Tag Archives: hiring talent

How To Sort Resumes

“Think about it this way,” Jean explained. “In an ideal world, with 400 resumes, we would conduct 400 interviews, but that’s just not practical.”

I nodded in agreement.

“So, we have to have some way, by looking at the resumes, to determine which of those would most likely yield the kind of candidate that ultimately brings something to the open role.”

“And, now,” I jumped in. “You look for something about the resume that would disqualify the candidate instead of something about the candidate that is actually interesting, related to the role? You are sorting OUT, not IN?”

“Exactly,” Jean replied. “The purpose for disqualifying resumes is only to reduce the workload of slogging through candidates. It does reduce the workload, but doesn’t necessarily leave us with a high quality candidate pool.”

“So, you think there is a better way of sorting resumes that creates a better pool?”

“Yes,” Jean replied. “Let’s say we want to reduce the resume pool from 400 down to 50. I could work to find 350 reasons why we would reject a resume, or I could work to find 50 reasons why I want to take a resume to the next step.”

“So, what criteria would you use to find those 50 reasons,” I pressed.

“For that, I have to go back to the role description. Remember, it’s all about the work.”

I Don’t Know What That Means

“So, what is the goal?” I asked. “What is the expected output?”

Marianna smiled, looked down at the paper in front of her. “Strategically improve current workflow resulting in improved success on projects in support of long-term company goals.”

I nodded. “Sounds great. But, I don’t know what that means.”

Marianna looked puzzled. “Well, that is what I expect from the manager in this role,” she replied.

“I know that’s what you expect, but I am still confused.” I stopped. “It is noble to improve workflow, but I don’t know what you expect to see. How are you going to evaluate effectiveness? What do you expect this person to do?”

“Well, we have work-cells that pass work along the line. Sometimes there are delays where things stack up. Sometimes, there are quality problems that are discovered at the end of the line, where we have to scrap a whole day’s production because of a small adjustment up the line. Sometimes, we run out of raw materials, so production stops. Sometimes, our work flow gets interrupted by a priority order that gets inserted at the last minute.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You want the person in this role to chart out the workflow, identify problems related to workflow delays, interim quality inspections, raw material min-max levels and expedited orders. The accountability (work output) will be a one-page work flow chart showing work-cell to work-cell production hand-offs, identifying where delays occur, when interim quality inspections are performed, quantities of raw material inventory related to production, and contingency processes for expedited work orders.”

Marianna nodded her head in agreement.

“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I smiled.

Rejected for a Spelling Error

“We had 400 resumes in response to our job posting,” Jean complained, “but when I look at those that made the cut, I am disappointed.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I looked at the reject stack. Here was one that was rejected for a spelling error, but the candidate had completed a special certificate program at a school in upstate Vermont. I know about that program. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“Rejected for a spelling error?”

“And here was one, rejected because of a three month gap in employment. But the candidate spent six months with a special ed program in a village in Africa. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“And?” I prompted.

“This candidate graduated from an unremarkable college, fresh out of school, with no work experience in our field, but managed to hold down a full-time job, a part-time job and take a full-course load in college. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“So, what passed the stage-gate?” I wanted to know.

“Here’s one. Perfect spelling, no gaps in job history, a reputable academic history, ten years experience in a retail perfume department. Only one small problem. We don’t sell perfume. How did that resume make it to the IN stack?”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“I think we are going about this all wrong. We look at resumes and find some flaw to disqualify the candidate. We look at resumes and sort OUT. I think we need to reverse the process. We need to determine the critical role requirements and then sort IN for those qualities.”

I Don’t Care What the Candidate Knows

“I don’t understand,” Rachel quizzed. “When I interviewed this candidate for the position, he knew all the technical angles of the job. Now that I hired him, it’s like he is clueless.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“It’s the difference between talking a good game and actually playing the game,” she observed. “But when he talked about the job, he sounded like he had been doing this for years.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“Just knowing the job isn’t enough. You actually have to have done the job.”

“And your conclusion?” I nodded.

“Technical skill comes in two parts. One part is the technical knowledge. That is what I asked questions about. The other part of skill is practice. Execution takes practice. I didn’t ask interview questions about the practice part. How did the candidate practice the skill part? Frequency of practice? Depth of practice? Accuracy of practice? At the end of the day, I don’t care what the candidate knows, I care what the candidate can do.”

Everyone Liked the Candidate

“It happened again,” Ted explained. “I told myself that the next time we needed to hire someone, I would be prepared for the interview.”

“And?” I asked.

“Scott came down the hallway. He said the candidate in the conference room had talked to four other people and everyone liked him. Heck, I didn’t even know we had interviews scheduled.

“He asked if I had fifteen minutes to talk to the candidate, just to see if I liked him, too.

“Funny, I liked him, too.”

“So, what’s the problem?” I pursued.

“Everyone liked him, but here we are, two months down the road and I find out he doesn’t have any experience in one of the most critical parts of the job. He just told me point blank that he has never done this before. Worst part, he tells me he doesn’t even see that as part of his job. If we need that done, he suggests we hire an expert or a consultant to help out.

“Just what I need, to hire another consultant because someone on the inside can’t do their job.”

The Head vs The Work

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just finished reading Hiring Talent – thank you for writing such an outstanding book! As an executive recruiter having recently discovered Requisite Organization, your application of Jaques’ work has been by far the most helpful I have found. Nevertheless, I noted with interest no mention in your book of his Mental Processing (declarative, cumulative, serial and parallel) in determining level of work, so reaching out to find out your view on this in assessing leadership potential.

