Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Best Qualified Candidate Rarely Gets Hired (Update 2008)

That may get your attention. Generally when I present to groups on the topic of interviewing, people ask about the interviewing process.

How many times have you sat in an interview and wondered, “How will this person (the hiring manager) be able to determine if I am the best qualified candidate? Instead of probing my experience, capabilities, and motivations, he/she just asked me what kind of tree I would choose to be.”

Let’s examine the process in most companies. A person excels in their current position and gets management’s attention. They are promoted. What happens next? They need to learn their new position and fill the position in their organization that they just vacated. A replacement employee requisition is requested and now the Human Resource Department and Recruiters are sourcing candidates. Candidates are produced and given to the new Hiring Manager to interview.

Where in this process is this new Hiring Manager taught how to interview? If they have not been trained how to interview, they certainly have not been trained how to select the best qualified candidate. How does that lack of training impact most companies?

1) The Hiring Manager may not hire the person who will make the key contribution that will propel a company forward;
2) The candidate they do hire may be a good tactical hire but not a good strategic hire – and will leave when they no longer are able to make impacts;
3) Worse yet, they may stay and no longer make significant contributions;
4) Employee retention will become an increasing problem. The wrong person is hired and that impacts the performance of the entire team.

If you hear a Hiring Manager say that an offer should be made to Mr./Ms. Candidate because it feels good in their gut, remember that guts are really good for storing and processing food, not selecting candidates.

And what about reference checks? Has your company resigned itself to the “fact” that meaningful reference checks cannot be done any longer? The reference checks that I do for my clients generally last close to an hour. One reference recently said, “Wow that was like an interview!” I responded that in order to determine if the candidate is the right candidate for a position; shouldn’t we spend the time asking the right questions? It is best for both the candidate and the company.

This will take it one more step, if you trust managers to make critical legal decisions for the company; shouldn’t they be the ones conducting the reference checks? After all, a recruiter or Human Resource manager may know a little about a lot of positions. If this position does not report to them, they may not pick up on the nuances that the references can give.

One time when I encouraged a hiring manager to conduct references on an auditor, she consented with some reservations. She had just completed her third and last reference. When she was thanking the reference for their time, another question literally popped into her head. The response was such that she changed her mind and did not extend an offer to the candidate.


Recently when I asked “What areas does John (not the candidate’s real name) need to improve?” all three references pointed out the same area. It was enough of a concern that I sat down with the Vice President (hiring manager) and CEO and we discussed it. In this case, we extended the offer. The Vice President knows to be aware of the situation and how to coach the new employee.


If companies expect to hire better performers without training the decision makers on the selection process, it sounds suspiciously like doing the same things and expecting different results, doesn’t it?