes always agree this is a far better way to find and interview job candidates than traditional approaches including behavioral interviews and competency modeling.

However, once I get this agreement, I say it's not enough for evaluating the person's likely success in the new job. Something very, very big is missing. And in most hiring decisions, it's missed most of the time.

Competency is Not Enough. Job Fit is the Key to Better Hiring Decisions.

The short term for what's missing is job fit: fit with the job, fit with the hiring manager and fit with the environment.

Job fit relates to work the person finds intrinsically motivating. If the person is not naturally motivated to do the work required, he/she will need too much direction and will likely underperform.

Managerial fit relates to how the person needs or wants to be managed and how well this matches to how the hiring manager manages and develops people. If the hiring manager's style clashes with how the person wants to be managed, he/she will quickly become demotivated.

Environmental fit relates to the culture and pace of the organization. If the person can't deal with the pace, how decisions are made, the politics of the organization and the depth of resources available, the person will underperform.

In the rush to hire, or to get an offer and accept it, these long-term fit factors are typically ignored or superficially assessed. Often they're never even defined. A better approach is to first discard reliance on skills- and experience-infested job descriptions and replace these with performance-based job descriptions that define the work as a series of 5-6 critical performance objectives. As part of this define all of the fit factors emphasizing the hiring manager's style, especially if it's odd, extreme or quirky.

During the interview dig into the candidate's major performance accomplishments and get evidence the work that needs to be done maps to work the candidate finds intrinsically motivating. Then determine the impact the hiring manager had on the person's performance and the environment where the person thrived. Collectively, this is how you should evaluate people. When job fit is assessed properly you'll raise quality of hire, improve on-the-job performance, increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

Why Hiring Managers Shouldn’t Be Making the Hiring Decision

Last week I met with more than 450 recruiters and talent leaders in Milwaukee, Portland and Chicago. Two weeks earlier I met with 400 recruiters and talent leaders in San Francisco. And last month, in Amsterdam, I met with a group of recruiters from Europe, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, India and Bangladesh. With each group I asked them to describe their current hiring challenges. While the accents were different they all pretty much said the same thing.

Here were their top two challenges:

Not seeing enough quality candidates. While the reasons varied a bit they covered the range of the best people wanting too much money, the best people not being interested in taking lateral transfers, their companies weren’t attractive enough, their job postings were boring, they have too many unqualified people applying and the best people aren’t responding to their emails.

Hiring managers are the problem, not the solution. Here’s the summarized list of hiring manager caused challenges: they over-specify job requirements, they’re not great at interviewing for anything other than technical skills but they all think they're perfect interviewers, they want to see too many candidates, they’re afraid to make a yes decision, too many overvalue first impressions, many senior managers overvalue their intuition, the interviewing team rarely agrees and they often hire the best presenter, not the best performer.

The simplest solution for the hiring manager related problems is to not let them hire anyone until they’ve proven they can do it properly.

Recruiters and talent leaders are also at fault here since they are reluctant to fight back with a better solution.

But the underlying fault is that most companies are using the wrong talent acquisition strategy that relies too much on people applying and not enough on proactively identifying the best people and recruiting them.

Following is the short summary of the advice I offered to address all of the challenges. (I’m hosting a webcast next week on this same topic if you’d like to attend.)

The Root Cause of Most Hiring Problems is the Wrong Strategy

When figuring out the best solution to any hiring challenge, I always start by asking if there’s a surplus of great talent or a scarcity. Surplus means there are plenty of good people available. Scarcity means the demand for the best people is greater than the supply. For the challenges mentioned, everyone agreed there was a scarcity.

I then went robotic and repeated my oft-repeated mantra:

You can’t use a surplus of talent strategy when a surplus of talent doesn’t exist.

This idea is covered in depth in this YouTube “Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch-22” video I prepared with LinkedIn a few years ago. As I see it, most companies use a surplus of talent strategy by default that’s built into their ATS that emphasizes posting jobs and being more efficient weeding out the weaker candidates with the hope that a person magically appears.

In a talent scarcity situation you need to proactively attract the best people and then convince them your opening represents a true career move. This collectively requires a great job, a strong recruiter and a fully-engaged hiring manager who knows how to attract, recruit and hire great people.

To Hire a Great Person You Need a Great Job

Few recruiters, and far fewer hiring managers, appreciate the recruiting effort required to attract and hire top tier people who are not looking to change jobs. Over the past 40 years I’ve been asking top performers, all fully-employed at the time, why they switched jobs.

Here’s what I discovered:

The career opportunity offered was clearly superior to their current situation. I suggest a 30% non-monetary increase as a starting point for determining this. As shown in the graph this 30% is the sum of a bigger job, more satisfying work, more important work and faster growth.

The best people want to work for someone who is a great manager, a strong judge of talent and a mentor. As pointed out by Gallup long ago the first step in being a great manager is clarifying expectations upfront. Judging talent properly starts by digging into the candidate’s most comparable accomplishment to determine competency, fit and motivation with these expectations.

A recruiter needs to orchestrate the entire process. One way recruiters can intervene and help the hiring manager understand real job needs (and more accurately assess candidates) is to convert the critical skills and competencies into measurable performance objectives. For example, for strong communication skills the outcome might be, “Make monthly presentations to the board of advisors on project status.” This adds objectivity to an important but hard-to-measure requirement.

The offer must combine a fair compensation package in the short term with significantly more upside growth potential in the long term. Few companies can afford budget busting compensation packages. Proving the 30% Solution is a great way to make this case.

In my opinion, if hiring managers haven’t demonstrated the ability to hire top tier talent they shouldn’t be allowed to make the decision without help. Every Performance-based Hiring trained recruiter I’ve met can provide this help, but this is a one search at-a-time solution. It becomes scalable when companies shift to a scarcity of talent strategy and mindset that emphasizes attracting the best talent based on how these people make career decisions.

