Answer These 4 Questions to Select Better Candidates

July 22, 2014

I’ve just started on a big staffing project helping a company ramp-up an entire new sales and distribution channel. As part of this I’m working as the bridge between the hiring managers and the RPO’s recruiting team. We’ve made the promise to the recruiters that if they screen the candidates properly each candidate will be personally interviewed by a hiring manager. Even better, we said that if they become really good at this phone screening process 40-50% of those presented would be hired. That’s a tall order, but not impossible. Imagine how many more placements you could make if you could achieve the same sendout per hire rate.

Here’s is a guide to how you can do that:

First, understand the job, not the job description.

This is my primary role in this staffing project: preparing performance-based job descriptions that define what the person needs to accomplish, not the skills and experience the person needs to have. This involves asking hiring managers to describe what a person needs to do to be considered successful in the role and what it would take to be in the top 25% of their peer group.

Here’s a complete handbook and checklist on how to prepare these for any job and here’s the short version. The big idea: every job has 6-8 performance objectives that define on-the-job success.

For example, one objective for a sales rep could be, “Within 60 days prepare a complete territory plan identifying high-priority accounts and the current competitive marketplace.” This is a lot better than saying, “The person must have 5+ years solution sales experience with SaaS B2B ERP software products, selling to the C-level, strong communication skills and a “‘can do’ attitude.” Recognize that recruiters who don’t understand the job at the project or task level have little credibility with stronger candidates and none with their hiring manager clients.

Second, conduct a performance-based phone screen.

Once you know the performance requirements defined for the job, you’ll need to find out the answers to these four questions during your phone screen:

1. Is the person in the game?

As long as the person is a rough match on skills and experiences, and is doing work similar to what you need done, the person should be seriously considered. As part of this broad measure consider the types of projects the person has handled, the size of the teams the person has managed, the roles the person has played on cross-functional teams, and who the person reports to organizationally and works with regularly.

2. Is the person an Achiever?

In my mind this is the deal-breaker on whether the person should be pushed forward or not. During the next 5-10 minutes of the phone screen it’s important to find out how the person compares performance-wise to his or her peer group. Achievers are those in the top 25%. Achievers are people who get promoted faster, are asked to handle more difficult problems, are assigned to important cross-functional teams earlier and more frequently than their peers, and given early exposure to more senior executives. Look for these clues as part of the work-history review.

3. Has the person accomplished something comparable?

If the person is in the game and is an Achiever, ask the person to describe a major accomplishment they handled most comparable to the number one performance objective listed on the performance-based job description. Spend 10-15 minutes on this one question. The idea is that if the person has accomplishment something significant and comparable to what’s required to you’ve likely found a candidate worth presenting to your hiring manager.

4. Does the person fit the situation?

There are multiple dimensions of fit: fit with the job, fit with the hiring manager’s style, fit with the company culture, and fit with the team. You can’t figure this all out in 5 or 10 minutes, but in this time you can figure out if the person is flexible enough to work with different managers, different types of teams, and with different companies undergoing change. This video describes what to look for as part of the most comparable accomplishment question above to get a good sense of all of these situational fit factors. This is an important consideration, since good people typically underperform when there is a problem with fit.

It’s hard to ignore a candidate who is in the game, is an Achiever, has done something very comparable to what needs to get done, and fits within the culture of the company and style of the hiring manager. This is how a recruiter can improve productivity, his or her placement rate, and the quality of hire of each and every hire. It all starts by rethinking how the job is defined and finding out the answers to just four questions. But getting started is the hardest part.

* image by Leo Reynolds

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