The NFL Draft: The Perfect Hiring Process?

Disclaimer: These opinions are my own

There’s nothing like the NFL Draft, when the eyes of the nation tune in to watch an event which, at its core, consists of 255 verbal offer extensions. Kris Dunn recently wrote the NFL Draft represents a “test tube for the Talent Management game as a whole.” It’s the perfect search, really, one that’s almost unfair to employers watching the prime time spectacle unfold. Consider:

1) All candidates are all interested and available. Additionally, they must all formally register with the NFL and declare for the draft. Fortunately, no front office executive passes, saying, “How good can they be if they apply?”

2) There’s a fixed pool of incoming talent, all of whom can be easily located on what’s referred to as the “Big Board.” There are no sources of hire metrics or tracking for NFL players, so personnel offices don’t have to justify their existence by taking candidates from the “Big Board” and saying they discovered them, you know, on a social network or something.

3) The candidates arrive pre-slated, and diversity’s never an issue (unless you’re looking for a woman or a player from a non-BCS conference).

4) The search ends at a specified time and date. Period. Other than the team with the first pick, hiring decisions must be made within the matter of a few minutes. There’s no, “well, I’d like to see at least a couple more options before moving forward.

5) All offers are eventually accepted, and there’s no chance of a counteroffer or the player deciding to wait around for another few months in college because the timing’s just not right to make a move.

If only talent acquisition were really this easy. Of course, even in the “test tube” environment of the draft, there’s one critical lesson to be drawn: knowing if the hire’s going to work out is impossible.

The NFL has one of the most rigorous prescreening processes of any corporation, involving skills testing (the Scouting Combine, the Wonderlic, etc.), references (game footage, character interviews), succession planning (depth chart, roster). Each player probably receives more scrutiny in the weeks leading to the draft than most boards ever give to potential CEOs.

So why for every Tom Brady (fifth round pick) is there a Ryan Leaf (#2 overall selection)? Because quality of hire, in the NFL and in talent management, has proven nearly impossible to ascertain during the selection and hiring process, a long term metric to a short term process.

The most important skills in the draft, and in business, are the ones that aren’t on a resume, or even ones that can be easily defined. It boils down to organizational fit; historically, the most successful picks (and employees) have been those with shared values and vision. How does the NFL assess something so amorphous?

“It came down to a gut feeling that he was the right guy for us,” said Denver’s Josh McDaniels of his decision to stake his franchise’s future (and millions in guaranteed money) to Florida QB Tim Tebow, sounding like most hiring managers.

Maybe the NFL Draft isn’t that different from other hiring processes, after all. Only in this one, someone other than the recruiter gets to play the role of “Mr. Irrelevant.”

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