7 Factors That Absolutely Predict Great Hiring Decisions

There was a big HR technology show in Las Vegas this week where the luminaries of the future of hiring technology gathered to show off their wares. There was some good stuff shown, but sadly for most companies, it won't be used properly by the recruiters manning the dashboards.

Here's why:

If you don't know how to measure quality of hire before the person's hired, these great tools for finding more candidates will be used to improve process efficiency, not to raise the overall quality of people being hired at a company.

In my opinion, process efficiency is the wrong objective. It's far too tactical and measured by reductions in cost-per-hire and time-to-fill. Raising quality of hire is a strategic objective. This needs to be justified on an ROI basis. When done properly, it dwarfs the impact of any cost and efficiency savings.

The naysayers falsely contend that giving candidates a battery of prehire assessment tests is all that's needed to separate the best best from the least best. However, if the best best are not willing to participate, all the tests do is put a lid on the quality of people seen and ultimately hired. This is a huge barrier to entry that those in HR somehow either don't see or choose not to see.

However, there is a solution.

This past summer I spoke to 150 senior leaders of large software teams. I told them if they did the following few things they could increase the quality of the people they were seeing and hiring.

1. The First Thing

The big idea is:

If the factors shown in the graphic are all true you will hire a great person. If more than two are false, success is problematic.

I then gave them a link to my Articles and Resources page for the explanations of each of the factors. Some demanded the full handbook.

2. The Second Thing

Define the job as a series of performance objectives. This is how you'll determine comparable results. As part of the performance objectives describe the culture and the hiring manager's style. For example, it's far better to describe a job by saying something like, "Lead the development of our new line of Cloud-connected and controlled high-performance pressure valves," rather than, "Must have 10 years in MEMs manufacturing processes and design on CMOS substrates, plus an MSEE with a BS in computer science preferred.

3. The Third Thing

Conduct a Performance-based Interview. Using just two questions in combination with a thorough work history review, you'll be able to assess all of the seven factors. One question involves digging into the candidate's major accomplishments. The other one involves having the person describe how he/she would figure out how to solve a realistic job-related problem. If you can get everyone (100%) on the hiring team to agree to True or False on all factors, it's the right decision. You'll need to fight to get unanimity, but that's part of the process.

4. The Fourth Thing

Tell the candidate to forget the money and ask why he or she really wants the job. Do not hire the person if the candidate can't describe why the job represents a true career move. The reason: the person is taking the job for short-term economic or convenience reasons, not career growth. This is how new hires become quickly disengaged. A true career move requires a combined minimum 30% increase in job stretch, job growth and a richer mix of more intrinsically satisfying work.

5. The Fifth Thing

If All True = Hire

The Smartest People Make the Dumbest Hiring Decisions

There seems to be a direct correlation between how smart people are and how stupid they are when it comes to making hiring decisions.

The smartest ones seem to want to only hire other super-skilled smart people regardless of the job. For example, I showed this graphic to a bunch of hiring managers in engineering, sales, marketing, finance and operations.

I described it by saying you have the choice of hiring one of two people. One of them had all of the skills and experiences listed on the job description. The other person had a track record of accomplishments doing the work that actually needed to be done. Then asked:

“Who would you rather hire?”

Surprisingly, the engineering people – who were IQ-wise the smartest of the bunch – were the most narrow-minded. Most of them wanted to hire the most brilliant, highly technical people. This was despite the fact that most of the jobs they were trying to fill required exceptional organizational skills, the need to negotiate product requirements with marketing, establishing launch plans with operations and developing budgets with finance.

To overcome the natural tendency to overvalue skills, experience and competencies, when I take search assignments I always ask the hiring managers these questions:

  • What are the most important things the person in this job needs to do to be successful during the first 6-12 months?
  • What would the person need to do to get up-to-speed in the first 60-90 days to be reasonably assured the person will be able to achieve the big performance objectives?
  • Describe the teams the person will be working on and some of the big team challenges?
  • What are the biggest short- and long-term problems the person is likely to face on the job?
  • How are the most important technical skills used on the job?
  • What’s the one single thing this person must be able to do that you can’t compromise on?

These questions generate 6-8 performance objectives. They all contain action verbs, include a task, deliverable, some measure of success and a timeframe. For example, “Complete and get the product requirements document approved with engineering and product marketing within 90 days.” (Note: Job-seekers should ask recruiters and hiring managers the same questions during the interview.) I then have the hiring manager put the objectives in priority order. This prioritized list is called a performance-based job description or performance profile.

When I compare the lists side by side and ask the “Who would you rather hire?” question, only the engineering managers balk. Without hesitation everyone else loudly proclaims, “RESULTS!”

While not universal, engineers more often than not opt for skills and technical brilliance over superior performance and exceptional results. In this case I offer a compromise. I suggest they meet a few candidates with all of the skills and a few who have achieved comparable results, and then they can select whom they want to hire. This actually works quite well unless the engineering leaders focus on technical brilliance rather than the candidate’s track record of exceptional results during the interview. In this case the search project ends up as a failure at least as far as I’m concerned. Hiring the most technically competent person instead of the most performance-qualified person is never the best hiring decision.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this problem with a brilliant – yet extremely practical – professor at Harvard University. His work is focused on human performance and individual achievement. As part of some related project work I asked him if he’s experienced this type of inward vs. outward thinking. He said it’s classic human nature. Some brilliant people only reinforce what they know while others seek to challenge what they know. I guess that’s why some very smart people can seem pretty stupid while others are open-minded, engaged, inquisitive and logical.

Based on this, whenever I take search assignments I first figure out if the hiring manager is too smart for his or her own good.

Who would you rather hire?