When it comes to creating teams equipped to handle the task of meeting your company’s strategic objectives, the challenge of landing the best talent presents enough obstacles. Yet companies have continued to create their own difficulties by failing to address many internal issues that impact hiring.
With nearly 40 years of combined experience providing workforce solutions across many industries and disciplines, we’ve witnessed many hiring successes and, unfortunately, many more failures. Within accounting and finance in particular, we’ve found there are regularly occurring issues that continue to hamper the talent acquisition process, making it less effective than it could be.
That’s why, with a potentially drawn-out hiring spree and a competitive battle for top talent on the horizon, we want to share our 10 biggest examples of where hiring managers go awry and how they can get the new employees they need.
1. USING A GENERALIST INSTEAD OF A SPECIALIST
If your hiring process is centralized, then too often the person in charge of it is a generalist, not a specialist. That means there’s a lack of understanding and engagement regarding the real requirements of the position. If someone hasn’t done the kind of work you want your new hire to do, he or she may not understand what skills are really needed.
To further complicate matters, job postings these days are created using keywords that are easy to pull out of a computerized applicant tracking system (nothing like the “human touch,” eh?). Meanwhile, candidates are inundated with articles that tell them to tailor their résumés to include those very same keywords. But when was the last time you hired a résumé?
Imagine that your company needs a financial planning analyst with experience in mergers and acquisitions. One candidate’s résumé lists “performed due diligence prior to purchase.” The computerized system that screens for candidates, however, focuses on the keywords “mergers and acquisitions” or “M&As.” Of course, it’s essentially the same thing, just phrased differently. But the generalist who receives the résumés via the computerized program has no hands-on knowledge of the requirements of the position, so a perfectly good candidate ends up on the reject pile.
A far more effective approach would be to ensure the person screening applicants is a specialist—someone who understands the position and can interpret résumés correctly. This person would immediately recognize the phrasing and know the candidate possesses the required experience.
Of course, it’s perfectly feasible to work with a partner, such as Human Resources, that screens résumés as they come in and selects the ones that are most appropriate to send along to your hiring manager. For this strategy to be successful, however, you need to be crystal clear about the precise needs for the position so the screener is able to correctly interpret candidates’ experience and help refine the search criteria.
Keep in mind there are reasons that specialists exist. If you need heart surgery, you go to a heart surgeon, not someone who “also” does heart surgery or is willing to give it a try.
2. FAILING TO PROVIDE SUFFICIENT FEEDBACK
If you partner with someone who’s going to assist you in acquiring highly skilled talent, the success of the collaboration—whether internal or external—depends on how well you communicate. Unfortunately, some managers don’t provide any feedback about why they rejected candidates other than that they were “not a fit.”
Consider this from the talent acquisition specialist’s point of view. This person has reviewed countless applicants and has selected only those who possess the technical skills and experience required for the job according to your specifications. Obviously, when an applicant is dubbed “not a fit,” everyone wants to know exactly what wasn’t a fit. If that explanation isn’t forthcoming and the situation repeats itself a number of times, the person helping you will likely put others’ needs ahead of yours. Imagine a restaurant or movie review that simply said “good” or “not good.” How likely would you be to go to that restaurant or movie? Wouldn’t you want more information before making a decision?
Some experts believe that roughly 90% of failed hires don’t work out because they didn’t mesh with the company’s culture. It’s incumbent on you to narrow down exactly what traits were and weren’t a match because that provides additional information to incorporate into the next round. By consistently being transparent about what works and what doesn’t, you can whittle down the job and company culture specifications until a clear image of the “right” candidate emerges. Second, and probably the most important benefit to you, is that by being engaged and providing feedback, you have now tailored the search to what you want and need vs. a job description. This allows someone helping you recruit to focus on candidates who meet those criteria, which will save you time and lead to a higher level of satisfaction.
It’s also very important for the candidate to receive feedback in a timely manner. Applicants spend a considerable amount of time and energy on presenting themselves in their best light, so it’s only logical that a candidate who’s rejected despite possessing the technical qualifications and required experience will want to know why he or she was passed over.
