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  • Susanna Williams

Three #HireBetter Wishes

Updated: Dec 20, 2019


One of these days, I’m going to meet the Employment Fairy Godmother, and she’s going to ask me for my three wishes. It’s good to be prepared, so here they are:

1. Make applying for jobs harder

Technology has made a lot of things easier in our lives, but HR tech is not one of them. Technology, broadly, has thoroughly mired the hiring process. I applied for a job that was posted on LinkedIn a few days ago and actually went to the trouble of sending an email directly to the recruiter. Over 500 people had applied for the position through the LinkedIn interface. More really doesn’t equal better. Decision fatigue begins after seven choices. 500 choices? My eyes glaze over just thinking about it.

The problem with hiring has never been a lack of choice for employers. Making applying “easier” for candidates just ends up frustrating everybody and encouraging work arounds like people using personal connections to get to the “right” person so they stand out from the masses. Once social capital becomes the driving factor behind identifying “talent”, we lose critical diversity of background and culture. Hiring from an “in group” fundamentally weakens an organization’s ability to respond to external stressors and weakens long-term viability prospects.

Applicant Tracking Systems, used by at least 90% of businesses, privilege resumes that play the system correctly, which is not the same thing as identifying the best talent. It’s a different kind of social capital at work.

I once applied for a job- in 2011- that required me to mail in my printed materials, including my transcripts. I was really annoyed by that requirement at the time, but I’ve come around.

If we make it more challenging for people to apply for jobs, you are likely to get more thoughtful applications.

2. Make hiring easier

Decision fatigue leads to fundamental insecurity and a fear that the best possible choice isn’t being made, a thought that’s all the more paralyzing because of the daunting prospect of looking through 500 more resumes. The hiring process drags on and on as a result. When you are looking for work, the longer you’re on the job market, the more desperation begins to haunt you. And from the business side, the longer a position goes unfilled, the faster your team edges toward burn out as they juggle additional responsibilities.

Do as much pre-work as you can. Train the people on the hiring committee to ask useful questions that will actually give you insight into how your prospective new colleagues will behave, grow, and contribute to your success. Discuss each candidate before and after the interview as if you were sitting on a jury- because you are. And whatever else you do, assign a person on the hiring team to be the communication point person. Follow up when and how you say you will, even if the update is “No decision, yet!”. If you can find the bandwidth to give personal feedback to all of your finalists, not just the successful candidate, that is greatly appreciated by all job seekers. This is a learning and discerning process for everyone involved. Not all people are going to be right for all jobs or all organizations and the more we can illuminate that for each other, the better we will all be.

3. Hire for potential, not past performance

Resumes are terrible hiring technology. Backwards-facing situational interview questions are even worse. “Tell us about a time when you...” I have learned and grown from every single professional situation I’ve encountered. Me telling you how I handled something nine years ago gives you no insight into how I would approach that issue today.

The essential qualities that matter for job success in most roles are curiosity, an ability to self-reflect and course correct, a growth mindset, and self-awareness. Above all, you are going to be spending a lot of time with this person. You need to respect and like them. Ask questions that give you insight into who this person is, how they think, how they respond under stress, how they function on a team. Those questions begin with “What” and “How” and “Who”.

  • “How do you handle stress?”

  • “How do you let your colleagues know when you appreciate them?”

  • “What are your approaches to personality conflicts?”

  • “What kind of work environment are you most successful in?”

  • “How do you know you’ve been successful at work?”

  • “Who do you go to when you’ve had a hard day?”

  • “How do you identify the resources you need to solve a problem?”

  • “What do you enjoy about managing people? What do you find challenging?”

  • “What kind of support would you like to receive to help you be successful?”

What are some other questions that could lead to more useful insight into prospective colleagues?

Bonus: Separate Talent Identification, Recruitment, & Acquisition from HR

If I prove to have been *very* good, maybe the Employment Fairy Godmother will give me a fourth wish- and I want to completely separate “HR” from talent identification, recruitment, and acquisition. Keep HR under finance. Move Talent to the C-Suite and make it part of your core business strategy. Dedicate sufficient resources to ensure that you have a bespoke approach to your recruiting process. During this phase of the process, you want to make prospective colleagues feel special, wanted, and cared for. First impressions matter. If your recruiters are looking for talent for more than five positions at a time, they’re not going to be able to give their best to you or the people you want to sign up to join you in your work.

Don’t you want to hire the best possible people? So why are you giving them a terrible front door experience with harried recruiters, HR tech, and careless mistakes? Be your own employment fairy godmother. Rethink how you approach talent in your organization. Hire better.


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