What to do when you are caught up in the Selection Spiral

One of the great mysteries in Recruiting is finding a great candidate for the position and then the hiring manager rejects them based on ambiguous reasons. They were perfect, as if the resume and the job description were separated at birth. They had drive, were personable and had all the “right stuff” you thought the position required. But for some unknown reason, you can’t get the hiring manager to budge on this. He/she says “too cocky, won’t be received well by the team, might be a challenge to manage, overqualified.” All euphemisms for, ‘“This one kind of scares me. If hired, he/she could take my job.”

You have just experienced the “Selection Spiral” firsthand. It is a nice I/O Developent term for a very real danger to the competitiveness of organizations.

David Straker, principal consultant for Sygue, on the website www.Changingminds.org defines “where managers have an ego need to feel superior to their charges. If they interview someone who seems to be better than them, they feel threatened by that person and are less likely to employ them.” The ego is a very strong motivator for all of us, not just leaders. It is a human component that must be understood and appreciated if HR is to be a successful as a leadership resource.

The implications create a real snowball effect in the organization as a whole. Straker identifies this as, “The subsequent spiral of managers appointing less able people than themselves is that there is a downward spiral in the talent that the company appoints.” As hiring managers continue to chose hires that are less qualified than themselves, the talent of the entire organization decreases with each hire. This results in decreased organizational performance – as if someone pressed the pause button on constant improvement.

What can Recruiters and HR professionals in this situation? Just a few things:
1. Get some real answers with each turn-down. Use probing questions to really understand the hiring manager’s needs and why this candidate fell short.
2. Make sure managers understand that quite often talent challenges you. High-performing employees take risks and it can be tough to direct that passion in the right direction.
3. Make sure all interviewers are properly trained and identify the selection spiral tendency that we ALL have to some degree or another.
4. Become an evangelist for evidence-based selection criteria in your organization’s selection process. Define the criteria for job success, identify the desired competencies, ask criterion-related questions in the interview process and score each individual accordingly on those identified competencies. For more information, read the Uniform Guidelines for Selection Procedures on the Department of Labor’s website and white paper, The Structured Interviewing: Raising the Psychometric Properties of the Employment Interview.
5. One of the metrics I have always tracked throughout my eleven year corporate recruiting career is promotions after hire by manager. Most organizations do not track or even look at this statistic when promoting managers or during performance reviews, (surprising, I know) but it is extremely important to the talent management of an organization. Trending this information over time will give management and HR a great indicator of the efficacy of hiring potential leaders and the development of these leaders once they come on-board.

Have other best practices to share? I’d love to hear them. Have feedback? I’d consider it a gift so please leave your comments below.

Works cited:

STRAKER, DAVID, (M.Sc., P.G.C.E., Dip.M., FRSA), http://changingminds.org/disciplines/hr/selection/selection_spiral.htm

CAMPION, M. A., PURSELL, E. D. and BROWN, B. K. (1988), STRUCTURED INTERVIEWING: RAISING THE PSYCHOMETRIC PROPERTIES OF THE EMPLOYMENT INTERVIEW. Personnel Psychology, 41: 25–42. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1988.tb00630.x


Views: 140

Comment by Heidi on October 15, 2010 at 2:25pm
Thanks Nicole- this is an excellent article. It very educational and I plan to reread it over and over again. From a personal level this is one of the toughest part of the process: dealing with the HM (in particular a stubborn mananger) and then pushing back appropriately to ensure a great hire. This is an interesting dynamic especially in Corporate because you are walking a fine line.

One of the biggest questions I've always had was how do you manage the process of dealing with a tough HM without pushing the manager over the top? You have to come equipped with the right tools (negotiation skills, probing skills, ect) to work with the manager for the right outcome. This is going outside of the scope of the tactical skills of recruiting and really honing in on human relations. Good Stuff.

Warm regards,
Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 15, 2010 at 3:32pm

Great post. Hiring managers, and other members of an interview/selection team, with ambiguous reasons for not selecting very strong candidates are unfortunately part of the recruitment experience. Have you ever heard a comment such as: "This candidate is too good to be true. There must be something wrong with him." I have and it breaks a recruiter's heart when outstanding candidates are diminished for ludicrous, inane and shortsighted reasons.
Comment by Shannon Erdell on October 15, 2010 at 3:43pm
Excellent Article Nicole. Would you mind if it with my clients? (and give you credit of course!)

All the best,

Shannon Erdell
TLC Staffing
Comment by Barbara Goldman on October 16, 2010 at 11:49am
This happens often. It is almost like the execs have the self esteem of the ugly guy who can't believe Miss USA is interested in him. . I hear things like "he won't stay", or "no fit". The candidate is too pretty of a contender, and isn't C level enough for these average execs.
Comment by Nikole Tutton on October 18, 2010 at 11:07am
Thanks so much for the feedback - and yes, Shannon, feel free to use the information with clients.


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