Consider the following statistics: While 94% of all candidates say they want to receive feedback about their interview, only 41% have actually gotten it. Yet, according to LinkedIn, those applicants who do receive constructive feedback are four times more likely to consider your organization again in the future. And companies that don’t routinely provide feedback often see their brand take a hit as a result.
3. LIMITING YOURSELF TO “ACTIVE” CANDIDATES
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for college-educated professionals in the United States is a mere 2.5%, which means that the number of active job seekers is extremely small compared to the much larger pool of passive candidates. Moreover, the percentage of talent who find their jobs through job postings is between 20% and 25%. These numbers indicate that job postings alone aren’t the most effective way to reach top talent. So what’s a next step? Partnering is one choice.
Yes, we are with a staffing firm, but partnering with such a company that understands the wants and needs of passive candidates can increase your talent pool and tell you more about the candidates—effectively reducing your risk because you’re now basing your decision on a sample size of the entire market, not just a sample of 20% to 25% of it. With all that you have to do in any given day, it almost certainly would be easier to add this option of outsourcing your talent acquisition to a partner who already has a network of prescreened, qualified candidates, particularly when the résumés you’ve been receiving don’t fit your job requirements.
Most recruiting firms make money on a contingency basis, which means you don’t have to pay a fee to look and see what they have to offer. Again, this will give you access to the passive candidates in the market who may be interested in your position/company but aren’t looking at ads. This strategy can allow you to dovetail your internal efforts with those of an external partner to give you a bigger picture of what the market has to offer.
4. FORGETTING TO “SELL” THE POSITION
One of the most common mistakes we see is the posting of a generic job description. By “generic,” we mean that the skills and responsibilities required for the position are simply listed without being weighted in relation to how important they are or how frequently they’re used in the job.
For example, in a posting for a financial analyst, one of the first responsibilities listed might be “development of a financial cost model.” If a candidate is taking the step from a junior to a mid-level position and has never developed cost models on his or her own, your initial response might be to take a pass. But what if this task isn’t scheduled until eight months from now and the candidate is a good fit on all other points? Wouldn’t it be logical to provide training in this one area?
The other point to keep in mind is that a motivated candidate is one who not only can do the job but who also wants to do the job. People often choose jobs not based on their duties but because a company is a good place to work, the department is a cultural fit, and the supervisor is supportive. Make no mistake—these “soft” variables are key factors in a successful long-term relationship. And since we’re no longer in a global recession, candidates have options. You probably aren’t the only employer they have in mind—so you’re better off adding some sizzle to your offer!
In short, a hiring manager has the responsibility to “sell” the job to the candidate. We recommend always asking, “What’s important to you in your next job?” as a routine part of the interview process. The answer you get will help you highlight those aspects of the position, company, and company culture that offer value to the applicant.
5. MOVING TOO SLOWLY
With the intense competition for top talent in the marketplace today, candidates are going to wait only so long before moving on to the next opportunity. In fact, LinkedIn reports that 47% of global talent say they want to receive a follow-up communication after an interview. Successful hiring managers are courteous and timely in their feedback and are truthful with the candidates so that they can manage their expectations.
Employers who wait too long or fail to follow up with candidates—even if they’re planning on asking them back for a second round of interviews—often find that some applicants have lost interest and moved on. Restarting the conversation usually doesn’t change anything because, from a candidate’s perspective, if an employer doesn’t show interest during the recruitment phase, it’s unlikely to be much different in an employment situation.
This is all about setting expectations early and ensuring that candidates understand them. If, for example, you’re expecting a drawn-out selection process, make it known up front and then find a way to keep your candidates engaged. One way to do this is by following up with an e-mail immediately after the first interview, explaining what next steps they can expect and when. By doing this, you lessen the risk of a candidate having a negative experience with your company because of the length of the hiring process.
At the same time, if you’ve found the candidate you want, don’t waste time putting other applicants through the process. Instead, concentrate on acquiring that top person before he or she accepts another offer.
