Part 1 in a Series on Hiring Outstanding Diverse Talent

The fourth edition of Hire with Your Head (Wiley, September 2021) will soon be published. As part of the unique book club we’re putting together for those who pre-order the book program, I’ll be selecting different sections of the book to highlight. The opening of the book makes the case that most hiring problems are strategic in nature, so I’ll start there.

A Catch-22, based on Joseph Heller’s book of the same title, refers to a situation where someone is trapped and wants to get out of the situation but can’t because of some inappropriate policy, law, or regulation.

Hiring is like that.

For example, too many HR and talent leaders believe that job descriptions must include laundry lists of skills, experiences, and generic competencies in order to be considered objective in the eyes of the law. Yet I asked one of the top labor attorneys in the U.S. if describing a performance objective like “determine the root cause of the manufacturing yield problem and put a plan together to solve the problem” was as objective as “must have 5+ years of experience and a degree in manufacturing engineering.” He said it was not only more objective from a compliance standpoint, but it was far better than the arbitrary list since it opened the talent pool to more diverse and nontraditional candidates who had a different mix of skills and experiences but who could do the work. (His whitepaper is included in the Appendix to the book. You can also download it here.)

Another part of this HR-induced Catch-22 is the continued use of generic competency models in combination with structured behavioral interviewing to screen and assess candidates. A structured interview is a great technique to remove bias, but it can be improved by asking candidates to describe their major accomplishments related to the actual requirements of the role. Not only would this reduce interviewer bias but it would also determine if the person can successfully handle the actual job and if he/she is motivated to do it.

Here’s why this is so important. I talked to a number of senior scientists at the firms that use these types of statistically validated tools, including psychometric prescreening tests, and they agree that their tools are far less than perfect. Making them even more imperfect is the lack of a job analysis for every job that’s using a generic competency model in combination with behavioral interviewing to assess candidates.

Few companies actually do this, yet it’s an essential requirement made abundantly clear in Schmidt and Hunter’s exhaustive research on which selection methods are most effective. Harvard Professor Todd Rose and I discussed this same missing link idea when Todd was writing his book The End of Average. The collective scientific conclusion is that without understanding the job (this is the performance profile in Performance-based Hiring terminology) and the underlying context (these are all of the fit factors in the Hiring Formula for Success), a behavioral interviewing process using generic competencies is fundamentally flawed.

Yet despite the logic, the statistics, and the scientific evidence, HR executives continue to make some Catch-22 excuses for not changing or even using some type of A versus B test to see what approach is most effective.

But there’s an even bigger and far more important Catch-22 at play when it comes to hiring. This one has to do with the importance of strategy over tactics. In part two of this series I’ll explain this with a personal and powerful story from long ago.