(now part of Be Fruitful Alliance)
Good Job Candidates on Paper Don’t Always Translate to Good Employees
Getting a great job has never been more difficult. For both the job seeker and the hiring company, the job search is often an
exercise in wasted time and money.
With the advent of the computer, many people have become faceless in the business world. Technological advances like the cell
phone, PDA, Blackberry, VOIP, instant messaging and blogging have removed the personality of the user behind the technology.
Anyone who is single can tell you how difficult it is to “date” on-line because what you see is not what you get. On-line dating is
populated with married people and with people pretending to be younger, smarter, richer, taller and more interesting. The same is
true in the job hunt.
How can you stand out as an individual when you literally can be anyone you want to be? Technology has removed the layer of
“intuition” that has served human beings so well for millenniums. Intuition allowed human beings to assess true intentions and
threat level as individuals.
This anonymity has translated into an unforeseen problem for businesses. As businesses turn to more and more high-tech
methods for weeding out risky employees, they are actually compounding their risk. No “data-based” determination (resume
scanning, background check, psychological test, credit report, etc.) can determine a suitable fit or talent match like a good old face to
face sit down with someone.
The problem is we don’t do that much anymore. Like anything you only do occasionally, you get rusty at it. We’ve allowed technology
to make our decisions on people we plan to work with every day. The old expression “he looks good on paper” is appropriate here. It
has become very easy and convenient to manufacture yourself on “paper.” There simply is no substitute for personal assessment of
potential employees early on in the game. The human brain can “see” and process things a computer cannot.
Many extremely good job candidates are eliminated early on by machines simply because they did not use the right keywords in
their resume. A human can see a potentially good fit where a computer cannot. Ultimately, we hire people because we like their
personality traits, not what their resume tells us. Beyond a basic level of qualification, all candidates are the same until you spend a
few minutes with them.
Multitudes of companies are lamenting about the lack of “good” candidates. Jobs go vacant and companies turn to outsourcing in
an attempt to find “suitable” people to do their work. Meanwhile, thousands and thousands of dynamite people are under or
unemployed wondering why no one wants them. It’s time to shift our thinking to consider the “hidden” talent market out there. The
ideal candidate doesn’t always come packaged quite the way hiring managers envision him or her.
For lower level positions, consider training bright and eager candidates to take on the job regardless of employment history.
Consider their personal strengths rather than past jobs. A great candidate for sales may have worked at a theme park herding and
controlling people getting on rides. The most important skill they learned was to be patient with many different types of people while
standing in the heat. A patient salesman is a blessing to any business because they won’t get easily frustrated.
For upper level positions, consider taking candidates from other industries and those with “unusual” backgrounds. These people
really have learned something just by working in a different area and many can bring a fresh perspective to your business. Some
businesses have already discovered that hiring mid-managers from other industries allows them to tap into the best practices of
those industries in addition to their own industries, essentially doubling their know-how and increasing their ability to adjust to
changing conditions. While it may seem counterintuitive, an ideal candidate is someone who was laid-off in another industry that is
now struggling. That manager can bring insight into what didn’t work and what went wrong that your company can leverage into an
advantage over competitors in your own industry.
But what’s a company to do when it posts a job and gets 12,000 resumes for a single job? No human wants to slog through all that.
Which is why a change is needed in the way we recruit employees. The employment process should be both easier and harder.
Use technology only as a rudimentary screening tool.
1. Screen resumes to meet the absolute minimum requirements of the job.
If the job requires a bachelor’s degree screen out anyone without one but don’t screen for a nice to have master’s degree when a
bachelor’s will do. Consider too that some of the best candidates are those who have been working for a living rather than going to
school to get advanced degrees. Experience really does count more than education. Unless a position absolutely requires
additional education, such as a medical degree for a physician, put more weight on experience.
2. Ask candidates to send in a short paragraph or two to summarize their work experience in lieu of resumes.
This one change can eliminate 95% of the resumes that are fired off by job seekers applying to every job he or she sees rather than
to the ones they are truly qualified for. Ask a specific and relevant question to assess professional knowledge and to insure the
candidates are not using a shotgun approach on your job posting. Technology can easily screen out those not complying with
specific instructions. This is also a great way for the candidate to assert their personality and show how they think and problem
3. Get personal and professional references earlier in the interview process.
Ask for references before you conduct personal interviews. A quick phone call can eliminate a costly on-site visit and can give you a
more intimate look at a candidate who may not be “ideal” on paper but is a winner in the workplace. Some people simply do not
interview well but are dynamite at their work.
4. Review the resumes by hand.
This may sound old-fashioned but the human eye and brain can screen in candidates that a technology screen might screen out.
Some of the best people have gaps in employment, have short tenures on jobs or lack the paper credentials that may eliminate
them from the process. Keep in mind that good people still get laid off, have personal situations that cause employment gaps, go to
work for companies that close their doors, get sick, fail at their own business, and return to the workforce after raising children or
caring for sick relatives. A human being can discern a great potential employee at a glance where a computer can only screen for
what it’s been told to look for. Think about your own career history (or your spouse’s, friend’s, co-worker’s, etc.) and ask yourself if
you could pass a computer’s rigid standard of qualification. Probably not. A human is who believed in you and hired you. And
ultimately, is whom you’ll work with, even if you work with computers.
5. Don’t use formalized HR processes to interview.
Have a conversation instead of conducting Human Resource driven interviews. HR driven interviews tend to reduce candidates to
the lowest common denominator, resulting in canned answers and unimaginative problem solving. Nothing reveals the true
character of a person like sitting down and having a casual conversation with them. This allows you to see what the candidate is like
in their natural state, not a rehearsed state where the best candidates can’t really shine with their wit, charisma and intelligence.
The candidates who “act” the best tend to do well in standardized and HR driven interviews. The most creative and versatile
candidates get bored during the interview process and tend to come across as less competent or less serious.
6. Use task driven versus HR driven interviews.
If your company insists on using an interview process that allows the candidates to be compared to one another in some kind of
systematic way, consider using a task driven evaluation rather than a question and answer type format. Assign candidates real
world tasks that will allow the real stars to shine. But don’t make the task so difficult the candidate feels like they are being set up for
failure. The task should be a medium level assignment requiring the use of 80% of the skill set required for the position. Remember
not to include industry specific, or worse yet, company specific information in the evaluation, including abbreviations or other
company lingo. The candidate should also be given the opportunity after completing the task to give the hiring manager (not the HR
manager) feedback to assure that the task was properly understood and to allow the hiring manager insights into the candidate's
thought processes. Sometimes the thought process is more important than getting the answer “right.”
7. Use psychological testing to gain insight, not to eliminate candidates.
Some companies feel they need to use psychological testing to determine if a candidate is a good fit in the company. Unless you
are hiring astronauts, air traffic controllers or some other highly stressful job where the person hired needs to be very calm, skip the
mental testing. Oddballs often make very good employees if the fit between their work and their area of interest is high. It’s more
important to understand the candidate than to try to eliminate all but a few personality types. When you eliminate people who are
“different” or whom you think don’t fit your company culture, you also eliminate the most creative and innovative components from
your workforce. Conversely, if you only screen for highly creative people, you’ll have no one to keep the rest of your people grounded
in reality when it comes to day to day operations like accounting and facility management. Embrace and work with people of all
Using a human centered approach to hiring makes sense. We have to work with people every day but more importantly, your
customer base includes a wide variety of people. Don’t ever forget that people like to do business with people like themselves and
that covers a lot of ground. Don’t limit your business by just hiring people like yourself.
Copyright Kathryn Lehan 2007. Permission required to reproduce or use anything on this site.
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