Remember Rob Schneider from Saturday Night Live, the annoying “Making copies!” geek? (That five-minute sketch gets on my nerves – I can’t imagine listening to a guy like that on a daily basis.) In personal relationships, those things you thought were odd or funny (in an irritating sort of way) about your mate when you first met can eventually become deal-breakers down the road. Until recently, I didn’t see a lot of distinction between personal and professional relationships.
We’ve heard people say “Hey, nothing personal, it’s just business,” meaning that I can screw you in the boardroom but afterwards we can go have few drinks, laugh it up and you won’t hold it against me that I made you look incompetent in order to cover my own backside (this pretty much sums up Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” in case you’ve never watched it). Personally, my powers of “compartmentalization” are not that advanced. I have a real problem being friends with someone I do not trust or respect. However, when making a hiring decision, should we evaluate job candidates using the same set of criteria we use to determine whether or not we want to be friends with someone? If we’re talking about trust and respect, then absolutely – without question, but my experience in the recruiting industry has shown that all too often candidates are being eliminated and, even worse, considered for positions based on the hiring manager’s insignificant, personal biases.
When I think back to the handful of employees that have been terminated at our firm over the years, what stands out in my mind are those characteristics that bothered me when we first met: the weird sense of humor, the lack of eye contact, the liberal interpretation of “business casual.” Surprisingly enough, none of those factors weighed in my decision to fire them; it simply came down to performance issues (or lack thereof). Now it could be argued that those small “personality flaws” (according to me) were the warning signs of future behavior. But I now realize that ignoring my gut instinct was not what led to the error in judgment. The bad hiring decisions were made because I chose to overlook the lack of documented experience and chose not to thoroughly investigate their track record simply because I was desperate to fill the position. On the other hand I’ve hired and worked alongside many individuals over the years that have excelled in their positions and we’ve not had to be the best of friends for them to do so.
During a recent, exhaustive search for a Business Development Manager, a client eliminated a highly qualified candidate because he had, and I quote, “an uncomfortable laugh.” What exactly is an uncomfortable laugh, I asked (I didn’t recall “endearing laugh” as being part of the original job description). “Nice guy, but I can foresee our clients being put off by the guy when he starts that laugh.” Seriously? What about the fact that he’s been in your industry, calling on the exact same prospects your company calls with a verifiable, documented record of success (with the W-2’s to back it up) for the last 8 years? “Nah, let’s keep looking.” In hindsight, this really should not have come as a surprise to me considering the fact that this particular candidate’s disqualification was preceded by candidates who were removed from consideration due to the following reasons: lack of excitability, a smoker’s cough, a presumptuous attitude, too technical, over-qualified, over zealousness and overly inquisitive. Eight candidates, each one highly qualified and experienced; eight eliminations – and not a single one based on the candidate’s background or track record of performance. Had this been a contingent search I probably would have hung it up after the “smoker’s cough” explanation, but this was a retained search and throughout the entire process the client insisted he was anxious to fill the role.
As an outside recruiting consultant, I would like to believe (or at least hope) that everyone involved in the hiring and decision-making process has the best interest of the company at heart and that they’re not allowing their own personal agendas to influence their decision. For example, if a retiring executive is involved in the process of identifying his successor my hope is that he would want to see the most qualified candidate in the job, not the one that’s going to make everyone in the company long for the days of the old regime. And while this was not the situation with the client just described, the fact remains that this particular hiring manager bypassed numerous potentially valuable employees because he placed his own personal biases ahead of the company’s objectives. I’ve talked to recruiters and hiring managers alike that say they can determine whether or not a candidate is a good fit for a particular position in the first five minutes of the face-to-face interview.
That may be true if the candidate’s resume does not indicate a documented track record of success that would lend itself to the new position. So whatever criteria the hiring manager/recruiter is using to evaluate the candidate against in those first five (apparently insightful) minutes doesn’t make a difference to begin with. The interview itself was not warranted, so why did the hiring manager/recruiter even bother conducting the interview in the first place? It’s most likely due to the fact that they are overlooking the lack of experience (possibly due to lack of available, qualified candidates) in the hopes they’ll find someone with whom they immediately establish rapport and will feel confident that the candidate’s personality and enthusiasm will make up for their lack of firsthand experience. Is it possible to find successful, long-term employees using this system of evaluation? Sure, anything is possible, but if we’re playing the percentages you stand a significantly better chance of securing a valuable, high-performing team member by focusing your attention on their history of accomplishments rather than questioning their choice of black slacks with navy blue socks.
Thad Greer is the Managing Partner and Business Development Manager for Priority Recruiting Solutions, Inc., a retained executive search firm headquartered in Hollywood, Florida (just north of Miami). Thad contributes to the Priority Recruiting Report, a bi-monthly newsletter containing topics related to the recruiting and staffing industry.