The Truth Is Out There at Least for Hiring Top Talent

There are two distinct job markets. The public one is comprised of the 5.6 million open jobs anyone can find on the job boards. However, before each one of these jobs is formally approved and posted, hiring managers try to fill these jobs internally or by getting a referral from a trusted source. During the process these jobs are often modified to better fit the person hired or promoted into the role. As a result these jobs are more satisfying, performance is higher and turnover is far less.

The process used for hiring people in this hidden, semi-official job market provides tantalizing clues on how hiring could be done in the public arena. In fact, in Harvard professor Todd Rose's new book, The End of Average, he demonstrates that current hiring processes are fundamentally flawed and offers this type of guidance to correct the situation.

According to Rose, defining average jobs and attempting to fill them with above average people is destined to fail since no one is average. Rose offers a solution: Modify the job to fit the person; don't force fit the person to the job. As a result, you'll improve Quality of Hire, increase job satisfaction, reduce turnover and improve performance. While an interesting concept, achieving it requires some fundamental process changes. Despite this, the current process companies now use to promote people internally and hire high-quality external referrals is a workable and scalable solution. More important, the changes will result in a stronger and more diverse workforce.

Here are the big points to consider in order to make this shift from a skills and experience based hiring model to one based on individual performance and upside potential.

Companies already promote people who are light on skills and experience.

The basis for promoting someone internally is based on his or her past performance and ability to handle stretch assignments. More important, the person's performance is highly predictable. By definition, these people don't possess the full set of skills and experiences demanded of outside hires. External candidates can and should be assessed the same way: on their past performance, their rate of change of growth andtheir upside potential.

Performance is more important than behaviors.

To get promoted into bigger roles. internal candidates are not assessed using behavioral interviewing or screened using some psychometric test. A Performance-based Interview benchmarking the external candidate against the performance requirements of the position is one way to better evaluate unknown candidates using a similar process for evaluating known internal candidates.

Customize the job to fit the person interests and abilities.

The jobs internal candidates are assigned to are designed to broaden their skills and experiences. It's the exact opposite for external candidates. They're force-fit into ill-defined jobs based on their current level of skills and experiences. In this case success, satisfaction and performance is problematic.

The shift to a better approach starts by combining related jobs (e.g., all staff engineers) into broader categories. This way you'll be able to attract more people and better match the candidates' abilities and motivating interests with your open jobs. You might also redesign some of these jobs to better fit the person. For example, a brilliant two-year staff engineer might be able to handle the design aspects of a five-year person but be less capable of handling the project management challenges. Modifying jobs this way opens up the talent pool to more diverse, high potential and non-traditional candidates.

The Performance of Known Candidates is More Predictable than Unknown Candidates

These are important changes to make and not difficult to implement. Making the changes starts by recognizing that known candidates for open jobs (current and previous employees and referrals) are evaluated differently than unknown candidates. More important, the predictability of the known candidate's performance is far greater than the unknown person's. Based on this fact alone it seems logical that the methods used to find, hire and evaluate known candidates should be applied to unknown candidates.

Whether you look at Professor Rose's work, Gallup's report on the causes of employee underperformance or Google's Project Oxygen, it's clear that current hiring processes used by the majority of corporations in the world today are fundamentally flawed. To me it's time for HR and business leadership to recognize this truth and implement programs that focus on better matching people with jobs that maximize their ability, performance and satisfaction. It starts by breaking free from outdated thinking that relies on statistics, compliance and force fitting people into ill-defined jobs. The truth is out there, you just need to know where to look.

A Hiring Manager’s 10-Step Guide for Hiring Top Talent

It took me 30 years to find out where all of the best people hang out. I then drew this map. If you look closely, you'll find them all in the Talent Sweet Spot in the upper right corner of the map. Most managers are still looking for them in the lower left and wondering what the problem is. They're either using the wrong map or don't know how to read the right one. So if you're a hiring manager, or know one, give them these directions. They'll all thank you once they arrive.

A Manager's Guide for Hiring in the Talent Sweet Spot

  1. Know what you're looking for. As soon as you get them on the phone, the best people will quickly ask you to describe the job, why it's open and some of the big performance objectives. Here's how to describe the job as a series of performance objectives. Then only hire the people who are both competent and motivated to do the work required.
  2. Create a contagious vision for the job. The top four reasons the best people switch jobs are what they'll be doing, learning, becoming and who they'll be doing it with. This is all in comparison to their other opportunities. The top reason they decide to engage in a conversation is the importance of the job and long-term impact they can make. You need to describe this in the first few minutes of the first discussion.
  3. Don't assume the best people are applying to your job postings. Ninety-two percent of the best people find their jobs through some referral or they've been recruited. If you don't have a great employee value proposition, referrals or great recruiters won't help much. In this case you need to accept the fact that you'll only be hiring the best of the people who applied, not the best available.
  4. Make sure your recruiter knows the job. Don't let your recruiter talk with a single candidate unless he/she knows the actual details of the job, expected results, deal-breakers and vision. If not, they'll be screening out the best people for the wrong reasons. Evaluate your recruiters using this competency model to determine if they can handle your search requirements.
  5. Delegate the screening. Stop reviewing resumes. If your recruiter can't select the best from the pile of resumes, get another recruiter.
  6. Stop seeing more candidates if the first few are off the mark. If the first 2-3 candidates aren't hirable, figure out the problem before seeing any more candidates. It's probably one of the other ideas listed here.
  7. Insist on a 2:1 passive to active sourcing mix. You know you're seeing a representative sample of the total talent market if two out of every three candidates are referrals or recruited. This will need to be a higher ratio if you're looking for high-demand talent to fill critical roles.
  8. Build your own pipeline of talent. Hiring managers need to take responsibility for hiring the best people. Part of this is spending time finding and nurturing the best people and ensuring they're available whenever the need arises.
  9. Slow dance. It takes time for a discriminating person who's not looking to fully appreciate the upside potential involved in a job switch. Spend the time. It starts by learning how to slow dance.
  10. Offer a 30% non-monetary increase. Don't compete on compensation. While you're slow dancing, you need to demonstrate that your opening offers a 30% increase in terms of job stretch, job satisfaction and job growth. You achieve this by listening, not talking, and once achieved you'll discover compensation is less important.

