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How Well Do We Really Know Candidates?

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Successful business recognise their people as their number one asset

Getting the most out of our workforce is an age-old HR challenge, but how do we really know we’re hiring the right people to join our team in the first place?

Cultural Fit vs Performance

In 2000 Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, made the observation that there are four types of managers – those employees that are leading the rest of the team and instilling the resulting culture. He described the qualities and faults of each of the types and, ultimately, whether companies were best to nurture or lose them. The premise of the observation was that buying into corporate culture is more important to continued success than outright performance, even going so far as recommending that those that meet their targets but do not share cultural values should be removed from the organisation.

The Social Equilibrium

But how well do we really know who we’re hiring and whether they’ll buy into our corporate culture? While probation periods provide some security for employers and candidates alike, the time and resources required to on-board new staff would, of course, be better spent on people that are a good cultural fit. One approach that’s being more widely adopted is the so-called “drink test”, a kind of additional interview that supports the notion that a recruiter, and the team with whom the new recruit would be working, would happily go for a drink with the candidate. In some sectors and for some roles this happy social equilibrium is, indeed, important. In others, of course, it’s completely irrelevant.

The Rise of Social Media Vetting

Guaranteeing a cultural fit is undoubtedly becoming more difficult than ever. Candidates are generally better prepared, they’ve done their research, and they know what type of questions to expect and how to answer them. More often than not you’ll finish your first interview impressed, but on reflection realise you actually know very little about them as a person.

For many companies – rightly or wrongly –investigating a candidate’s background now means a scan of their social media accounts. With the meteoric rise in personal promotion platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, it has never been easier to quickly delve into someone’s past and social life. But does dressing up as a sailor on a friend’s stag night really say anything about someone’s project management skills? Probably not, but it can inevitably skew a hirer’s decision. Whilst the industry debates the morals and merits of using social media as a screening tool, perhaps we should instead consider how we can improve a more traditional approach.

Realising the Value in Reference Checks

A referral or a referee is an excellent source of information. However, recent referencing approaches seem to have lost their way, veering down the path of verification checks rather than producing insightful data. Yet the application of technology-based solutions can actually support the generation of useful and legitimate information. Alongside advances in technology used for referencing there is now also more choice in other areas such as online testing, assessment and evaluation, as well as the new wave of video interviewing platforms and organisations.

Personally, I don’t think there’s a better way of understanding a candidate’s ability than a well thought out interviewing process, appropriate to the role and business, accompanied by feedback from relevant referees; employment, personal, academic or otherwise.

Ultimately, when it comes to knowing people, people know best. So my number one tip would be, keep it simple and ask someone who already has the answers.

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