You have indeed paid attention. Elliott was keenly aware of tools (training, experience, insight) that he would use vs those tools he would train others to use. Near the end of his life, he was quite sensitive to the training of industrial psychologists and HR professionals in the use of language analysis to determine potential capability according to the four levels of mental processing. His reservations were related to the potential for abuse, misdiagnosis and personal damage that could be the result of such efforts. Understand, that this perspective (RO) is very powerful and, misused, can be devastating to an individual.

This does not minimize the value of our understanding of mental processing, but will have an impact on the tools we might use.

In my presentations and workshops, I make a distinction between two diagnostic approaches –

  1. The head
  2. The work

Elliott was a psychotherapist and perfectly comfortable in the head. But he was also aware of the pitfalls in that approach, specifically for managers and supervisors.

I stay out of the head. In my conversations with Elliott’s widow, Kathryn Cason, I came to the conclusion that we serve ourselves well if we would only focus on the work. Elliott himself, admitted that the field of psychology, with its IQ tests and personality profiles, has no clear definition for the behavior called work. That is why most psychometric assessments (Meyers-Briggs, Profiles XT, Predictive Index, DISC) are inconsistent as a selection tool. They are statistically valid and repeatable instruments, but success related to work can be elusive.

The second approach, focus on the work, turns out to be a natural application of RO for hiring managers and managers-once-removed. Calibrating mental processing in the work yields more practical results than attempting to divine an individual’s potential capability. I coach my students not to play amateur psychologist, but play to their strengths as managers. They are experts in the work.

Hiring Talent provides the prescription, using the behavioral interview, to parse through the work. The four levels of mental processing are there, but embedded in descriptions of work. My definition of work is solving problems and making decisions. Most managers can describe, in detail, the level of problem-solving and level of decision-making required in a role. And that is the focus of Hiring Talent. If we have accurately described the problem-solving and decision-making in a role, then the evaluation becomes simple. Does the candidate have experience and is the candidate competent solving those problems and making those decisions?

This approach is powerful because of its underlying science combined with the power of the behavioral interview. It is accessible to any hiring manager without exposure to RO. Even more powerful for managers familiar with RO.

I have always maintained that an executive recruiter who uses the methodology outlined in Hiring Talent will be head and shoulders above its competition in qualifying candidates for its client base.

Don’t Need a Personnel Plan

“I don’t need a personnel plan for next year,” Sean pushed back. “I have four managers who report to me, all are doing a good job, don’t see any need to replace any of them.”

“You need a personnel plan because life happens.” I said. “What if your top performer gets picked off by another company? Who do you have in reserve? Who is ready to step up? Who has the potential to fill that position?”

“I don’t know. But all my guys are pretty solid. I think they are all happy here. I don’t think they would leave even if they were offered more money,” Sean denied.

“They don’t have to leave. They might get promoted inside the company. Either way, you’d still need another manager on your team. What kind of depth do you have on any of those teams a level below? Is there anyone in the wings with the potential to move up?”

“I don’t know. I work directly with the managers on my team. I only hear about the problem people on their teams.”

“So, if one of the guys on your team gets tapped to lead a new project in another division, what would you do?”

“Guess, I would have to start from scratch,” Sean shrugged.

“So, what could you do now, to prevent having to start from scratch?”

How Many Interview Questions Should You Create?

“I don’t understand,” Ben defended. “For the entire time that I have been responsible for hiring people, I have always used the resume to ask my questions.”

“That’s because you didn’t have any other questions to ask,” I replied. “Here is the biggest problem in most interviews. Without an extensive bank of prepared questions, the judgment about the candidate defaults to how good the resume looks, first impressions and gut reactions.”

“Okay, okay. How many questions are we talking about?” Ben relented.

“You divided the tasks into different Key Result Areas (KRAs). How many KRAs do you have?”

“Let’s say six,” Ben bit his lip.

“Ten questions for each KRA, six KRAs, that means sixty written prepared questions.”

“Sixty questions, are you out of your mind. Who has that kind of time?” Ben said, pushing back.

“You can spend the time, creating questions on the front end, or you can spend the time managing behavior on the back end. The choice is up to you.”

You’re Holding the Wrong Piece of Paper

“I don’t understand,” Ben quizzed. “In the interview, I generally use the candidate’s resume to construct my questions. Aren’t I trying to find out more about them and their experience?”

“I am only interested in a candidate’s experience as it relates to the critical role requirements,” I replied. “Imagine you are sitting in an interview, candidate across the table, you have a pen in your hand to take notes. What piece of paper do you have in your hand?”

“Well, the resume, of course,” Ben looked confused.

“That’s exactly the piece of paper the candidate wants you to look at. It was handcrafted on expensive stationery, contains the voice of experience and authority, expertly written. Put it down. The resume does not answer this question. Does the candidate have the capability, skills, interest and behaviors to do the work in the role? Your job, as the interviewer is to make that decision. There is a lot of data you need to collect and it’s not going to come off of the resume.”

That Would Be Me

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“But, it’s an open role on Derrick’s team. I am not trying to argue, just trying to understand why, as Derrick’s manager, I am accountable for quarterbacking this recruiting process?” Roy continued to push back.

____________S-III – Manager (Roy)
________S-II – Supervisor (Derrick)
____S-I – Technician Team (Open role)

“Derrick is about to make a decision,” I explained. “As hiring manager, he has to have minimum veto authority over who gets on his team. This decision he is about to make could be a great decision or a poor decision. Whichever way he decides, who do I hold accountable for the quality of his decision?”

“Well, it is his decision. He must be accountable,” Roy continued to squirm.

“No. I assume Derrick is doing his very best and it is his manager I hold accountable for his output. Who is his manager?”

“That would be me,” Roy grimaced.