Stop Doing Searches Over Again

Adler’s first rule of recruiting: Don’t do searches over again. Once is enough. If you’ve presented a slate of 3-4 strong candidates for the position, one of them should get hired. If not, you have a problem.

Adler’s second rule of recruiting: If you present more than 3-4 candidates to a hiring manager on any search and one of them doesn’t get hired: STOP! Don’t send any more candidates to be interviewed. Something’s wrong. Figure out what it is and correct it before you waste your time on a fool’s errand.

Adler’s third rule of recruiting: When you first meet a person wait 30 minutes before making any yes or no decision. If you and your hiring managers put your emotions in the parking lot for these first 30 minutes you’ll cut the number of times you need to follow rules one and two by 50%.

Over the past 12 years I’ve written over a thousand articles, multiple books, and spoke at hundreds of conferences and training sessions on this and related topics. Here are the top five things that are the typical causes for “too many candidates before one is hired” syndrome:

  1. Someone doesn’t know what they’re looking for or how to find the person, or typically both. Banishing job descriptions and using performance profiles instead will solve most of this problem.
  2. Someone doesn’t know how to measure what they’re looking for accurately, even if they found the person. This is always part of the problem.
  3. Everyone overvalues first impressions. This is a big problem, even if you do everything else right. That’s why it’s my third most important rule. (See below for some quick ideas on how to fix this.)
  4. You have a real company constraint like the person as described doesn’t exist, your job or company really is awful, or your pay is not competitive. You need to get your executive team to solve this problem. Doing searches over again won’t help.
  5. You’re probably using a “talent surplus” approach to hiring in a “talent scarcity” situation. Watch this video and then get your executive team involved. This change is so big it impacts points one to four above.

The “number of candidates interviewed to hired” ratio is a great metric for recruiters and recruiting leaders to track on a weekly basis. If it’s too high or trending up, it’s an indication that something is wrong. Surprisingly, most recruiters ignore this obvious warning signal.

While four of the above five causal factors require significant process or strategy changes, the “Wait 30 Minutes” rule can be applied on your very next search. The only point is that everyone on the interviewing team needs to follow it, so it’s a bit like herding cats. Nonetheless, it might reduce your candidates interviewed to hired ratio by 50% or more, so it’s worthwhile spending a few minutes on how to use it.

More hiring mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the face-to-face interview than at any other time. Most interviewers unconsciously react to the candidate’s first impression, good or bad. Prospects who are prepared, confident, friendly, outgoing, communicative, and professional in appearance tend to be instantly considered viable candidates for the open position, even if they lack critical skills. If you’ve ever hired someone who makes a great first impression, but doesn’t deliver the results needed, you’ve experienced one side of this first impression bias problem first hand – hiring the wrong candidate for the wrong reasons.

Not hiring the right candidate for the wrong reasons is a waste of time, too. But it happens frequently. If a candidate is slightly less professional than expected or a bit nervous, managers become uptight, convinced the person is not qualified, and then go out their way to ask tougher questions, attempting to prove the candidate is not qualified. This is how we lose good candidates who are actually top notch. Stopping or minimizing this unnecessary loss of good candidates is one way to improve your interviewed to hired ratio. Waiting 30 minutes before deciding yes or no can help the interviewer become more objective and see past the superficiality of presentation and focus on the person’s ability to meet the performance needs of the job.

Many of you will loudly protest the need for this 30-minute delay, arguing that good first impressions are essential for anyone in a sales position, working with executives, or being part of multi-functional teams. However, if you just try it out, you’ll discover that after just 30 minutes about a third of the people aren’t nearly as great as you initially thought; another third will be a lot better than you first imagined (you might even want to hire a few of them); the remaining third will turn out to be pretty much as you first imagined. In addition to reducing the need to present too many candidates, you’ll also stop hiring people who are long on presentation and personality, but short on ability.

Here are some practical ways to force yourself to remain objective for at least 30 minutes:

  1. Use Yellow Stickies. Put these on the top of every résumé with the words “Wait 30 Minutes.” During the initial 30 minutes of the interview conduct a work-history review looking for the Achiever Pattern and ask one job-related Most Significant Accomplishment question. Your emotional reaction to the candidate will have changed completely by then.
  2. Use the Plus or Minus Reversal Technique. When you first meet a candidate note your initial reaction to the person with some type of plus or minus indictor. Then force yourself to do the exact opposite of what you’d normally do. For those people you don’t like, ask them easier questions, going out of your way to prove they’re fully competent. Ask those you do like tougher questions, going out of your way to prove they’re not the least bit qualified for the job. This mental reversal is how you offset your natural reactions to first impressions.
  3. Treat candidates as consultants. Assume everyone you’re meeting is an expert for the job at hand. Under the consultant umbrella you assume competence, you give respect, and you listen attentively, assuming the person has more expertise than you do. You do this even if the consultant makes a bad first impression. Since you don’t require a consultant to be a close co-worker, first impressions and friendliness are less important in your ultimate decision, so it’s a great way to reframe the situation.
  4. Phone screen the candidate first. You would never invite a person for a face-to-face interview if you didn’t think they were reasonably qualified. Conducting a 30-40 minute phone screen helps you make this assessment. When you meet a person whom you know something about, first impressions are naturally far less impactful. You also have something already invested in the person, so you feel more obligated to conduct an objective assessment.

