Last week I was approached by a bunch of recruiters complaining how hard it is to hire top people. Rather than pick one issue to focus on I’ve decided to tackle them all. In no particular order, here’s why the job hunting and hiring process is so difficult to get right:

  1. Companies force fit people into a poorly described job using misguided criteria. A laundry list of “must have” skills, experiences and competencies is a person description, not a job description. These non-job descriptions are then matched to what a person has put on his or her resume which at best is a weak representation of the person’s true ability. Since there’s so much left to the imagination on either side, companies wind up interviewing some poorly chosen mix of people and force fitting the “winner” into some ill-defined job. This could be the reason why 68% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged.
  2. A different process is used to hire acquaintances than strangers. People who are personally known or referred get a few free passes: 1) they always get to the top of the resume pile so they get the first shot at all new jobs, 2) they are judged on their past performance rather than being filtered first on the depth of their skills, 3) jobs are often modified to fit their strengths and offset their weaknesses. This leads to a major job-seeker strategy: Become an acquaintance rather than applying directly.
  3. Too many unqualified people apply and the most qualified don’t. Most non-job descriptions are written to weed out the unqualified. In the process they turn off a majority of the most qualified with the undeterred unqualified still applying in droves. This makes it very difficult to sort the best from the rest. Everyone loses in this situation. Solution: Job seekers need to stealthily ignore the apply button.
  4. Recruiters and candidates alike negotiate the short-term job criteria as a condition to enter into a long-term discussion. What a person gets on the start date – title, compensation package, company name, and location – should be discussed after the job opportunity is somewhat understood and the candidate’s background is explored. Unfortunately, one side or the other (i.e., the one with the most buying power) will cut short the chance for any meaningful conversation due to the "lack of time" excuse driven by short-term thinking.
  5. The best people have the least amount of experience. The definition of top people is that they accomplish more with less experience and can learn new skills faster than their peers. This concept is overlooked when it comes to preparing job descriptions and ignored when recruiters filter candidates based on their years of experience, depth of skills and compensation. Imagine how many great people who didn’t get hired as a result.
  6. Most interviewers overvalue the quality of the person’s personality and presentation skills rather their track record of past performance. Unless the person undergoes an in-depth Performance-based Interview matching past performance to actual job needs, the assessment decision will be flawed. In most cases too much emphasis is placed on first impression, presentation skills and confidence, not on the person’s ability and motivation to do the work required.
  7. Too many interviewers overemphasize technical brilliance. If the interview isn’t about presentation and personality, it most likely involves determining the candidate’s technical brilliance. While technical competency is important, how the person applies his or her technical knowledge on the job is more important. To address this common error, convert the required tech skills into outcomes (i.e., ask “How is the skill used on the job?”) and ask candidates to describe their comparable results.
  8. Not enough emphasis is placed on the soft skills that predict success. Once a person moves past a technical threshold of competency there are more important non-technical skills that determine on-the-job success. Some of these include job-related problem solving, fit with the hiring manager and culture, and motivation to do the actual work. Few interviewers focus on these core drivers of performance.
  9. The assembly line interviewing approach increases the opportunity for error. Fully vetting a person takes at least 6-10 hours of in-depth interviews spread over a few days or weeks. This rarely happens. Instead, some companies put candidates through a series of poorly structured 30-minute “speed dating” interviews. This forces the decision to be made on affability, first impressions and presentation skills. In this case, a “no” vote is safer to make than a “yes” vote with the “most acceptable” person not necessarily the best candidate getting hired.

If you’re an interviewer I’d suggest some of these problems can be eliminated by using a performance-based job description in combination with a Performance-based Interview. Job seekers can level the playing field by first entering through the back door by getting referred then asking the interviewer to describe real job needs. Hiring the right person or taking the right job is as important as any business decision a hiring manager or job seeker is likely make. Unfortunately, few people are willing to invest the time necessary to do it right. Taking ill-advised shortcuts and detours is a sure way to get lost, especially when you don't know where you're going.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired(Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. His new video program provides job seekers inside secrets on what it takes to get a job in the hidden job market.