The ultimate cost of making a wrong Human Resources hiring decision is known and feared, particularly if a candidate is placed in an upper management or executive-level role. Over the years, companies have turned to multiple painstaking steps and evaluation tools as part of the interview process hoping to avoid any costly hiring mistakes.

However, the precautionary pendulum has swung too far! Companies that want to excel in hiring top HR talent need to look at their process. In today’s candidate-driven market, where there are more roles than qualified candidates, companies continue to uphold rigorous testing and interviewing processes, moving candidates through committees of people over many weeks or even months. Too little consideration is given to the reality that the best candidates are entertaining other offers. Outstanding senior-level candidates are joining companies that move faster or are more flexible in filling critical roles.

The best HR candidates not only lose interest due to antiquated interview processes, but companies also risk being perceived as having unproductive hiring and operating cultures. Prolonged vacancies in leadership positions or being outperformed by a competitor’s dynamic workforce can be as costly as hiring the wrong person.

How can you streamline your interview process and be confident in your hiring decisions?

Cut the interview process down to three steps

When recruiting candidates for management or executive roles, there is no need for the interview process to extend beyond three well planned and highly organized steps:

  1. Initial phone screen or video interview: A brief 10- to 15-minute meetup between the hiring manager and candidate is an ideal first step. This one-on-one interaction can be used to gain professional insights beyond the résumé, experience the candidate’s personality and quickly determine whether to move the candidate forward. This also helps the candidate assess whether the role is right for them as they look for their next career opportunity. It is hard to achieve this through a scripted list of five questions as part of an administrative data gathering call.
  2. Onsite, half-day meeting with immediate stakeholders: This meeting is crucial for the candidate to get a feel for who they will be working with in their new role. The most important interview in this meeting is with the candidate’s future direct supervisor. There should also be another meeting with some direct reports or team members to allow both the existing team and the candidate to get to know their potential new boss and vice versa, allowing everyone to get a feel for the assembled working team. This onsite event could conclude by circling the candidate back to the hiring manager for a debrief and any additional questions gathered throughout the day. This is also the step where companies should provide a tour of the campus as well as discuss the local area (if the candidate is relocating). The company should then gather feedback from the candidate’s would-be superior and team members.
  3. Final interview – a second onsite half-day or full-day meeting: Since internal clients have a stake in the hiring decision, arrange meetings between the candidate and stakeholders whose areas would be directly affected by the candidate should he or she be hired. This final meeting can also wind down by circling the candidate back with the hiring manager and/or potential superior.

Good reasons to shrink the interview pool

In recent years, a dark cloud seems to have come over the hiring process in which people are afraid to make hiring decisions. To share accountability, the interview process is spread far outside the hiring funnel. It’s very common to see candidate interviews arranged with 15 to 20 people within an organization, most of whom would not be directly involved with or affected by the candidate’s job function or team. This is entirely too many people in the process and it only takes a couple of these influencers to sway everyone else’s judgement and swing the process away from a first-rate candidate.

Other issues with this method are the weeks or months it takes to complete the process. It’s cumbersome for hiring managers to synchronize meetings between multiple figureheads and candidates. The vast majority of candidates in today’s market are passive, and it’s very difficult for these employed, high-level professionals to make multiple visits to a company, particularly with a long commute. As mentioned, drawn-out interview processes cause HR candidates to lose interest and create a negative perceptions of how your company operates.

To test or not to test?

You may have noticed testing is not listed in the three interview steps described above. Candidates should not spend a full or half day at a company, alone in a room, taking personality tests, psychological evaluations, or leadership and skills assessments. One reason is that candidates can sail through pre-employment assessments and fail miserably on the job. Others may be ideal for a job but produce undesirable test results.

Here’s a real-world example. Two candidates were tested to determine whether they would be successful in a specific type of professional services leadership role. One produced a perfect score based on the company’s desired traits. The other candidate’s results were very marginal, close to not being good enough to work at the company. Both candidates were hired. The candidate with perfect test results had a hard time and ultimately could not do the job. The candidate with marginal results won two awards last year, is on track to double revenue this year and is among the top five billers in his division.

Tests can have little to do with a candidate’s ability to be successful, and too often, they limit a company’s ability to find the right people or mislead the company to hire the wrong ones.

More reasons to forego testing

The economy fluctuates. Markets evolve. Cultures change. The products and services companies sell also change to reflect the market and culture. Tests used in vetting leaders do not change to reflect these business drivers, yet candidates are weighted against obsolete baselines for gauging leadership ability in the current marketplace. Tests are not specific to a company or its culture. Individual human beings are far too complex to be broken down on the same personality profile as others. Candidates need to be individually assessed, not subjected to blanket processes.

When hiring for a senior management to executive-level HR position, a candidate’s skills, ability to lead and make decisions, and his or her level of intelligence (intellectual and emotional) as they relate to their successes in their career should lead to a hiring decision. These abilities and traits should be evident based on accomplishments and successes at current or previous jobs and affirmed through personal references. If you work with a consultative recruiter who knows your company, culture and requirements, the candidates presented are already thoroughly vetted and likely a very good fit for your job and company.

Too much automation. Not enough eyeballs.

Companies are struggling to find qualified HR leaders to interview. One deterrent is self-imposed. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are a double-edged sword. While they have a purpose, they strip the human element out of finding excellent candidates in a competitive hiring market. Solely relying on these systems to narrow the talent pool, the systems are actually providing a disservice to companies and candidates alike. Great candidates are filtered out for flawed technological reasons, and the technology cannot recognize qualities essential to your company’s definition of effective leadership.

It’s eye-opening, the number of HR candidates I recruit and place whose résumés are repeatedly screened out by these systems. Some candidates have great experience that you need in a role but these criteria are missing from job descriptions. Some HR leaders write their résumés in the wrong format and the ATS doesn’t pick up on the true accomplishments in the resume. Even still, some candidates reside only a few miles outside a company’s distance limit. All are highly marketable and highly qualified HR leaders that you want to talk to.

ATSs should be used in combination with résumé screening by hiring professionals who understand the roles being filled, and recognize backgrounds that are a promising fit. My rule of thumb? If a candidate looks 50% qualified on paper, they should be invited to Step 1: An initial phone screen or video interview in order to learn more. Exceptional leaders are discovered this way.

Let’s put the humanity back into Human Resources

The way to win at HR talent acquisition today is to rely less on something or somebody else to tell you what you should innately already know.

Focus your eyes and use your interpersonal skills to identify true leaders, learn what matters to your favored candidates and address their career goals. Be prepared to negotiate because other companies will. Don’t forget about the candidate’s current employers who don’t want to lose their best people. And since it’s a candidate’s market, remember top contenders are sure to have a lot of choices. Timing is everything and the selling needs to go both ways.


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