The best people all hang out in the Talent Sweet Spot. To pull them out takes a great job, a strong recruiter and a fully engaged hiring manager. These 10 steps describe what it takes to be fully engaged.

Use the Process of Success to Hire Better People

I needed to put the following video together for a Performance-based Hiringmanager interview program we’ve just launched. Whether you’re a recruiter, hiring manager, a member of the interviewing team or a job-seeker, I thought you’d find it useful as a means to more accurately identify high performers. It’s based on the following assumptions:

  • Hiring competent and motivated people starts by defining the job as a series of performance objectives rather than listing the traditional list of skills, experiences and educational requirements.
  • These performance objectives need to be as SMARTe as possible: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results defined, Time bound, and the environment (pace, culture, manager’s style) defined.
  • Using the “Process of Success” as a benchmark, the major performance objectives can be broken into critical subtasks. This typically begins by figuring out the challenges, putting a plan together and then successfully implementing the solution.
  • By asking SMARTe questions and probing for SMARTe answers the interviewer will be able to determine how well the candidate’s past performance maps to future performance expectations.

If job expectations aren’t clarified up front, it’s problematic if the person hired will be both competent and motivated to do the work required. Creating SMARTe objectives, asking SMARTe questions and looking for the process of success changes a random event into a highly predictable outcome.

The 10 Traits of Outstanding Candidates

As described in my previous post, there are 12 skills recruiters need to master in order to identify, attract, assess and recruit people who aren’t looking to change jobs. And the most challenging set of skills to develop are around identifying talent and potential.

Having done this for about 35 years and written about it for the past 20, I believe that there is a set of traits common to the most outstanding candidates. Most of these can be figured out as part of the fact-finding involved when asking a person to describe his or her major accomplishments as part of the Performance-based Interview I recommend.

Here they are:

1. They make things happen.

Being results-driven or motivated is not enough. Achieving the expected results is what’s important. To figure this one out, ask about the biggest project the person handled and how he/she achieved the objectives.

2. They volunteer for projects over their head.

During the interview, ask about the person’s three biggest accomplishments in the recent past. Then ask why he/she was assigned the roles. Look for people who stretch themselves or are assigned to stretch jobs.

3. They get recognized for superior work.

People get awards, bonuses, promotions and formal recognition for a job well done. Raise the caution flag if you don’t find much regardless of the person’s presentation skills.

4. They find jobs through their network.

Ask the person how they found his/her last job, and the few before that. The best people are frequently sought out by their former bosses and co-workers. If so, find out why.

5. They hire great people, many through their network.

If the person’s a manager, ask the person to rank the quality of each team member and ask how each new hire was found and hired. The best managers seek out the best people and give them opportunities to become better.

6. They have an upward sloping trend of performance.

Examine the size, scope, scale and complexity of the person’s major accomplishments over the past 5 to 10 years. The best people increase their impact and influence over time. If the person has plateaued, look for high quality work and exceptional passion for what they do.

7. They know how to solve job-related problems.

Forget the brainteasers. Get into a discussion about some realistic problem the person is likely to face on the job. The best people can put some type of logical plan together to find a solution, including how they’d figure out the answer to things they don’t know.

8. They overcome obstacles rather than make excuses.

As you dig into the person’s major accomplishments, ask how he/she overcame major problems. Look for a pattern of making things happen, taking personal responsibility and consistently achieving planned results. Avoid those who make excuses.

9. They posses multi-functional team skills.

Collaborating on major projects with influential people in other functions is a core attribute of those who get promoted. To figure this dimension out, ask about the biggest and most important teams the person has been assigned to, why the assigned to the project and his or her role. Then look for how the person influenced the team results and their ability to understand the challenge from the perspective of people in other functions.

10. They can zoom.

This is a catch-all trait I invented. It’s the ability to get granular to understand a problem, the ability to zoom out to see the strategic and multi-functional consequences and then zoom in to figure out the best tactical solution. The depth and breadth of the person’s zooming ability is a great indictor of the person’s current ability and upside potential.  You’ll need to conduct the full Performance-based Interview to figure out how well the person zooms.

I left out leadership from the list but I’ve discovered that if a person has most of the above attributes it’s because the person is a strong leader. Recruiters need to recognize true talent rather than just box check skills and experiences. The best people rarely have everything listed. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is actually what makes them the best people. And it’s why recognizing talent is one of the core traits of all top recruiters.