How to hire skilled people and be wrong about it

The worst job interview I ever went through was years ago, for a trading support role in an investment bank, when I was asked advanced Perl scripting questions for about 3 hours, from 4 different people – 45 minutes each. This happened after I told the hiring manager, who I met first, that while I knew Perl well enough, I was not a Perl expert. I spent most of those 3 hours answering questions with “I don’t know how to do that”. At some point I was given a sheet of paper, a pencil and 30 minutes to write a Perl Algo!

If this was happening nowadays I would probably, and politely, walk out of the interview. Ah, I was young and I was impressionable.

Flash forward to now: New headcount was recently approved in my team – Looking at the company’s hiring process and how inefficient it was, I realized that I would have to redesign it – I re-wrote the job description and reviewed the selection process. I will save the explanation of my methodology for a later post – My point here is about the approach that most companies, and candidates, currently use.

It has always annoyed me, in my own job searches, that job descriptions are mostly a list of skills and consequently do not offer a real window into what the job will be like. Resumes too are a list of skills sprinkled with elements of the past. Where did the candidate go to school, where did they work, etc.

The approach for both the employer and the potential employee seems to be to look at skills. If they match, then the candidate is a good one and the hiring process can start. (I’m sure though – In fact I know for a fact  and from my own experience – that there are exceptions out there, meaning companies who spent time making sure they understand what hiring well means).

In average – 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months. Nearly half of the people you hire will leave the company withing the first 1.5 years! That’s a large number that support the notion that the current way of hiring is inefficient. In fact, out of those 46% failures, 11% of the time the employee leaves because of skills. 89% of the time, they leave for attitudinal reasons [link]. Think about it, think about the people around you who left their job – Did they leave because of their skills?

I believe that there is a lot of value in understanding that disconnect – What makes people successful hires? Why do they stick around? How does that translate to our hiring process? Our resume flow? Our interviewing methodology?

That bank that I was mentioning at the beginning at this post does not exist anymore – It collapsed in 2008. Certainly their interviewing technique is not what caused their demise, but surely it reflected a certain company culture. While correlation does not mean causation – Correlation still means correlation.

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