Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Hiring 101 – 5: the hiring process itself – 2: the second stage candidate selection process

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on June 27, 2012

This is my fifth installment in a series on hiring best practices (see HR and Personnel, postings 93, 95, 97 and 99 for parts 1-4). I began a more detailed discussion of the job candidate selection process with Part 4: first cut candidate screenings. And I continue from there with this posting, assuming only that a first round candidate selection process has been conducted, with that used to filter out prospective candidate submissions that might be appropriate for other positions but that lack key determinative qualifications for this position. Ideally at least, that would leave you with a pool of potential candidates who all at the very least indicate in their resumes and cover letters that they satisfy the initial-cut criteria that you would use to filter out the spam resumes (see Human Resources, Hiring Managers and Spam Resumes. So you have moved your selection and hiring process from facing a small mountain of submitted resumes, and perhaps even a large one if you upload all submissions into a business-wide, general hiring use candidate database, to one of facing a small pile of resume submissions that is at least hopefully enriched for candidates would you would want to meet with.

The goal of this step in the hiring process is to identify and select out the still smaller number of candidates who you and your colleagues would want to meet with.

• For many if not most positions that would mean some half dozen candidates if your intent is to meet with them face to face as a first round interview process.
• That number can and will expand out if you phone interview first, to verify that the candidates who you would pay travel expenses for to interview in person, meet threshold requirements for meriting that expense.
• Phone screening of this type is almost always done by lower level Human Resources employees and this can be a real mistake unless you are simply looking for candidates who have specific hands-on skills and for a rote and even cookie-cutter type of position.
• If you are looking for candidates with creative skills and abilities and for filling positions that call for non-routine skills and abilities, even this initial type of interview screening should be carried out by a manager who really understands the job and its skills and experience requirements. These are the people who would know enough to interactively ask the types of questions needed to capture value and not lose the people most sought after. And they would be in a better position to catch the nuances of answers given, and to respond to the interviewee’s questions.

But with that I am getting ahead of myself as the primary focus of this installment is on what comes between the initial screening to develop that small pile of first-cut candidates, and that initial and perhaps phone-based interview. The purpose of this posting is to discuss and provoke thought about the more detailed and in-depth selection process that you would use in determining which of those first cut candidates, to move on to the next step with.

As a general rule:

• the more complex and demanding a job,
• the more crucial it is as a source of competitive value for the hiring business, or
• the higher it is on the table of organization where that translates directly into management and leadership authority and responsibility

the more difficult it is to capture the requirements and desired candidate qualifications for that position with a set of key words and database-searchable terms and expressions. The simplest and commonest hiring mistake is to conduct all candidate searches the same way – and as if for entry level positions with strict and stringent key word filtering, and without meaningful awareness of the nuances of hiring, and of the need to find and bring in the different, if you are to find and hire sources of unique new value. So with this second round selection step I bring up what in our internet age, with mass volume resume submissions, has become the central hiring challenge.

Entry level positions are easy to hire for. You can start out filtering out anyone who does not have that set of qualifications terms in their resume and interview from the set of candidates left on the table. The more creative or unusual the candidate you would, or at least should be considering for that unique value proposition-creating position the less automated you can be without risk of losing precisely what you need most.

• Look for experience and performance in both the same and similar, or parallel positions. Performance accomplishment is more important than what the candidate worked on here.
• Look for curiosity and creativity, and the ability to address and successfully meet unexpected challenges and opportunities.
• Think about and understand the box you more conventionally think in, and the ones that your competitors think in and look for people who can think beyond and through those barriers too.
• And remember the soft skills and interpersonal skills and look for people who can communicate with others, and who can work with them and not create friction in doing so.

This, I add, is advice that will probably not be of much direct and immediate practical help when simply stated in the abstract so to bring this more down to earth, I would propose a somewhat contrarian approach to candidate selection, and particularly for those positions you need to fill with special people – people who do not simply fit into cookie cutter molds and who would not offer you the value you need if they could.

• Start by thinking through your stretch goals that you would like to achieve with this hire. Think big and then step back and rethink and think even bigger. What ideally would you seek and find in a best possible candidate?
• Do NOT couch this in terms of specific skills or knowledge and certainly not in terms of any particular hands-on technical or other state of the art capabilities. Think in terms of performance outcomes desired and with the How that would go into achieving that more open ended. After all, if you do hire a genuine source of unique value they will reach at least some of their goals achieved by coming up with new and creative approaches that you have not been using and that your competition still does not know of.
• Now ask what type of candidate would most likely be able to find and develop this New and make it work in your systems and with and for your business. Technical and business hands-on skills and experience are going to be needed, but demonstrated capacity to identify and meet challenges and opportunities is more important as a search criterion. And perseverance and a willingness to bounce back from failure are important; people who do not hold those qualities will never take the leaps needed to find and realize the new and creative approaches that you need for your business’ future.
• Then look at the more day to day of you’re here-and-now goals and requirements and make sure that the candidates who hold creative potential for the longer term can also help you meet you’re more immediate goals and priorities too.

Most hiring managers and most Human Resources departments do this backwards, starting and basically finishing with the job skills key words and the here-and-now immediate tasks at hand – and they lose the future because of that.

I briefly touched on the next step and interviewing above, when setting a frame for the step I have been focusing on here, with the selection of candidates to interview. I am going to turn to consider interviewing in greater depth in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at HR and Personnel, and also see Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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