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How To Avoid Hiring The Wrong Candidate

Posted by Dr. Zivit Inbar

6 December 2016

In Dr. Zivit Inbar’s previous blog, she described the recruitment process as being based on four major principles: culture based recruitment, workforce planning, transactional activities and candidate selection. Zivit also mentioned that many start-ups fail because they duplicate the recruitment principles of big corporations and focus their time and efforts on the transactional part of the recruitment process, which should actually only take about 5% of the recruitment time for start-ups. The main focus (around 80% of the process) should be on the selection process.

This blog starts with explaining how to manage the transactional aspect of recruitment efficiently. It outlines how to make a significant cut to the time and money you spend on recruitment and also to enable the focus to be on the selection process itself. Thereafter, this post focuses on the selection process - the traps to avoid, and how to design the best selection process that matches the culture of your start-up.

How To Cut Time And Money On Transactional Recruitment

HR practices (and even some of those that are defined as best practices) used by the big organisations were developed to address certain problems. Start-ups face different challenges and operate in an environment that requires fast time to market. Hence, duplicating administrative practices used by corporates into start-ups is not going to lead you to win the war on talent and have the right people, with the right skills at the right time.

Once you know the cultural match and have done your workforce planning, it is time to start the transactional recruitment process. Here is how you can achieve great results by implementing a short transactional recruitment process.

1. Avoid Position Descriptions

Unless your clients require PDs as part of their tender conditions, you can recruit great people without wasting your time on a document that will not be used after the recruitment process is complete.

There is nothing more annoying than hearing the sentence: “It’s not in my position description,” (believe me - I’ve heard it a few times). Start-up team members are always expected to do much more than the described job. Candidates that will not take a role because they expect to get a written position description, are probably not a good match for a start-up anyway.

If you make a decision to use position descriptions for recruitment, then you will need to continue updating them, whenever these positions are changed. And in start-ups, changes occur on a regular basis. So, if you write position descriptions for all your positions, you need to review and update them every quarter or two, otherwise why put so much effort and time into a document that is used once and then forgotten?

The next comment I hear from my clients is that the recruiters always ask for a formal position description.

Well, this is not accurate. Recruiters need the same information that you will use in writing a job advert:

  • The company’s vision (what it is here for).
  • The role and how it helps to achieve the vision.
  • The culture and team.
  • What success looks like (for the role).
  • Main skills and experience required to be successful in the role.

Writing a short ad takes less time than writing a full PD and if you answer these questions, you know what you are looking for.

If you decide to use a recruiter, find the one that will partner with you and really take the time to understand the culture, team and role. A true understanding cannot be based on just reading a PD. For recruiters to recognise what a good match looks like, they should visit the office and meet the hiring manager. This process will save you a lot of time on writing documents that will never be used again and provide much better results. 

2. Engage With Recruiters For Crucial Positions Only

Some positions are really hard to source good candidates for, hence if you do not conduct workforce planning in advance, you will find yourself recruiting at the last minute. In these cases, the best option is to engage with a recruiter. However, if you have done workforce planning and know in advance which position you are going to recruit for and have ascertained the best time to start looking, there are plenty of ways to save money and time:

  • The village approach: founders and team members should take an active role in finding new hires and attracting them to the company.
  • Founders’ networks and Advisory Board members: these networks can be a great source of help in introducing talent.
  • Referral partners: get everyone in your start-up to ask their networks if they know anyone who fits your search requirements.
  • LinkedIn: a search on LinkedIn and direct approach.
  • Talent Communities: the use of products such as LiveHire, to easily engage on a daily basis with talent. 

3. One Day Recruitment Process

Here are some tips how to have a short and efficient transactional process:

  • Resume sorting: there is no need to wait with resume sorting until a certain closing date! This is an archaic process that doesn’t match the start-up sector. Resume sorting should be done on a daily basis (preferably first thing in the morning), by the recruiting manager.
  • All good candidates should be contacted for a phone call on the same day. You want to be the first who reaches out to new talent that is ‘on the market,’ not the one that calls when it is already too late, only to discover that the candidate has another offer…
  • Schedule all your interviews as soon as possible.
  • This process can be streamlined even further through the use of HR software that enables you to automate the transactional aspect of the process and search data on keywords that match your perfect candidate

That’s it. If you follow these suggestions, you will shorten the time, money and effort you dedicate to the transactional process and will be able to focus on the most important part of the recruitment process – the selection of the right team members. Recruitment is not about hiring for headcount, but about selecting those that will stay with the company, flourish and contribute way beyond what was described in the position description.

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How To Avoid Hiring The Wrong Candidate

Big organisations can better afford recruiting the wrong people, for start-ups every mistake has its toll.

