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Why recruiters have it all wrong

Whether you're an entrepreneur hiring your first employee, or a corporate manager filling a new post or backfilling a gap created by the departure of an existing memebr of your team, recruiting the right people is essential to growing any business. You need to know that the new person will fit in the organisation, and you need to know they'll be able to do the job. Hiring the wrong person isn't just a potentially expensive mistake: put the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time and it could kill your business completely (RIP Barings Bank!). The problem is, most recruiters - even agents, whose job is solely to find candidates for other companies - have their focus all wrong when it comes to finding the right person. And the reason for that isn't hard to find.

Whether you're an entrepreneur hiring your first employee, or a corporate manager filling a new post or backfilling a gap created by the departure of an existing memebr of your team, recruiting the right people is essential to growing any business. You need to know that the new person will fit in the organisation, and you need to know they'll be able to do the job. Hiring the wrong person isn't just a potentially expensive mistake: put the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time and it could kill your business completely (RIP Barings Bank!).

The problem is, most recruiters – even agents, whose job is solely to find candidates for other companies – have their focus all wrong when it comes to finding the right person. And the reason for that isn't hard to find.

Which is easier: to identify the skills someone has, or to identify potential? Well if you've got a few months or years to spend with a single individual then potential is easy to spot. But in the rush to recruit a candidate from a pool of hundreds or thousands of applicants, most recruiters will take the easy path: find someone who has done the job before and hire them.

But have you ever stopped to think about what that really means/ Why do most people change jobs: they either want a different (and in their eyes "better") job or they want more money for doing the job they're already doing or they had no choice.

So along come a bunch of candidates, to your interview day. The first is an ambitious individual looking for a career change. She has a lot of transferrable skills and an excellent record of picking up new skills quickly "on the job" and generating results fast. Unfortunately, her resume doesn't have the exact title you're recruiting for anywhere on it; she hasn't done this job before. So should you hire her? Well, it could pay off – there's a lot of talent there, but it's a risk hiring someone without the right experience. Next!

The next candidate is someone who has been doing the exact same job for your competitor for the last 5 years but "wants new challenges" and "feels they have a lot to contribute to the right employer" (reading between the lines: "I want a pay rise and my manager won't give it to me"). So what could go wrong with hiring this candidate? Well, you may be able to buy their loyalty now in the short term, but before long they are likely to want more challenges and you're going to have to find them a promotion or they'll walk. And if they DON'T want that challenge, if they're happy to plod along in pretty much the same role they've been doing for the last 5 years for another 5 years then what kind of person are you actually hiring? Would you want them on your team? Next!

The final candidate has just been made redundant from the exact same role from another of your competitors. Of the three candidates, he has the lowest salary expectations, and on paper seems the best candidate. You could get him at a low rate, and not only buy his loyalty and gratitude bu giving him a job, but maybe you could also capitalise on his bittterness towards his ex-employer, and a little competitive intelligence on your rivals. But what about when the market recovers, or their self-confidence returns. Will the below-market-rate salary you offered them be enough to keep them happy? Will they start looking for new challenges? Or are you hiring another plodder who is not just happy to stay in the same role, but do it for less money? Next!

Oh wait, there isn't a next. OK which option is safer? We'll go with number two.

So which candidate SHOULD you have hired? I don't know.

I don't know because we haven't asked the right questions yet. We've focused on ability, but we know nothing about attitude and aptitude.

So how SHOULD you recruit your next team member?

Well, first be honest with yourself : is what you do REALLY rocket science? Are there legal restrictions on who can do this job? And if you really need 10 years experience to do your job well then how did the people working for you already ever get started?

You see in most jobs, the technical skills of the job are actually the easiest part for someone to pick up. They can learn on the job, or be sent on the right trainig course. Yes there's a time cost and a financial cost, but it may be cheaper than hiring the wrong person and then having to get rid of them and hire their replacement.

Next easiest is "industry experience". Again, you need to be honest. Yes, your industry may be highly regulated, but if you're hiring for a "support" function (HR, finance, marketing, IT, etc.( rather than "delivery" does the candidate need to know every regulation from day one, or do they just need someone to guide them and check what they're doing while they learn the ins and outs?

Much harder to instil in someone is the mindset that's needed in your industry, or the culture of your company. Why? Because you're it's about getting people to think and act in a particular way. If that way isn't authentic to them them you're storing up a LOT of trouble.

First, the personal stress of having to act "out of character" and pretend to be someone they're not can be overwhelming for some people. I've seen people driven to a nervous breakdown after company mergers that changed the culture of the company. Even if things don't go that far, eventually they'll be so unhappy they'll leave anyway (and if they don't you owe it to them and to yourself to encourage them to), and you're back to the recruting mill.

Second, if they're in a customer-facing role your customers will pick up on their incongruence. They'll come across as false and insincere; customers will suspect they're "hiding something". And guess what. If a customoer thinks your staff are false, insincere and "hiding something", they'll think your company is too. But cheer up: when your company goes under, at least you won't have to hire any new staff.

Third, even if they've got the skills required by the job, if they don't have the right mindset they may not be able to get the best results they are capable of. And that's a terrible waste of talent.

So how do we avoid all this? Well, let me tell you what doesn't work: "we believe in X and Y and Z, and we expect our A-manager to do B, C and D. How does that sound?" It's an open invitation to the candidate to lie to get the job.

In the next post we'll talk about how to get out of this trap

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