It’s not a new saying, but whenever it’s used now everyone instantly agrees, it should be a resourcing mantra, particularly in tougher times.

As recruiters we spend most of our time looking for people with a skillset, with a historical CV that ticks the boxes that clients want.

It’s changing.

Job description tick lists are no good, because you will rarely find the people who tick every box, and if you do there is no guarantee that they will succeed.

Past performance can be a very unreliable indicator of future achievement.

I was intrigued to read a blog from Katie McNab – Customers Aren’t Always Right.

Read it! Because she is UK Recruitment Manager for one of the largest FMCG brands on the planet. And she wants her team to challenge hiring managers, forget what may suit them and start looking at what the business needs.

My favourite part is:

A line manager with a team of 5-6 people might recruit once a year.  He or she will have a very short-term goal in mind.  They want someone to fill the “empty chair”. And while they don’t recruit very often, they usually still have some very firm views about what “good” looks like.


But we recruit all the time.  We live and breathe this stuff.   We know our markets, our industries and our legal obligations.  And that gives us the right and the responsibility to challenge line managers on their requirements.

How many 3rd party recruiters challenge a client? We also live and breathe this stuff, but how many of us push back and really help the client to be creative?

Very few I guess.

Are we too scared of losing the brief? Scared of missing a fee? Do we want to just fill empty chairs?

Have we lost the bottle to invest time in building credibility with the client by bringing some real INSIGHT to the process? Because that’s how long-term relationships are developed.

Ah yes, INSIGHT.

If you read my last blog you’ll know that the good people from LinkedIn said that the number one priority for a 3rd party recruiter focusing on maintaining some form of market position is Insight over Data.

I would grab this as an opportunity to forget searching for historical CVs and start looking for real talent, with real potential and real attitude.

Clients use us because we can give them an insight to the market, a window onto the world of potential talent that is available, either actively or passively.

So stop giving them what they can find themselves…and start finding people that they can’t.

Rarely a day goes by without talk of a skill shortage…and most recruiters nod compliantly and see this as an opportunity…but an opportunity for what?

If the skills aren’t there, then they aren’t there. So instead of acquiescing, and firing out dozens of headhunt calls, and placing numerous online job ads, just STOP!

Remember Katie’s hypothetical example?

Given the choice of a solid Brand Manager from a global competitor or the owner of a small start up who has managed to launch a fantastic product with limited resources, and really creative solutions…  I think the managers would instinctively lean towards one option.  And I think the business as a whole would lean in the other direction.


3rd party recruiters need to be able to offer the same approach, the same confidence…and the same INSIGHT.

Stop looking for skills and start looking for attitude…then let the best companies take care of the upskilling.

Views: 492

Comment by Paul Basile on January 17, 2011 at 10:08am
Absolutely but it doesn't have to be guesswork and shouldn't be guesswork.  There are ways to determine both for the job and the person the factors that predict performance.  Only those matter.  And they are, research shows, basically linked more to attitude than skill.  Insight comes more reliably and repeatedly from science.
Comment by Shawna Armstrong on January 17, 2011 at 10:27am
I would argue that past performance (which is not the same thing as a skill-set) is the MOST reliable indicator of future achievement.  Performance does not equal what someone is able to do.  Performance is a measurement of how well they have been able to do it.  Few candidates are going to market themselves, or come to an interview with a bad attitude and few employers are going to consider even the the most dynamic, creative, accomplished candidate without the required skill-set.
Comment by Love on January 17, 2011 at 10:38am

I've known great colleagues with terrific attitudes, but sometimes there are specific niche jobs that are hit-the-ground running, and we cannot afford to train someone into the role. Past performance is an indicator that they at least (hopefully) know the basics, and can be more of a proactive self-starter.

Comment by Michele Silagy on January 17, 2011 at 10:50am
I believe it is the rare client that will accept that type of "insight."
Comment by Paul Basile on January 17, 2011 at 10:59am
Past performance is interesting.  But research and solid evidence demonstrates that past performance is NOT the most reliable indicator of future achievement.  That's not my opinion, it's fact.  Of course, this Fact is not true every single time just like nearly all facts.  Left-hand batters hit better against right-hand pitchers in baseball: it's a statistical fact but that doesn't mean it will be true every single time.  But if you are smart you put up a left-hand batter, if you can, most of the time against right-hand pitchers.  Don't rely on past performance when you have something better: eg, competencies, attitudes, preferences.  And, even, past failures - which, suitably measured, can be a stronger predictor of performance than past success.
Comment by Kimberly Roden on January 17, 2011 at 11:11am
Excellent post, Mervyn. It's true about the infrequency a line manager may recruit and the attitude of finding a "warm body for an empty seat." The problem lies with the tunnel vision of one manager being the go to person and final decision maker. If a company's hiring process would allow for a more progressive approach like the manager's peers being a part of the interview and decision process, it would allow for more opinions and creative decision making.
Comment by Michael Stoyanoff on January 17, 2011 at 11:18am
Past Performance is also in the eye of the beholder. You could give your all into something and be proud of it, but fall short in the opinion of who you do the work for. There is just no pleasing some people, regardless of your intentions.
Comment by Shawna Armstrong on January 17, 2011 at 11:24am
Yes, past performance is in the eye of the beholder.  The beholder is the hiring manager, who wants to see a specific set of results proven by past performance.
Comment by Michael Stoyanoff on January 17, 2011 at 11:42am

Haha agreed Shawna, and touche!


I just believe that past performance cannot be the sure fire way to decide on a hire. Sometimes your fit in one job might not work out so well, but it does not mean you don't have the potential to do great in other positions.

Comment by Deepanwita Mahanti on January 17, 2011 at 11:43am
"Aptitude" is necessary and "attitude" is vital. Perhaps the measuring tool would be the past experiences , however it might not be absolutely a right yardstick to measure the efficiencies . I always feel the "right attitude" says it all.  So Mervyn, I second your opinion that "Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills" , the inherent skills, abilities & qualities adds  a different flavour to the table .  


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