Kicking It Old School

There is an email that occasionally makes the circuit in the HR community.  The content of this email is an amusing excerpt from a 1940’s transportation magazine article entitled Guide to Hiring Women. The point of this forwarded email isn’t about how atrocious the recruiting practices of women were in the 1940’s, but rather to challenge its readers (recruiters, HR professionals) to think about the current practices in our teams and departments that will be reviewed 50 years later by our 3rd generation successors and will cause them to blurb, “You did what?” What practices today are generally prescribed as standard practice (albeit not necessarily best practice) that will be looked at in the future as a great you-sh*ting-be-kidding-me story from the past?

Well, a reflection of our profession in my head yielded and immediate and passionate response – STAFFING.  Yep, the way we recruit and select people who work in our companies.  After all, how much has this process really changed aside from the slight modifications in the questions that either can’t be asked legally or those questions that are now asked in intriguing new ways? (Check out behavioral interviewing techniques and brain teaser questions for some of the latest twists on how to gain revealing insight from applicants.)

The recruitment practices of today are destined to be the obvious dinosaurs of HR in 50 years.  Heck, maybe even in 10 years.  Why, you say?  Let me start by exaggerating slightly the current practice employed by most companies large and small, simple and complex, global or local.

  1. We post a job – though how and where you do this has changed since the 1940’s, the essence of this step is exactly the same.  Hey, we want to hire someone with these skills and attributes.
  2. We collect and sort the applicants – into the have and have not based on their skills.  Oh, and this analysis is enabled via a one or two page piece of paper authored by the applicant, for the applicant, for the sole purpose of obtaining employment. We said we wanted someone with strong technical and interpersonal skills and miraculously most applicants have stated on their resume that they have that.  Whew, that’s a relief.
  3. We interview – bringing the best candidates in to confirm these skills and attributes via what we call an interview.  The interview isn’t indicative of the actual job they will be doing, it’s just a person or persons asking questions to the applicant for an hour or two.  Do you know how to design hydraulic pumps?  “Yes”, well ok then.  And if the company is really sophisticated then this interview process is reinforced by utilizing multiple professionals who ask questions, rather than just one or two.   And surely they will use behaviorally-based questions like “tell me about a time when you … and how you dealt with that”.  Oh, and these questions are the same regardless of position applied for and the right answers are freely available to anyone who has access to the internet.
  4. We ask for references – the three people who the applicant knows that can vouch for their success and accomplishments.  Generally they need to have actually worked with the applicant, but this isn’t a mandate.  And guess what – when we contact these people they tell us how good this person really is and that they would love to work with them again.  So we ensure that the applicant has at least three friends.  Interpersonally savvy?  Check.

Then we hire them.  It’s that simple.

So you hire a programmer without actually making them do any programming?  Yep.

You hire a sales person without actually seeing if they can sell?  Yes, that’s right.

And that marketing professional you have to handle your company communications and branding, you hired them without seeing any of their actual work? Bingo.

Did you hear the snickering and roar of laughter from those in the working world in 2060?  I did.  Now I’m exaggerating to make a point.  But not too much.

As HR leaders we need to be challenging ourselves by challenging our applicants to show us real job related skills.  Have them present on a real work challenge they will face in the role, create a probationary period so you can see how they actually perform, or at least come up with some pre-employment assessments that are legal and more predictive of success in our key roles.  And I’m not suggesting we quit interviewing.  I’m just suggesting it should be a data point in the process, not THE process.  In short, build a portfolio of more sophisticated selection tools that will evolve and improve our selection success percentages.

We all know what recruiting costs.  And we all know the cost of a vacant position.  The best recruiter in the world employing the age-old techniques above will make the right hire what percent of the time?  80%, 90%? That’s pretty good, but it could be a lot better.

That is, if we aren’t giving him the recruitment equivalent of a buggy whip to make the horses in his Ford run faster.

FOT Background Check

Guest: Ed Baldwin
Ed Baldwin is a career HR front man who’s advised and consulted with business owners and the C-suite on developing great cultures and inspiring work environments since the profession was called "personnel." Yeah, that makes him seasoned but also pretty quick to call out the fluffy HR theoretical crap from HR strategies that actually work – so don’t even bring that here. His versatility has taken him all over the world continually acquiring knowledge of how to build a great company through great HR practice, learning mostly from real world experience and his own mistakes. Reach out to him at ebaldwinkc@gmail.com.

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