Selection is the key to hiring the right talent. We all know that poor recruitment has a harmful effect on organisations, not only with direct financial costs, but also indirect costs such as reduction in productivity, team morale, performance and a very real potential for damage to company reputation and client relationships. For start-ups, this means survival risk. So, what are the traps to be aware of? How do you design the right process for your start-up, and which tools are available in the market for you to use?

1. Traps To Be Aware Of

  • Panel interviews are “show and tell:” While they supposedly save a lot of time (all the hiring managers are in one room meeting the candidate together), panel interviews are not the right setting to probe into behaviours, or check personality and cultural match. Hence, those candidates that can tell a story with confidence will win the panel, sometimes even if the story wasn’t theirs.
  • In the box approach: This means looking for and giving advantage to candidates who work in the same area (industry, type of software and service), who are or were recently working for a competitor in a similar functional job. You may think that this is preferable, since the learning time of the new hire will be shorter and s/he can bring added knowledge to the start-up. However, if they are not a cultural match, how long are they going to stay? In addition, people from different backgrounds can bring diversity of thoughts, ideas and innovation. You are more likely to teach talented people the company context than change their behaviours to match the team and culture.
  • Too short or too long a recruitment processes: Working with many start-ups, I meet founders from both edges, those who realise the importance of cultural fit and those that do not worry at all about it (yet complain that their recruitment success is low). Some of the founders that care about culture tend to have many interviews with every candidate (5-8 different people interview each candidate). While this approach provides them with the confidence that the recruitment will succeed, it is very time consuming and can fit only the recruitment of a few positions, when the start-up is very small. Once significant growth is planned, this method is not realistic and there are other ways to “read” candidates. Those founders that are not worried about cultural match, design a swift process that looks at skills and experience only and then regret it.
  • Over selling your start-up: Although there is a war on talent out there, there is no justification to oversell your start-up to candidates and create unrealistic expectations about the culture, team and work experience. Disappointed new employees will not survive for long (due to the same competition on talent). It is better to portray your view of the company and “risk” candidates saying that this is not the right place for them, than hire, dedicate time and training and then see them leaving.
  • Black holes: Many founders and managers tell me that they had a “feeling” during the recruitment process that something is not right, but they didn’t want to make a decision based on intuition whilst all the information that was available for them was positive. This is what I refer to as black holes. Black holes belong in space, not in recruitment! If you (or any other interviewer) have a negative intuition about someone, you need to enquire into it and seek specific information to support or refute this feeling. Never ignore intuition during the recruitment process.

So, how can you design a process that will allow you to check both skills and cultural match in a timely manner?

2. Designing The Process That Matches Your Culture

In Zivit’s post “the first step for successful recruitment is CULTURE,” she explained how to design your culture and recruit for a cultural fit. The post includes tips how to identify a cultural fit. Here, I would like to describe a few options you have to design a successful process that goes together with the recommendations in her previous post.

  1. Cultural transparency: make every interaction with candidates a learning opportunity for them about the company and its culture. Show them around and tell them about the great mission and success, as well as about how things are done in this place (= the culture).
  2. Skills assessments: skills can be checked by designing short individual problem solving tasks. Only candidates that are successful in these tasks should be interviewed.
  3. Interviews: Now when you know that the candidate has the knowledge and is able to perform work related tasks, it is time to focus on personality, team and cultural fit. The candidate should be interviewed by the direct manager and at least one other person, preferably from a different team. Well conducted interviews have accuracy of 25% in predicting behaviours at work. If interviews are not conducted well, this percentage drops significantly to 12% or less. We are all biased! And hence interviews should not be the only selection tool used during the recruitment process.
  4. Assessments: psychometric assessments are a great tool for receiving insights into future behaviours and cultural fit. Psychometric assessments look at both abilities and competencies. Why abilities? because in a start-up environment you constantly need to solve complex problems, hence you need to have good cognitive abilities. Not all the psychometric tools that are available in the market are valid. I love working with Saville Wave, since it has been validated against actual performance at work and cultural fit. To gain the best out of these assessments, a behavioural interview based on the results is recommended. You will be surprised what can be found in these tests.
  5. Reference check: while the average reference check has accuracy of only about 7%, if it is conducted well, you can get great insights about candidates and how to manage them. You should conduct a reference check as an interview (not a quick call). To do it well, you first need to collect all the information from the different interviewers and the assessments (facts, feelings and intuition of the interviewers), compare them and then ask questions based on this information.

Using these five stages, your recruitment process will be stronger and your hiring decisions will be grounded on evidence that the candidate can perform the role and is a good fit to the company.

We hope you've gained some valuable insight from Dr. Inbar's guest posts on start-up culture and recruitment. Want to know more about each of the tools and processes she's covered? Feel free to contact Zivit directly zivit@differenthinking.com.au, or follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Topics: Recruitment, Start-Up Culture

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