Doing searches over again is a waste of time. If you didn’t do it right the first time, figure out why before continuing. You’ll discover it’s usually some fundamental process problem or a skills gap with the recruiter, hiring manager, or someone on the hiring team. While these changes could take weeks or months to implement, they are essential changes you need to make. However, you can get started right away by waiting 30 minutes when you meet your next candidate. In 30 minutes you’ll notice the difference.

Stop Doing Searches Over and Make Twice as Many Placements

From what I've seen over the past 15 years of working with recruiting teams around the world is that too much time is spend on doing searches over again. This is the biggest productivity drain of all time. Worse, most recruiting leaders don't even measure it, control it, or try to fix it.

If you need to send more than 3-4 candidates to the hiring manager, and the manager can't decide, and wants to see more candidates, you've experienced the problem first hand. If you want to make 50-200% more placements per month you need to solve this problem. It starts by figuring out the cause.

We've identified the five big reasons why recruiters need to present too many candidates to get someone hired. Feel free to add your own to The Recruiter's Wall blog along with any and all comments and solutions.

  1. The recruiter or the manager doesn't understand real job needs. If neither the recruiter nor the manager knows exactly what you're supposed to be looking for, how will you know when you've found someone? Here's the primary cause of the "Waiting for Godot" problem - hiring managers procrastinate, waiting for the ideal candidate to arrive with the glib comment, "I'll know the person when I see him." Some say "her," but either one is an indicator that the search will take far longer than necessary. I suggest using a performance profile to at least define OTJ success before you start looking.
  2. The hiring manager isn't very good at assessing competency. If you use skills and experience as the primary screen-in or screen-out filter, you're leaving it up to the hiring manager to decide what on-the-job competency looks like. The problem is that people come in all shapes and sizes, and many with imperfect experience matches turn out to be perfect candidates. Behavioral interviewing won't help much on this score either, since these minimize all of the situational fit factors in the assessment. These factors, which have been shown to dominate on-the-job performance (e.g., Google Oxygen study and Gallup's Q12), include fit with the job, manager, and culture. Our 2-question performance-based interview addresses these fit issues, and more importantly allows managers to accurately assess a person's competency and motivation to do the actual job in the actual environment required.
  3. The hiring manager is afraid to make a mistake. Newbie managers are especially prone to this problem, but even more seasoned managers who have been recently promoted or have a track record of making bad hiring decisions also find the yes/no hiring decision to be an agonizing one. Our Performance-based Hiring process using a performance profile and the 2-question performance-based interview is a start in the right direction. Tying all of the interview evidence together using our Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard provides the hiring manager a business-like approach to make this decision. Often this is all that's necessary to get the manager over the fear of making a bad hiring decision.
  4. The recruiter isn't very good at screening candidates. This problem could be due to overreliance on the job description to weed out weaker candidates. In the process you also might be weeding out the high potential person the hiring manager actually would like to see and potentially hire. In our Performance-based Hiring training course for hiring managers, we ask if they would be open to trade off 10-20% of the skills and experience listed on the job description for significant upside potential. 75-80% say of course, and then we show them how to do it. Recruiters should ask the same question and then incorporate this same technique into their screening process. This is one sure way to improve quality of hire while also improving time to fill and increasing productivity.
  5. Good candidates opt-out for one reason or another. Let's be frank, it's easy to hire an active candidate who has no other options. A top-notch active candidate adds a layer of complexity and competition into the mix, and passive candidates are another breed entirely. If you're offering lateral transfers to fully-experienced people with multiple options they'll opt-out on first contact. Others will opt-out as they find out the details behind your job aren't career enhancing. The rest will opt-out at the offer stage if you're not competitive on all fronts. Minimizing this cumulative opt-out effect requires strong recruiting skills coupled with hiring managers who understand the difference between hiring for talent and filling seats with the last person standing. Part of the Performance-based Hiring program is adding recruiting countermeasures to minimize the impact of these fallout problems.

If you're a recruiter or hiring manager you'll recognize these pervasive problems throughout your organization. From working with large and small companies around the world for the past 20 years, we've developed a half-day Performance-based Hiring workshop that offers simple solutions to each of these problems. As a result, these companies are now hiring outstanding people at all levels in all functions throughout their organizations.

One thing we've learned as part of this is that hiring top people requires close teamwork with the recruiter and hiring manager. On July 24 and July 31, 2012 we're offering to a very limited number of people the chance to attend the first public and online version of this program to help us test it out in a new partnership format. The only pre-requisite is that recruiters need to invite and attend along with one of their hiring managers, and hiring managers need to invite and attend along with one of their recruiters. Here's the link to sign up. While you'll definitely reduce the number of people needed to make one hire, the real value of the program is hiring stronger people. By August 1, 2012 you'll be shocked at how easy this is. All it takes is teamwork.