Back when I was a rookie contingency recruiter (early 1980s) my primary goal was to figure out how to double my billings in half the time. It took some major process reengineering to achieve, but it was well worth the effort.

One of the biggest problems was presenting too many candidates to get one person hired. So the big focus was on trying to figure out how to reduce sendouts per hire. To me this is a critical metric that all recruiters should track whether they work at an external search firm, an RPO or within a corporate recruiting department. If it’s too high it means you have a big problem somewhere that needs to be fixed.

The most common reasons for having too many send outs per hire

After the first year it was pretty easy to conduct a simple Pareto analysis to see where all of the slop was. Here were the three big problems:

1. Lack of understanding of real job needs.

Most hiring managers didn’t fully understand their real job needs so they used skills-laden job descriptions as lazy substitutes to give to their recruiters. We only had recruiters in our search firm who were CPAs, MBAs or engineers, which gave us a big advantage when it came to understanding real job needs.

As a result, we decided we would never conduct a search unless the hiring manager agreed to prepare a performance-based job description before starting the assignment. This change alone had a huge impact on reducing sendouts per hire. Even better, it allowed us to maintain our search fees since we were competing on quality of hire, not the cost of hire.

2. Refusal to see high potential candidates who lacked the exact skillset.

Hiring managers wouldn’t see candidates who weren’t fully “skills-qualified” unless they were referred by someone they knew. So we got the referrals ahead of time.

We also got hiring managers to see 100% of our candidates if they were either “performance-qualified” (meaning they could do the work despite a different skills mix) or highly referred. By changing the definition of top performance we were able to expand the candidate pool, reduce sendouts per hire and prevent good candidates from being excluded for bad reasons.

3. Bad interviewing skills.

Even though we reduced sendouts per hire, many good candidates still got eliminated because most of the people who interviewed our candidates – including the hiring manager – weren’t very good at it.

This problem took a lot longer to solve – close to five years – but it led to the development of the two-question Performance-based Interview. The problem was that most managers overvalued their intuition, made instant judgments on first impressions or conducted a narrow-minded overly technical interview. Worse, when the interviewing team got together they used a process akin to gladiator voting where the biggest up/down thumb decides life or death.

How increase the changes of managers approving your candidate

Collectively, reducing sendouts/hire while improving quality of hire led to the development of Performance-based Hiring. But to make it work at the operational level we had to work very hard to defend our candidates from bad interviewers every step of the way. Becoming better at interviewing our clients was the key to this. This led to these three concepts:

1. Evidence can overcome intuition and emotion.

For every potential negative we developed proof the person was fully competent. For example, for one soft-spoken cost manager we presented a summary of where he led the implementation of a multi-plant cost system in record time.

2. Performance matters.

If a manager wanted someone who had more experience, we asked how this experience would be used on the job. In one case, we used a person’s ability to build a 2000-person international manufacturing facility from scratch – which was critical for the job – to close the deal despite the person having limited experience using the same manufacturing processes and equipment.

3. Broaden the assessment criteria.

As part of the intake meeting we make sure the whole person is being assessed, not just some narrow subset of technical skills. This includes non-soft skills like organizing work, meeting deadlines, preparing plans and product specifications and working with multi-functional teams. For example, on one HR search we made sure project management was given more importance than years of HR compliance to get the best person hired.

In my mind, being efficient and doing the wrong things faster makes no sense. When it comes to hiring, knowing what you’re looking for, focusing on past performance over skills and competencies, and becoming a better interviewer than your hiring manager clients is how you become efficient doing the right things.

It’s also how you raise the quality level of every person seen and hired. While it’s hard work and requires recruiters to defend their candidates from bad decisions, it’s worth the extra effort. It starts by trying figure out the best way to double your placement rate in half the time.

* image by Death to Stock Photo