The following article was written by Andy LaCivita and featured in Recruiting Trends on Oct 4, 2012.

When the employment market changed drastically five years ago, so too did the recruiting and hiring practices across companies large and small. Those employers that were hiring sought individuals to fit specific functions and waited until they found a complete fit for their requirements. The sudden sizable job applicant pool afforded them this “luxury.” In turn, their hiring techniques became aligned with this attitude. This “luxury,” however, did not necessarily translate into hiring successful, long-standing employees. It managed to help employers fill short-term needs. Now, with a rising employment market in many (not all) sectors, employers are faced with more difficult hiring trends.

At milewalk, we help employers recruit top talent, so it’s important we understand what companies want most—help them secure the most-talented (not most-available), best-fitting, longest-lasting employees as expeditiously as possible. With this in mind, in 2006, we developed an analytics model to monitor employer and employee relationships to identify which criteria best predicted a successful relationship. (The model also included recruitment predictors—the employer’s ability to attract and secure the employee—but here we’ll focus on the employer’s evaluation techniques.) The model, six years evolved, includes over 6,400 data points.

hiring practices

The resulting criteria seemed obvious in many respects. However, a large-scale review of various companies, including over 100 interviews with individuals in Recruitment, Human Resources, and other hiring capacities, indicated organizations rarely pursued the criteria that predicted the best recruitment and retention outcome. Our results showed a successful relationship was predicated on four major factors in this order:

  1. Cultural Fit – Alignment to the corporate value structure and personality of the organization.

  2. Capabilities – Demonstrated capacity to effectively perform an activity without previously experiencing it.

  3. Achievement Record – Rising slope in career development in congruence with smart career decisions.

  4. Skills & Experience – Practiced performance and working knowledge of a specific activity.

We grant there are some variances based on position type, but many employers we interviewed not only evaluated the criteria backward, but also rarely addressed the most important predictors to the level that would yield valuable insight. Over 90% spent time upfront evaluating skills, perhaps in tandem with a Recruitment (or HR) review of “fit.” The fit was usually based on interviewer “feel” or a set of stock questions. We did not encounter one organization that designed questions specifically tailored to the characteristics that made their organization unique.

With this awareness, employers can modify their recruitment processes to help improve hiring decisions. Keep in mind, the goal is not to gather the most information about the candidate to make a smart decision. It’s to gather the most relevant information in the least amount of time to make the smartest hiring decision. In addition, any decision to reject the candidate should occur as quickly as possible.

How can employers design their recruitment process to achieve better results? There are many steps that will help, but the two most influential improvements include: 1) knowing who you seek and how to evaluate them, and 2) maximizing the quantity and quality of relevant candidate information.

Know who you seek AND how to evaluate them. Job descriptions rarely suffice in identifying and communicating to the organization who it wants to hire. If cultural fit is the greatest predictor for a successful match, design your requirements and evaluation to include this assessment—upfront—in great detail. This requires more than identifying a few generic buzzwords such as “entrepreneurial” or “self-starter” and hoping stock Critical Behavioral Interviewing questions will produce evidence.

To truly confirm whether an individual aligns to your culture, identify the specifics that make your culture unique as well as accompanying questions that elicit definitive information. For perspective, milewalk worked a small organization containing fewer than 50 employees. We helped identify 19 criteria that indicated whether an employee would fit culturally. In conjunction, we cited a handful of questions for each criterion to ensure the interviewer (i.e., any interviewer) could make the determination. Here are a few along with the rationale behind why the company needed them.

  • Fix-the-problem-first vs. fix-the-process-first mindset – Highly customer-service oriented environment with no room for philosopher-first mentality.

  • Accountability orientation – Flat organization requiring employees to own their assignments.

  • High bar in life – Excessively high standards were required to support the ridiculously high expectation levels of the company’s clientele.

  • Quickly shift gears – Frenetic pace often required employees to change assignments rapidly without losing momentum.

Maximize the quantity and quality of relevant candidate information. milewalk’s assessment of over 80 organizations showed most recruitment processes lacked focused segmentation (i.e., culture, job-specifics, etc.) that would maximize the amount of relevant candidate data in proportion to the amount of time the employer expended. Instead of assembling the team in a manner that produced cumulative information throughout the process, many employers lined up interviewers armed with a tell-me-about-yourself approach. This often led to a total of one hour’s worth of unique data irrespective of how many interviews the candidate endured.

Even in those instances where the process was segmented, interviewers were generally allowed freedom within their area of focus and required to assess too much information in a scarce amount of time. This led to issues beyond a lack of information. It also introduced inconsistency in the manner in which employers assessed the candidates due to the variability of the individual interviewers (i.e., different technical screeners simply meant different approaches to screening the candidates).

These issues can often be fixed with a few adjustments. First, synchronize the specific interview questions to yield relevant data while simultaneously shrinking the interviewer’s focus. This will allow the entire interview team to gather more in-depth, relevant information. It will also improve consistency in your candidate evaluations in the event you need to interchange interviewers.

While there are many steps that can be taken to improve the overall quality of your recruiting assessments, we have found that these two process improvements generate the most return in the shortest period of time.