Why You Should Hire Strangers the Same Way You Hire People You Know

December 5, 2018

I find it puzzling that we hire and promote people we know based on their past performance while we hire strangers based on their level of skills, experiences, academic background and the quality of their presentation skills and personality. In fact, hiring strangers involves a totally different, less effective and fundamentally flawed process than hiring acquaintances.

For example, strangers must have the complete skillset and agree to a salary range and job title before they even learn about the job. Then when interviewed, they must make a great first impression, be highly motivated about working at the company, despite little knowledge of the job, and answer an assortment of behavioral and trick questions that have little predictive value.

Poorly written job descriptions are also a real problem when it comes to hiring strangers but are not an issue when hiring acquaintances. Consider that strangers typically apply to positions that appear to be nothing more than an ill-defined lateral transfer while acquaintances are first approached with an opportunity for a better job or a promotion. Just as important, acquaintances have an opportunity to discuss the scope of the job without making any commitments ahead of time with respect to their interest or salary requirements and they don’t have to formally apply to have these preliminary discussions.

When I noticed this dilemma as a new recruiter, I decided convincing hiring managers to assess strangers the same way they hired and promoted acquaintances would be a practical solution. This was especially important since the best people, whether they were strangers or acquaintances, typically had a different mix of skills and experience than listed on the job description. Aside from improving interviewing accuracy, this shift also opened the candidate pool to more diverse, high potential and non-traditional talent.

Unfortunately, most companies continue to use traditional skills-based job descriptions in combination with competency models as a means to improve assessment accuracy. The problem is that competencies are largely dependent on the work itself and the circumstances surrounding the work. For example, most people tend to be more motivated to excel when the work they’re doing is intrinsically satisfying and their hiring manager is fully supportive. On the other hand, it’s hard to stay fully motivated when the work is unsatisfying or when working with a difficult boss.

This situational problem is virtually eliminated when hiring or promoting acquaintances since these motivations and fit factors are already known. Strangers don’t get this free pass. They’re first screened on their absolute level of skills and during the interview they’re excluded if they make a weak first impression.

Based on my years of experience, the only way to make the best hire is to recruit and hire strangers the same way you do acquaintances. While easier said than done, here’s how to get started:

1. Emphasize the performance objectives in your job descriptions rather than the laundry list of skills and experiences. For example, “Lead the launch of our new industrial diagnostic system,” is a lot more appealing and relevant than, “Must have a minimum of 10 years of experience, an MBA and be results-driven.”

2. Ask all candidates to submit a short summary of a major accomplishment most related to these performance objectives as the first step in your apply process. This will help candidates self-select in or out. (Here’s the legal justification for this two-step approach.)

3. Review the accomplishment during a phone screen to determine if the candidate should be invited onsite.

4. Have the hiring manager conduct an exploratory phone screen as part of this process, especially for strong candidates who need some convincing the job is a worthwhile career move.

5. During the assessment look for manageable gaps in the person’s background that would represent a good career move for him/her but wouldn’t exclude the person for being too light for the job. Some of these gaps include a somewhat bigger or more important job, a mix of more satisfying work, new learning opportunities and the possibility of faster career growth.

Benchmarking best hiring processes starts by selecting a hiring process that’s already proven to work best: hiring acquaintances based on their past performance and offering them better jobs. There are no reasons strangers can’t be hired the same way.

*Photo by clement127

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