Managers have a hard time assessing competency
and motivation, even though many have gone through some type of
formal interviewing training. It turns out the real problem is not
the questions being asked; it's not knowing the job they're
evaluating the candidate against. Not knowing real job needs turns
out to be the root cause of the most common hiring mistakes: hiring
people who are partially competent, or hiring people who are
competent but not motivated to do the work required. If you've taken the
recruiter diagnostic assessment, you know that knowing the job and knowing
your market are prerequisites to being a great recruiter. Here's a
short reading list to get you started here. The books listed below
are essential reading for all top managers and recruiters, and the
articles will give you instant credibility when you suggest using a
different approach as you take your next search assignment.
The Required Reading List
If you want to be a top 10% recruiter within a year, check these
Fortune magazine just ran (June 2006) a great series on teams.
Every article is strong, especially the one about the Wharton MBA
who joined the Marine Corps. Team skills are the hardest to
measure during an interview. They won't be after reading these
articles. You'll also be able to use this stuff to defend your
good candidates from poor interviewers.
Harvard Business Review on Hiring the Right
Leaders (May 2006). The authors describe why
30-50% of CEOs hired from the outside don't make it. The
conclusion: The hiring team didn't match real job needs with the
person's abilities and interests. It offers more proof about why
you need to define job needs up front.
The stage has been set. The key to minimizing hiring mistakes and opening the pool to
more top people is to get your hiring managers to clarify
expectations by defining real job needs. I refer to these types of
job descriptions as performance profiles.
The reference materials noted above will give you the confidence and
evidence needed to 1) prove the case that traditional skills and
experience-based job descriptions are useless, and 2) get the time
you need with your clients to prepare a performance profile.
What Are Performance Profiles?
A performance profile describes the six to eight performance
objectives a person taking the job needs to do to be successful. It
differs from a job description in that it doesn't describe skills or
traits, but rather what the person needs to accomplish with his or
her skills and traits. For example, instead of saying the person
must have five years of accounting experience and be a CPA, it's
clearer to say "Complete the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley
reporting requirements by Q2."
Once the list of performance objectives is developed, the hiring
team should review and prioritize these objectives. This way,
consensus is reached on job needs before the search process begins.
Clarifying expectations up front not only increases assessment
accuracy, but if the expectations are compelling enough they're also
the major reason why top people select one job over another.
Compensation also becomes less important if the job is a great fit
and good career move.
Using the question performance-based interview, you'll be able to quickly determine how
competent and motivated the person is to meet these performance
objectives. After the candidates have been interviewed, consensus
will also be easier to reach since everyone is using the same
benchmark and assessment tools to evaluate them.
Use the following steps and questions as a guide to preparing a
performance profile with the hiring team.
Introduce the Concept of Performance Profiles
Start the conversation with the hiring manager by reading the
paragraph above defining performance profiles and throwing in a few
quotes from the books and articles. Then, suggest that it's better
to first describe the job, rather than the person taking the job. If
a personal trait (like motivation or degree or whatever) is
mentioned, restate that this is a personal attribute, not a
performance objective, and for now let's put the person in the
parking lot. This helps reinforce the idea that the job and the
personal skills and traits are different and that confusing the
two is the cause of most hiring mistakes.
To start preparing performance profiles, first determine the top
two to three major performance objectives.
Ideally, the hiring manager and members of the hiring team are
together when you ask these questions. It will be easier to reach
consensus on real job needs if everyone who has a vote is involved
in the initial discussion. The recruiter should lead the
conversation by asking these questions. Collectively, they'll help
you uncover the most important part of the job and those factors
that drive success.
What are the one or two major accomplishments a strong person
in this role should achieve over the course of 6-12 months? (Use a
shorter time frame if appropriate.)
Are there any big challenges or problems that need to be
What needs to be improved or changed? How will you know this
has been accomplished? How long would it take to accomplish?
What are two to three other big things that a top person in
this job would do on a regular basis?
What would a top person need to do first in the first 30-60
days to get started on hitting these objectives? These are
subtasks that would give you a clue the person is moving in the
What do the best people do differently than the average person
doing the same job?
What's the environment like? (Consider pace, how decisions are
made, resources, culture, level of sophistication, infrastructure,
and the hiring manager's style.)
Why would a top person want this job?
Why is this job better than competing jobs?
What will the person learn, do, and become as a result of
taking this job?
Does this job tie into some major company initiative?
What are the critical technical skills required for job
success? Once you have these, ask "What does a person need to do
with these skills?"
Then, ask if the manager would see someone
from you who could do this type of work, but had less experience
than specified on the job description. (This is a great way to
switch a skill into a performance objective.)
From the above, what are the most important performance
objectives? Select the top six to eight and put them in priority
I would suggest that before you ask these questions,
you develop some rough answers first. To get these, you might want
to talk to some of the best people you've already placed in this
type of job and get them to help you put together a preliminary
performance profile. Just as the meeting is about to end ask, "If I can show you
candidates who can do this type of work extremely well, would you
see them from me even if they didn't have all of the skills and
experiences described in the original job description?" As long as
they say "yes," you can end the meeting. If they say "no," start the
meeting over again.
Here's what you've accomplished with this exercise:
Demonstrated your confidence and job knowledge.
Become a true partner in a cross-functional team.
Switched the decision criteria for hiring a person from skills
and experiences to performance.
Started training managers on how to more accurately assess the
candidates you will present.
Increased the chance that you'll be able to find more top
people, since you'll have a more compelling opportunity to
Increased the likelihood that you'll be able to recruit and
close candidates on career opportunity rather than compensation,
since you have something tangible to offer.
Collectively, this is a remarkable outcome. Why don't you try it
when you take your next search assignment?