The seven deadly signs of a broken recruitment process (and how to mend it)

I’ve observed recently a series of hiring processes in firms from mature to entrepreneurial where each was an object lesson in how not to conduct an interview process and which profoundly affected their ability to win the best candidates.

So, based on these experiences, here are the seven deadly signs of a broken recruitment process and some thoughts on mending it should these situations ever emerge in your organisation:

The seven deadly signs

  • Glacier speed

Ironically, what these disparate firms had in common is that despite claiming they had significant gaps in their capabilities and needed to hire fast – whatever the level of person sought – the speed of the hiring process was glacial.

This was routinely accompanied by a lack of clarity shown to the candidate as to how many interviews and exercises would be needed to have been gone through before a decision could be made.

  • Ghosts appearing

Serving as a further warning to any firm wishing to hire the cream of the crop, this sloth and confusion was typically accompanied by the appearance of anyone who could be remotely involved in the potential hire’s work environment at some random point in the process. People turning up disinterested, clearly not briefed, asking the same unfocussed questions, often giving the impression they are just ‘meat in the room’.

  • Stop start stop hide

And, along with this significant opportunity cost for the employer, then there was commonly stop-start hiring. This is where a company is all over the candidates like a cheap suit for weeks, demanding endless meetings. It then disappears at the point a job offer should be being made only to reappear asking for yet another meeting, followed by yet more silence usually as the delay causes a turf war to erupt between HR and finance. The job then vaporises, only to remain posted on the corporate website ready to dash the hopes of more applicants.

  • Repeat offending

The familiar ‘could you just come in one more time there is someone else we’d like you to meet’ request usually delivered at short notice is highly frustrating for the interviewee They run out rapidly of fictitious dental appointments, imaginary plumbing malfunctions or the sudden need to ‘work from home’ to cover their increased absences from their current place of employment.

Often this inability on a poor potential employer’s part to set expectations is accompanied, from the candidate’s viewpoint, by an apparent lack of accountability on who owns the process – recruiter, HR or future line manager. Delay at all stages in process in receiving information about the progress of the process routinely involves the passing of the buck to someone else that the candidate may have never met and may never meet again (see Ghosts appearing).

The endless meetings too can also particularly put off the best candidates who are likely to be busy in their current job because they are the top performers. Meanwhile, bereft of information, candidates who stick with the process are left unfairly to wrestle with the challenge of covertly chasing the opportunity concerned whilst not wanting to look desperate or annoying.

  • A*** covering

It should be apparent to any professional outfit that the fact is, in these situations, the law of diminishing returns very rapidly sets in and real reputational damage may result from such behaviour. Ineptitude aside, much of this lamentable approach is primary driven by CYA. CYA, if you hadn’t guessed, stands for Cover Your A*** (or A** if you are reading this in North America).

In short, even if it’s disguised as facilitating ‘teamwork’ or ‘involvement’, the real purpose of this sort of behaviour in firms who just don’t get it is to ensure, that, if the hire doesn’t work out, and a blamestorm erupts, everyone can point at each other safe in the knowledge that they all – explicitly or implicitly – agreed to the on-boarding decision.

  • Weasel wording

It also pretty much the case that, along with CYA-style recruitment, ultimately comes lack of clear feedback to the unsuccessful candidate as to why they were not selected for the role. This is because the more people – many of whom will be untrained as to how to interview – see the candidate the more objective feedback is diluted and the more ‘feelings’ come into play.

‘It was a really hard decision, but we just felt one of the candidates was a better fit’, is a typical weaselly comment in this situation once the candidate, or their external recruiter, has chased repeatedly for a response. It’s not useful feedback and just leaves a long-lasting bad taste in the candidate’s mouth and de-motivates the recruiter to boot.

  • Feedback vacuums

Worse, the candidate gets no feedback at all or receives comments sounding like they are from no one who was in any of the interview rooms. This results as a consequence of the company not caring to get organised to do the decent thing or because it’s so difficult to assemble a coherent response from a disaggregated team they have to make it up.

It’s also indicative of the interview process being a time-wasting smokescreen to cover a corporate requirement for external candidate interviews when an internal candidate was lined up for the post all along but had to be proved to be the ‘best person for the job.’ Again, that benefits no one and serves only to annoy and damage corporate and team reputation.

Whatever the reasons for their occurrence, these approaches add little if no value to the process. In fact, they have the effect of giving the potential hire the distinct impression of a culture not in control of itself or that of uncaring or incompetent potential colleagues.

To get over this, my recruitment rules for firms or teams that want to stand the highest chance of winning the best candidates are these:

Three meetings, three weeks

There should actually be a job available with a clear job description and list of the SMART competencies, potential experience and attitudinal attributes required to be successful in the role so what is being interviewed for is unequivocal. There should never, ever, be more than three meetings in no more than three weeks and this should be stated to the candidates from the start.

Forward or reverse?

For more junior candidates, the first encounter should be with HR or a recruiter for initial screening. The second should be with the person’s potential manager. The third should be not be a formal interview but should be a ‘fit’ session with the team with whom they will be working and where anyone junior or senior can issue a veto on the hire.

For the most senior appointments the order should be partially reversed after initial screening, starting with the Chair or CEO – if it a board level appointment – to establish suitability before meeting other board members and non-execs to establish team fit and with HR picking up the ‘hygiene factor’s at the end. That’s it. Rejection can happen at any of the three stages. If not, the process ends with a job offer.

Due diligence

In both of the above situations companies should also be prepared do what many employers fail to do, particularly those with a disorganised recruitment process – due diligence.

It doesn’t have to be a Kroll-style investigation. Simply tactfully asking around and a few web and social media searches can tell you a lot about what lies between the lines of the CV or behind the polished interview skills and allows interviewers to home-in on some realities that might be deal-breakers.

Full feedback

It all cases, should the candidate not be successful, full, frank and constructive feedback against the job specification, competency and attitude requirements must be given as each candidate should still wish they had been offered the job and will be prepared to tell others so. They may also be motivated to apply for another position at a later date if the fit wasn’t right first time.

And if it’s gone wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Probationary periods should be just that. To ensure an individual doesn’t accidently’ exit probation, the person hired should be subject to more regular reviews during that period than post probation. If someone isn’t working out, invoke the terms of the agreement, parting ways before acrimony sets in and start the three-stage hiring process again.

Lamentably, the companies that don’t have the courage of their convictions in the first place are often the same ones that don’t have the spine to rectify their mistakes later, so letting the bad apple rot the corporate barrel. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for driving the best people out of the company, stifling innovation and ensuring the inevitable corporate decline that follows.

Written by FDIN advisory panel Partner, Jonathan Simnett of Big Stick

FDIN Jobs is the career development portal for The Food & Drink Innovation Network - the UK's community for successful innovation professionals.

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