Watch out for black holes: Top 10 hiring mistakes

HRM 07 Aug 2013

Lack of clarity about the job being recruited for

Major companies still fall into the most basic trap of recruiting: a failure to define exactly what they’re looking for. Peter Acheson, CEO of Peoplebank, says it’s an issue which they see all too regularly. “We had an example recently where a large multinational client hired a person into a role and they weren’t even sure who the person would report to. If you then think about it: if they weren’t even sure who the person was reporting to, were they even clear about what they wanted in the role, what skills they were looking for? I think a lack of clarity around the role being hired is actually quite a common one,” Acheson says. He adds that in examples such as this, a new recruit may turn up for their first day and the employer is totally underprepared for the commencement of their tenure. Ultimately a lack of clarity around the role can leave new recruits dissatisfied with their new employer before the ink is even dry on the contract.

Lack of clarity about the role description

A key trap many employers fall into is asking the recruiter to provide candidates for a particular position, such as a sales manager, without providing a nuanced role description. “I know I’m just giving you one example, but you would be amazed at how often we see it. A client rings us and says: ‘I need to hire an XYZ person, could you find me one?’ and that’s it. As an organisation now, we always say to a client we will need to go through a process of talking a lot deeper about the job specification you are looking for, and I might say ‘let me send you a draft job specification for that type of role, and we can work from that’,” Acheson says.

In addition to this, the burden of compiling an accurate role description needn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of HR. Given an organisation could have literally dozens upon dozens of job titles, it is highly important for close consultation to occur between line managers and HR. It is integral this process occurs in order for the technical aspects of the role (the real ‘nitty-gritty’ details) to be properly fleshed out and included in the description.

Too much focus on technical skills

While pre-selection screening software can be useful in narrowing down the field, it can also be very limiting. A good analogy to keep in mind is this: if the role HR is recruiting for is a ‘kidney bean sorter’, and your description includes ‘must have kidney bean sorting experience’ – this theoretically excludes all the applicants with chickpea and lentil sorting experience.

This is a hiring mistake Acheson sees frequently, and adds that in many cases of hiring for technical roles, there is too much focus on the technical skillset and not enough focus on inter-personal skills, personal attitude and their ability to play in a team. “There are very few roles that exist in the work force today where an organisation can tolerate a lone wolf – a person who is just very good on their own, and they’re technically very strong but they have no ability to work in a team or to communicate what is required,” Acheson says. Yet he also positively adds that a tangible shift has occurred in the last four or five years towards a preference for candidates with developed people skills, ability to play as part of a team and a big shift in focus around the importance of attitude.

Who’s running the show?

US-based HR thought leader Susan Heathfield laments the regularity with which organisations fail to plan their interviewing process. “You wouldn’t choose a school for your child or launch a project without a plan. Why, then, do organisations put so little planning into interviewing candidates for positions?” Heathfield says. She adds that interviewers need to meet in advance and create a plan, asking questions such as ‘Who is responsible for which types of questions?’ and ‘What aspect of the candidate’s credentials is each person assessing?’

Acheson adds that time and time again, even right now, organisations and recruiters alike fail to forward-plan what type of hiring process the candidate is going to be put through. “Is it going to be one interview, two interviews, four interviews? Even down to when we get to the day of the interview – what’s the nature of the interview, how are we going to run it? What’s the structure of the interview?” Acheson questions.

The interview process

Poorly constructed interview questions and a lack of behavioural-based interviewing is an ongoing issue in recruitment. Particularly prevalent with junior or middle management, Acheson says they will often walk the person through the structure, asking a series of closed questions: ‘Oh so you worked the ANZ bank between December 2010 and December 2011?’” ’Yes I did’, ‘What did you do at the bank?’ etc, rather than getting into deep behavioural questions that access the ability of the candidate to do the role.

What’s more, according to author and HR expert Peter Gilbert, there have been surprising academic studies which have shown that job interviews fail to accurately predict how well suited a person may be for a job. “In a University of Michigan study, John and Rhonda Hunter analysed how well job interviews accurately predict success on the job. The surprising finding: The typical interview increases your chances of choosing the best candidate by less than two percent. In other words, flipping a coin to choose between two candidates would only be two percent less reliable than basing your decision on the interview.”

Failure to stress test

A failure to secure the candidate by not adequately selling the role is a key recruitment misstep. The first element of this problem can be avoided by being clear about the job role they are going to have and who they are going to report to. The second element is by ensuring the line manager the new recruit will work with is directly involved in the hiring process. “The benefits of the organisation they are going to be working for, the team they are going to be working in, [need to be really sold]”, Acheson says, and this is best done by the line manager.

Failure to deliver candidate control

At the end of the interviewing process, has it been ascertained as to whether the candidate is still interested in the role, and ‘If we were to offer you this role at this sort of salary level, is it a role you would accept?’ Acheson says it’s integral that any issues an employee may have in terms of what has been presented to them by the recruiter need to be addressed before an offer is made. “Because what we often see happen is clients will go through an exhaustive interview process, but they have failed or forgotten to confirm that the candidate is still interested in the role, they’ve not asked the candidate questions about the environment they are going to be working in, the people they are working with, and so on. Invariably what happens is we get through the interview process, an offer is made and the candidate says ‘Thanks for the offer, I’ve got to decline because I didn’t really like the company I was going to be working for’, or those sorts of issues because there’s been a lack of what I like to call candidate control,” Acheson says.

A lack of rigorous reference checking

A subset of reference checking which is now overly prevalent is an over reliance on social media. For example, the LinkedIn resume or the LinkedIn career summary is not necessarily an accurate representation of a person’s career. “There is a very fundamental issue with that, and that is that the LinkedIn career history or the LinkedIn career summary has been put up by the candidate and it may be biased, if I can put it that way. So generally the lack of rigorous reference checking – these days you want to get a 360-degree view of the candidate, so you want to be getting a person that has worked with them, a person they have worked for and possibly even a peer as well, so a minimum of three referees to give you that 360-degree view of a candidate,” Acheson says.

Managing the offer process effectively

All too often there is an excessive delay in the offer process, and this can mean the difference between getting your first and second choice. “I see this all the time: the interview process finishes with a candidate, and it’ll be another three weeks before they get their offer. You’re really tempting fate if you allow that to happen,” Acheson says. “There are a lot of reasons for that, one being you are leaving the door open for that candidate to be approached by someone else.”

Acheson also notes it reflects badly on an employer if the process moves too slowly during the initial stage. The candidate will be thinking, ‘What’s the organisation going to be like to work for if it takes them two or three weeks to get a letter of offer to me? ‘They don’t value me, they are too bureaucratic’. “Those are the feelings you create in a candidate if you take too long to make an offer,” Acheson says.

Professionalism and consistency

The other aspect of ensuring that the offer process is handled effectively is by ensuring it is done so in a professional manner. It is best practice to make sure the offer reflects previous discussions, not something wildly different. Nothing creates doubt in a candidate’s mind more than thinking ‘We had a conversation, it was confirmed to me on three occasions that the role would be paying $100,000 a year, but I’ve got this offer and its only $80,000’.“Nothing creates more doubt, frustration, and negativity than poorly managing the offer process,” Acheson confirms.

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