How many times I´ve heard this phrase from hiring managers during debrief meetings at the end of interviewing a candidate for an open job. It´s a relief when you hear it. We finally found the person to fill the open position and, hopefully, get the job done. Hallelujah!
However, getting the job done it’s only one – and a very basic – aspect of what a company should look for in a candidate, especially if the position we are trying to fill is at a management level, or is a critical position for the company, or it´s a position that should help the holder to grow and develop in the organizational career path.
A few years ago only, we were suffering to find the way to predict whether a person had the potential to grow and develop a long term career in the organization. We tried different ways: leadership skills, past performance, among others. We finally arrived to a concept that extensive research tries to demonstrate it´s the best predictor of future performance in new or unusual situations: learning agility. The methods to assess learning agility have evolved. These range from multirater assessments based on different factors or “agilities” to self-assessment tests that result in a rating or number or in a more comprehensive explanation of the potential and the gaps. In any case, I can sympathize with the researchers in the affirmation that only a learning agile person will have more probability of success in new and unusual situations than a person whose ability to learn fast and broadly is limited. It sounds like a no brainer. However, after many years of using these assessments I still doubt that a single test can tell us a complete story about the ability of a person to learn, to cope with change, to deliver results against the odds, to embrace diversity and focus on people, and to be self-aware about their own strengths and weaknesses. Nothing, I believe, replaces observation, so that we can assess an individual´s learning agility though the collection of experiences, interactions and results.
So the question is: how do we assess ‘ agility to learn if we never had the chance to observe their work, their interactions, their self-awareness, their results? Do we have to settle and accept that we will only be able to assess their suitability for the job that is open, and even then take the risk that at the first time they have to face with an unusual situation they will fail? This is undoubtedly the biggest flaw of recruitment. Most hiring managers are not willing to invest time and money in long recruitment processes that could provide more and better chances to collect the observations needed to predict future performance. They want to fill the job. In the end, most hiring managers hire for themselves, not for the company, and because of this they just want to have a person who gets the job – the one open now – done and move on.
When I joined the workforce, over 20 years ago, I started as an intern. It wasn’t just a summer job, it was a 6-month full-time job that got me to know every aspect of the function, every manager and many, many basics of how a professional life looks like. Conversely, my managers had the chance to see me in action, to observe and appraise my skills, to look how I handled pressure, how I juggled multiple priorities and how I interacted with others in the company. They could do that because they had me there, working full time, in a real job, for 6 months. When they decided to hire me as a permanent employee, they made that decision with enough information, with concrete measures about my performance and with a comprehensive view of my behaviors and skills. We don´t have that luxury anymore. Many companies don´t want to invest in longer term recruitment process like an internship. These companies consider an intern a hassle, a favor to the educational system and a waste of their time and money. I challenge these companies to show the results per hire, say in the first two years, versus those companies with structured internship programs used as a source of new employees. I´m too lazy to do the research just for this post, but I’m pretty sure the latter will show a much better picture than the former, and this would extend to engagement and loyalty. I´m also sure, but I will give others the opportunity to proof me wrong, that the ROI of hiring new employees through internships or having them as contractors for a limited period is surprisingly favorable compared to the total cost of hire and rehire of new employees coming out of a traditional meet-me-and-know-me recruitment process.
Can we apply a longer term recruitment process to a open position at a executive level? Maybe not. But we could include steps in which the candidate has the chance to display his or her abilities in a more realistic setup. For example, a candidate for a management position in my company meets with an average of 6 interviewers during the process. What if after the sixth interview is over, we invite this candidate to participate in a meeting with the six interviewers to discuss a critical business topic. Leave outside the room the interviewer mode, just get in the room with your other five colleagues and the candidate and have a conversation about a topic that could be in the realm of the candidate’s knowledge or interest and see what happens. Or, if this is still too stiff or formal, invite the candidate to a dinner with the six interviewers, no agenda, no structure, just let it be and see what happens. Maybe the more casual setting helps uncover the real “me” of the candidate. In the end, these are critical jobs to fill, and you may want to fill them with people that you will eventually consider critical players in your team. Don’t waste the opportunity to know them more and better. Remember, you are not just hiring someone to get the job done, because when it´s done you´ll have a new and bigger problem.