6. NOT COMMITTING TO THE SEARCH
It isn’t unusual for a hiring manager tasked with conducting the interview process to feel overburdened given all the other work he or she must handle. This causes some managers to draw out the process, interviewing one candidate a week over a number of weeks. And there are a number of distinct drawbacks: It’s difficult to objectively and correctly compare candidates, candidates can lose interest and go elsewhere, and if you’re working with any recruiters, they will get the impression that this isn’t a priority for you. If they suspect that’s the case, they’re more likely to focus on other clients who have committed to the process.
Instead, set aside enough time to do a thorough search with clearly delineated start and end dates. Consider blocking a set amount of time each day for a one- or two-week period to ensure you have room on your calendar when it’s time to start the interviews. If you’re working with a staffing agency, you need to communicate a sense of urgency to them in order to receive timely responses. In addition, conducting back-to-back interviews not only helps limit the time span, but it also gives you a solid impression of all of the candidates at once and allows you to compare them more accurately.
7. SKIPPING REFERENCE CHECKS
An interview reveals whether a candidate can do a job. A reference reveals how that applicant will do the job. In recent years, though, the value of reference checks has become hotly debated because if a former employer says something about the candidate that becomes a cause not to hire him or her, the company can be sued. So more and more, reference checks are becoming little more than employment verifications.
This is unfortunate because reference checks are critical hiring tools. During the interview process, it’s extremely difficult to judge a candidate’s personality fit or whether the candidate will mesh with the culture of the organization. After all, most applicants will present themselves in the way they think best matches the position. (We live in an online world, so don’t fool yourself into thinking they haven’t Googled you, too.) That means there’s a discrepancy between the interview persona and the work persona. And the only person who can truly give insights into a candidate’s work persona is a former employer or colleague.
With many companies establishing no-reference policies, how can you conduct a solid reference check?
Most companies ask applicants to list between three and five references. Contact these individuals, and ask them for their personal opinions, stating that it’s understood they aren’t representing their employers. Once that’s established, you can ask what you need to know. For example, “What challenges did the candidate overcome?” and “In which areas did he or she excel?”
Look at it this way: If you were to remodel your kitchen, would you go to the Yellow Pages, pick the first company listed (AAAble Remodeling & Sons), and hire it for the job? Probably not. It’s more likely that you’d reach out to a few companies and check with customers they’ve done work for in the past. Getting answers to your questions will give you much better insights into your candidates’ personalities as well as how well they’ll fit into your company culture. (For some examples of bad fits—and the consequences to the employer—see “Recruiting Horror Stories.”)
8. IGNORING THE PIPELINE
One of the best talent management strategies any company can use is to maintain a steady pipeline of talent. Think about it: If you don’t approach people on an exploratory basis, you have to start from scratch when it’s time to hire a new employee. That isn’t only time-consuming, but it’s risky, too.
The alternative is to establish and nurture relationships with talent who might be interested in a position with your company sometime in the future. There are a number of ways to do this, such as through online talent communities, internal referral programs, professional associations, and partnering with educational institutions.
The value of nurturing these relationships is twofold:
Hiring times will be considerably reduced. Since you already have a pool of talent with whom you maintain regular contact, all you need to do is select the candidates with the right qualifications and approach them.
Risk of a failed hire becomes significantly lower. Compared to other applicants with whom you have no relationship, you’ll know more about the “prescreened” candidates, who will in turn already have more information about the company. That means that both parties are in a better position to judge whether it will be a good match.
9. ASKING TOO MANY LEADING QUESTIONS
Asking leading questions is a symptom of a poor interview technique. For example, “I see from your résumé you have several years of intercompany consolidations experience. I’m sure this is second nature to you by now, correct?” as opposed to “Tell me about your experience with intercompany reconciliations.” Unfortunately, when a candidate simply nods in agreement or utters something like “that’s sounds great,” the hiring manager often gets the impression that the candidate is “average” instead of “outstanding.” Or the manager walks away with a favorable impression that’s really driven by how likable he or she perceives the person to be. (“Look, they’re just like me—they agreed with everything I said!”) The candidate, on the other hand, isn’t given the opportunity to really shine, which leads to frustration with the interview process.
