Is It Time We Required a License to Hire?

August 19, 2020

woman taking notes at desk

Should our hiring managers have to be certified before jumping into an interview and making what is often a half-million dollar (or more!) decision? In other words, should our companies require a License to Hire? 

Thinking about these questions made me remember the first time I realized that just because someone I was recruiting for was a VP in our company, it didn’t mean he was a good interviewer. It was kind of shocking. I was a young corporate recruiter, and he was a big deal VP leading a large team with a huge budget and all kinds of authority and status. Yet, he was just as bad of an interviewer as other people I’d seen. In fact, I’d say he was even more “gut feel” and pedigree-oriented than most other interviewers I’d observed – and often one of the worst offenders for illegal questions.

The more I worked with him, the more I started to wonder: “How did he get promoted all the way up to VP if he wasn’t good at interviewing and selecting talent? How was someone this smart and capable in their domain not good at interviewing?”

Based on the work companies hire us to do, it seems like the stakes for making good hiring decisions are higher than ever. In fact, with the much-welcomed focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity, we’re seeing even more companies preparing their hiring managers to go into interviews with a well-aligned and diverse interviewing team, more objective hiring criteria, awareness of biases, a genuine interest in hiring for culture-add and diversity, and a much better decision making process.  

But, no surprise, we also see many hiring managers — some first-time managers and some experienced but brand new to the company — jump into interviewing without being aligned on their company’s diversity goals, competency model, candidate experience promises, and decision making model. They wing it. And it shows. 

I don’t blame them, directly. I mean, when a new manager is promoted or hired in, there is usually incredible pressure right out of the gate to make an impact on business goals and resource the team properly. Hiring is something that’s important, and many of us — including me, when I was in my first big management job with that big deal VP — just dove into hiring.  

The risks of interviewing with a dive-in approach and no formal training

First, many first-time managers don’t know how to interview, select, and sell candidates effectively. They may be eager, but the skills aren’t built, the leadership muscles haven’t been developed enough yet, mentoring hasn’t been available, and lessons learned — from hiring wins and mistakes — haven’t been experienced yet.

This can lead to bad hiring decisions — false positives (bad hires) and false negatives (missing out on good hires). It can lead to really slow hiring, like when a hiring manager says something like this: “Yes, she’s good, but let’s interview 20 other candidates, as I’m not quite sure what I want.” It can lead to really fast hiring, too. Too fast. The “butt in seat” hiring manager who just wants that sales territory covered or needs to relieve overworked team members so she just hires someone to reduce the short term pain. 

Second, many experienced managers who arrive at our companies and are expected to hire early in their first 90 days have not yet acclimated to our way of working. Many just bring their own personal preferences or the processes and approach used by their last company (cue Bar Raisers from Amazon, Hiring Committees from Google, etc.). They learned to do it that way, and they’ll just copy/paste that right into our company. This can also lead to real problems:

  • What if our firm values diversity or internal mobility much more than their last company, but they want to hire their buddies who only work at certain companies?  
  • What if our firm doesn’t fire quickly like the last company they worked at, so a bad hire here can take years to performance-manage out, making bad hires even more of a problem for our company? They may take a bigger risk on a hire, and then find it nearly impossible to manage them out – so our company is left with a poor performer for a year or more. 
  • What if the success criteria related to soft skills—behaviors, competencies, etc—are totally different? For example, what if their last company thought it was ok to hire a brilliant jerk, but our company has an unwritten no-jerks rule?  

All of this can lead to bad hires. And it can lead to one of the biggest company risks I’ve seen: 

New people hiring new people hiring new people.

This is where our culture takes the biggest hit. We scale up quickly, hire a bunch of new hiring managers and interviewers, throw them at a big hiring goal, and then—surprise—we end up with a much higher percentage of mis-hires. And if we continue our fast growth, those mis-hires (ineffective hiring managers) also end up hiring people who are mis-hires. Bad hires hiring bad hires. Ugh!

How requiring hiring managers to have a “License to Hire” can lead to better (and fairer) hiring outcomes 

Nothing can crush a great culture and diversity more quickly than new people hiring new people hiring new people. They need to be aligned on “what good looks like,” they need to be trained and mentored, and they need feedback loops and accountability mechanisms to know how effective they are at hiring, so that they can course-correct if needed. Do they need a License to Hire at our company? Maybe. 

IBM recently launched its License to Hire and Select for IBM programs. They augmented their own in-house content with some of our Recruiting Toolbox interview training content, hosted by Social Talent, to deliver on-demand training to their hiring managers and TA teams. As of last month, over 17,000 people had completed the training, with excellent NPS ratings. Lee Andrews, Director, Talent Acquisition EMEA & APAC, IBM, talked about his journey in Paris in 2019. (If you’re interested, you can watch the video of him walking through their License to Hire program.) 

A License to Hire could be a game-changer for improving who you hire and how you hire 

I know it’d be really difficult to require hiring managers—especially our existing managers or really experienced newly hired managers—to complete training and get certified before they jump in to hire, especially if we’re in the middle of a big hiring ramp up or have limited trained interviewers available. It’d be problematic, for sure—all kinds of logistical issues, all kinds of push back from busy hiring managers, and many who just flat out wouldn’t think they’d need the training. (Not to mention the fact that interview training can be pretty low quality, too basic, or boring, and training alone rarely changes behaviors and outcomes.) 

A License to Hire program will not fix every problem, of course. But what if we could fix even one third of the problems around lack of alignment, lack of skills, and lack of diversity championing that we're dealing with already? Are those problems and costs less than the push back — and costs — from requiring a license to hire? 

Teams that hire quality, diverse talent don’t just throw anyone into interviewing. They see interviewing, selection, and diversity as a key part of success for a people manager role, and — as such — ensure they have the skills and feedback-mechanisms in place to be great at hiring before they hire. Companies that do this well create a great culture of recruiting, and — I’d argue — get a disproportionately higher share of top talent.

Here’s my question to you: Do you require your hiring managers to demonstrate proficiency in interviewing and selection and diversity before you put them in front of candidates? And if so, how do you do it? If not, why not? Let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn

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