I can’t really say what I mean: surprises, solutions, or problems

What do you get if you can’t articulate what you want? Sometimes you get a surprise, as in: ‘Just get me something that tastes good’, and you are presented with ‘liver an onions cooked 7 ways’ (apologies to those liver and onion lovers out there). Sometimes you get an almost-but-not-quite solution, as in: ‘I need something to protect my skin’, and you get Chapstick – instead of sunscreen.

This particular problem – the inability of one party to ‘spell out’ exactly what they want for the other party – lies at the core of our industry. Two examples:

  • Quality candidates: every employer I’ve worked with, in every industry, wants ‘quality candidates’ or ‘quality hires’. Great! I can understand that – back when I was a hiring manager, I did too. But…how does one define ‘quality’? Pose this question to an employer, and much of the time you will get these responses: ‘someone that can do the job’, or ‘someone with the qualifications in the job ad’. That’s a pretty broad range, eh? There are many jobs that many people can do, but I suspect the employer would be loath to hire them, because the candidates had an absenteeism problem, or a drug problem, or a history of skipping from one job to another, or… You get the picture. And matching the ‘qualifications in the job ad’? Are you kidding me? The average job ad asks for everything but the kitchen sink (if you can in fact figure out what it’s saying). I am painting with a broad brush – some employers actually can define ‘quality candidate’: for example, “Someone who lives in a 100 mile radius, who has worked in a similar position for at least 3 years, who has these 3 certifications, and who scores 100 or more on this test. And not, we don’t care about background checks or previous employment issues.” Now that’s a definition I can help an employer with! But honestly…these are few and far between. The term ‘quality candidate’ is usually a verbal crutch that HR and hiring managers use to avoid getting into the nitty-gritty – because doing so would take time they don’t have.
  • Numbers: As in, ‘cost per apply’, or ‘cost per hire’, or ‘cost per interview’, or ‘number of qualified candidates’, and so on. Where did this originally come from? Hey, the finger’s pointing at our industry on this one. Back in the day, OCC and Monster and HotJobs and the rest focused on ‘clicks’ and ‘traffic’. They pounded the importance of these metrics into the minds of generations of HR and hiring managers. They convinced their clients that these metrics were important. Fast forward to now: those old metrics are now ‘new’ metrics, and every year or so, a new metric is pushed out as the key metric for evaluating hiring. OK. Things change. But seriously: how often do most employers (or job boards) actually sit down and try to identify which metrics are most important for their specific hiring process? Which metrics tell them ‘hey, this is a great potential hire’ or ‘hey, this person is going to do great things at our company’ or even ‘hey, stay away from this bozo with a ten foot pole’? The AI-predictive analytics-big data-machine learning folks are gonna tell you they’ve got the answer. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But in the meantime, employers – your clients – are going to ask for numbers from you that are more than likely not linked to hiring success. And you’re gonna give those numbers to them. Or else.

So there you go. On the one hand, you have poorly articulated requests from employer for candidates or data or what not. On the other hand, you have fuzzy and probably not very helpful reports or candidate data or what not from the suppliers (i.e., you). What do you think? Are your clients going to get what they wanted? Or will they get a surprise? No easy answers on this one, folks. But at least be aware of the problem!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Alan Whitford

    Hi Jeff,
    Nailed it, as usual.

    The only metric that should matter is we filled the job with a ‘quality’ candidate who does the job required (or envisioned – which is not always the same) in a timely manner.

    But, as you point out, how do we do that without the hiring manager being able to articulate what she wants (versus needs). How does she get enough band width to run an interview process and get sign off from other stakeholders. In our ‘old money’ days of proper managed campaigns or search assignments, we would spend a day on client site, meet the stakeholders, other employees etc and walk away with a clear view of what we needed to look for – and probably even where to look.

    How does that scale for organisations with volume requirement needs for whom a ‘quality hire’ is actually BOB – Body on Board?

    Recruitment industry metrics (as social media metrics are now) were developed as a justification that we were doing something valuable for the client (while we were trying to find those purple squirrel candidates they wanted)

    Great to be shining the light on both sides of the table.


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