How You Might Be Unwittingly Sabotaging Your Hiring

April 27, 2016 at 12:00 PM by William Clarke

Boolean_Stack.jpgIf you’ve ever planned a wedding, you know every single detail can consume your attention, no matter how small it may be in the grand scheme of things. That’s how hiring can feel. At every step of the process, there is the possibility of errors or mistakes that could prevent people from joining your organization. A typo here, a poorly worded message there. Who knows why candidates chose to drop out of the process or ignore your message? The truth is, most of the time you just won’t know, which is why sourcing is so important.

Good hiring all starts with good sourcing. Outside of referrals, it’s the single best way to find stellar candidates, but at its core, sourcing is a numbers game. You need to find enough qualified people for each role so that in two months you can make a good hire. Along the way, you’ll bump into roadblocks like intransigent hiring managers, bad interviews, and people who decline your offers.

Those things you can’t control, but some you can. Let’s talk about two of them – the false positive (hiring a qualified candidate who turned out to be a bad fit) and the false negative (not hiring someone who’s a good fit). See, everyone worries about hiring the wrong person, but we don’t spend nearly enough time worrying about the great hires we missed. Why do they matter? Because a missed hire is a near total loss. Think of all the teams that passed on players like Tom Brady or Steph Curry in the draft. They will never again have the opportunity to work with those players. So, both false negatives and false positives matter. Here’s how to solve them.

Minimizing False Positives and False Negatives 

The issue of false positives can begin at your search’s earliest juncture. With Boolean search, a false positive is when someone winds up in your results despite not actually matching your criteria. For instance, perhaps they live in Memphis but keep showing up in your search for a position in Phoenix because they used to live in Phoenix. Or a school teacher keeps showing up in your search for a data scientist because they teach statistics and data analysis. The key is to find search term combinations that minimize false positives while not causing numerous false negatives (when qualified candidates are erroneously eliminated from your results). 

False negatives are a bigger risk than many recruiters realize. Eliminating qualified people is something to avoid at all costs. You never hire the candidate you don’t know exists and, even worse, if you’re missing a lot of good candidates, you think the pool of talent is artificially more shallow than it actually is. The easiest way to remove false positives without creating numerous false negatives is by adding quotations around your terms or by adding in the NOT or minus. Quotations ensure that your results include only those including those exact word or phrase while a minus can eliminate an entire category of results (if you have a lot of similar false positives). 

Example string here: “Data Scientist” AND “SQL” AND (“Los Angeles, California” OR Washington, DC” NOT “Washington State”)

There’s no magic bullet for Boolean search strings. When you boil it down, trial and error is the best way to create the best, most precise Boolean searches. Since you’ll always run the risk of eliminating solid results by overdoing it with search terms, it’s best to have a target number of results that you can aim for with your tweaks. That’s why it’s paramount that you take your take and iterate carefully. Approaching Boolean search in a systematic way allows you to eliminate irrelevant results while retaining all possible relevant talent. Erroneously eliminating someone who could be a perfect hire is far more costly than the extra few minutes it takes to add one term at time rather than two or three. 

Know the Difference between Hireable and Unhireable 

It’s not always obvious how to differentiate between great candidates, okay candidates and bad candidates. In some cases their resumes may look surprisingly similar. Instead of hiring just for skills and experience, hire for traits and characteristics that strongly correlate to high work performance: positive attitude, willingness to learn, and other transferable soft skills.  Remember, perfect candidates don’t exist and it’s far more costly to not hire the right person than it is to hire someone who, though imperfect, can still be a valuable contributor. That’s why personality is so underrated while specific skills can be so overrated. 

Imagine this scenario: Which is the more destructive hire? Worker A is a talented snob with all the skills you need but who is hated by his colleagues and can’t take any feedback. Worker B is a hard worker with a positive attitude who despite lacking some technical skills graciously accepts feedback and is willing to learn. Worker A, despite having all of the skills you need, is unhireable because they are a terrible coworker. Worker B, despite not having all of the skills you need, is someone who brings a good attitude and willingness to learn to the table. A hiring manager may want to write them off immediately because they don’t check all the boxes, but it’s up to recruiters to know that candidates with the optimal personalities, even without all of the requisite skills, are often the most successful hires. 

One way to reduce false negatives at every stage is to have more than one person review all resumes, participate in interviews, and review any projects you may assign. That way, even if one person is lukewarm, if the other is enthusiastic, you can move them forward and avoid falsely eliminating a good candidate. 

Always Get the Lay of the Land

Good old-fashioned sourcing will never go out of style. The tools of the trade may change, but fundamentally it still comes down to finding the right people as quickly and efficiently as you can, and that all starts with research. You’ve got to know exactly who you’re looking for and what the market looks like for people with those skillsets. 

If there’s a hiring manager in place, you’ll need to chat with them about what skills and qualifications are absolutely imperative, which are optional, and if there are any deal breakers. Knowing things like that ahead of time will help you make better, more informed decisions when you’re gauging possible fits. That said, always be prepared to push back if necessary. If the person they describe will be impossible to find and hire, tell them (or maybe even show them). Then help further drill down into what skills are necessary and which are not. For your search to succeed, every stakeholder should understand the hiring landscape. If there are only a handful of experienced iOS developers in Copenhagen, they need to know that. A search with unreasonable expectations for a person who doesn’t exist will not be a successful search. Always be the realist in the room. It will make your life easier. 

Start Big and Drill Down

According to the Sourcing Institute’s Shally Steckerl, the ideal number of results for a sourcing search is between 250 or 300.  Assuming you’re successfully finding people who fit your criteria at each stage, target that number for each search. It’ll help you identify people who are qualified while also not overwhelming you with people whom you don’t have the time to vet or recruit effectively. 

Here’s how to make it work. Say you need to find enterprise sales reps based in Boulder, Colorado. To begin your search and establish some parameters, start off with a relatively basic search. Combine the terms “Sales” AND “Boulder, Colorado” to find just about every person possible who fits. Browse through the results to get a sense of what the candidates look like and then iterate from there. Perhaps “Sales” is too broad and needs “Enterprise Sales” to drill down to people who are better fits. 

That said, perhaps if your search turns up more a mixed bag of results, here’s how to clean it up. Find someone who looks like a decent fit and note what their profile looks like. Then find someone who is a terrible fit. Perhaps you need to add skill keywords, an education-based term, or isolate for years of experience. Think about what you could add to your search to remove the bad but keep the good. Add one new element at a time and track the results until you find your sweet spot. 

As always, thoughtful precision is the name of the game. While false positives in your sourcing, recruiting and hiring can cost you time and money, false negatives can cost you even more. Remember: Almost every new hire is redeemable, no matter how overmatched or under-equipped they may seem for the job at times. But hires you haven’t made are gone, likely to never ever return to the fold. Good people are hard to find, but they’re even harder to hire. Don’t eliminate more than you need to. 

Related Articles:
How To Decide Between Two Qualified Candidates
Recruiter: The Strategic Talent Partner
Harmony Is Possible! 3 Steps for Calibrating the Recruiter-Hiring Manager Relationship

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