A more effective way to approach an interview is to determine in advance which questions you absolutely need to ask in order to get a solid impression of the candidates. Spend some time composing a list of open-ended questions that invite full answers, and provide candidates with the opportunity to fully express themselves. This will give you a better “feel” for the person and lessen the risk of a failed hire.
10. NOT TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF
Finally, in order to make a good hire, you need to be able to evaluate candidates without feeling under pressure to fill the position right now. Rushing is a recipe for disaster because you might hire someone who isn’t a good fit simply to fill the position and unburden your other employees. Unfortunately, this can cost both time and money.
A better solution is to employ a temporary worker or a project worker to fill the position until you find a permanent solution. (Remember, a bad hire is more expensive than a good temp.) With time now on your side, carefully weigh your options, from online talent communities like LinkedIn to brick-and-mortar staffing partners, and determine the most effective way to keep your team working well both on an immediate and a long-term basis.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICES
Transparency is the key to examining your hiring processes and seeing where you can make adjustments that will result in professional successes. By keeping the aforementioned best practices in mind, working with trustworthy and experienced staffing partners, and carefully examining all pertinent facts and facets before making a decision, your organization can greatly enhance the effectiveness of its talent supply chain management while reducing costs. This in turn will allow you to make the necessary changes without your current employees losing their core focus: running the company competitively.
SIDEBAR: RECRUITING HORROR STORIES
As the 10 steps in the accompanying article make clear, you need to be proactive and diligent in your recruiting and hiring processes in order to avoid a poor fit—or, worse, a disaster that costs your company excessive time and money. Here are a few memorable cautionary tales from our many years in the talent industry.
1. An international staffing firm was looking to hire a salesperson. It met with a candidate who was eager to learn about sales but had been passed over twice for such a position at his previous company. During the reference check, the person’s old boss (who worked for a competitor) told the hiring manager that the candidate would make a “great” salesperson. The hiring manager, hearing what he wanted to hear, didn’t check any further references and made the hire. Eight months later the new salesperson was fired because of poor performance. Even though he knew the industry and had experience as a recruiter, when the situation was critical or the pressure was on, he wasn’t a good salesperson.
LESSON: Ask the right questions before deciding to hire someone. In this case, the hiring manager should have asked the candidate’s old boss: “Why would this person be a good fit for a sales role within our industry when he was passed up twice in this role with your company?” Yet even without asking this question, there were enough signs that this candidate wasn’t a good fit and shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.
2. A cruise line wanted to hire a financial analyst for its fast-paced, deadline-driven pricing department. The position was open for months because management had a hard time finding someone that they felt fit into the company’s culture. Finally, they found someone that everyone liked, who had the skill set necessary for the position, and who had worked for a competitor in a similar role with the same kind of culture. It was only during the reference check that the hiring manager discovered that, while the candidate had all the skills necessary to do the job, her productivity actually declined drastically when she was forced to work under tight deadlines.
LESSON: Don’t be fooled by first appearances. Even though the candidate looked good on paper and interviewed extremely well, the company was forced to pass because it knew it would be setting the candidate up to fail if they did hire her.
3. A large telecom company had a policy that all hiring went through Human Resources, including all initial screens and contact with external recruiting partners. In its search for a financial analyst with M&A experience, HR passed on someone with many years in this area who had listed “performed due diligence prior to purchase” on his résumé. That description didn’t match the keywords the HR recruiter had established in screening for the position. By the time the hiring manager in finance had discovered this and convinced HR to reach out to the candidate, the person had already accepted an offer from another company.
LESSON: Make sure someone who knows accounting and finance is helping screen candidates. In this case, the HR recruiter focused only on keywords (mergers and acquisitions, M&A, etc.) and wasn’t an expert at accounting and finance. This allowed a very qualified candidate to slip through the cracks.