Fast Company

The One Huge Oversight Everyone Makes When Hiring

The checklist for hiring is pretty simple: write a job description, post the job, screen resumes, prepare interview questions, conduct interviews, call references, and write the offer or rejection letter. But it’s often missing one key component: check for skills.

Checking for skills used to mean personality tests or was reserved for mainly technical jobs where solving math problems or submitting code could tell you something about a candidate. Today, however, in a world where it’s easy to load up your resume with keywords to game the large job sites, checking for skills has never been more important.

Skills like the ability to write a coherent paragraph or use Excel to do basic analysis (see how I used to ferret out Excel skills) cannot be assessed by simply interviewing a candidate or even using video resumes. That’s where companies like HireArt are looking to change the game. HireArt recruits candidates for clients and then asks candidates to complete online questions and tasks that HireArt has created to highlight the skills of candidates.

The benefit of the service to employers is that working with HireArt forces the employer to think through what skills they actually need and, interestingly, challenges their assumptions about who fits the bill. I recently used HireArt’s system and found that it forced me to be much more disciplined about the hiring process, without being too time consuming. Because I had to pinpoint what skills I was looking for, I had to think more critically about exactly what I needed a candidate to do. Then I worked with HireArt to use questions and case studies they have perfected, as well as tasks of my own.

In HireArt’s online system, employers can quickly and easily review the work that candidates submit.  While an employer can access the traditional documents such as resumes and cover letters, the focus is all about the answers--seeing how a candidate completed a question or task--rather than meaningless keywords. It’s subtle, but I think it also really helps dismantle the common bias that the only good candidates come from "brand name" schools. 

Finally, this all takes place before interviews, which is incredibly helpful and frankly, saves a lot of time.

You’ve heard the old adages: be slow to hire and fast to fire--which is difficult when you’re trying to move mountains with a small team and few dollars. Or “hire for attitude, train for skill”--which is a lot easier if you’re a big multi-million dollar company.

Hiring in the early stages of a company can be a shoot from the hip go with your gut proposition.  But it doesn’t have to be. At a stage when hiring can make or break a company, checking skills has to be on the checklist. 

Find author Alicia Morga at www.aliciamorga.com or follow her @AliciaMorga

[Image: Flickr user Jeff Meyer]

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7 Comments

  • Stanley Patterson

    Your article hits the competency discovery issue straight on and my fellow commentators have helpfully danced around this central point by adding issues of "fit", "personality", and "will power." We live and work, however, in a current context that has been nearly destroyed or at least painfully trashed by an absence of solid values based character. The "hire for attitude" comes close but my years of hiring and occasionally firing has revealed that most firings happen as a result of character failure rather than competency failure. I doubt if a test can reveal the quality of a candidate's character but careful referencing and artfully designed interview questions can get us closer to giving this element of hiring equal billing with competency discovery. By so doing we may even contribute to a sustainable economy by reducing the threat of character related failures. --Stan Patterson

  • Adina Lav

    While all of these are key, I believe the most important thing we overlook is 'fit' with the organization, the group, the people they'll be spending 40-60 hours a week with. Before I hire anyone, I do my best to assess that 'fit' and it's often a gut feeling.

  • Alicia Morga

    As to the other comments.  First, this article was meant for the start-up context only.  These are small, fast moving, limited resource environments where training is often not possible.  I could have made that clearer.  Second, I know all too well from experience that it's difficult to predict on the job performance.  My point is, however, that a huge amount of candidates (even those from brand name schools) lack some very basic skills (e.g., writing a coherent paragraph) that start-ups just don't have the resources to tackle.  Services like HireArt, I have found, are able to do a much better job of screening for a base level of skills than the typical big job sites.

  • Alicia Morga

    Tyler - that's an interesting comment.  I haven't watched the movie, but the whole question of heart versus skill can sometimes miss what I believe is the better point: for what are you best suited?  In my humble opinion, you can only understand that by knowing both things about yourself - what you're skilled at and what you heart desires - and you'll be at your best where those intersect.

  • Chris Reich

    This is an interesting article and certainly a nod to consideration of going in the right direction. Still, it's difficult to predict on the job performance with 'tests' because so much work success depends upon fitting in with the people and organization.

    A candidate with lesser skills could shine in an environment where a super star would fail. I've learned this from experience as I've helped place very talented people in companies where initiative and excellent work were resented by the existing dullards causing friction which led to meltdown.

    The personality fit is as important as the talent rating.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • David Huggins

    Excellent points, Alicia, and well made. Might i suggest that you could take a further and critical step in your argument to include the 'heart' component; there's really no point in assessing the skills level of applicants without a concurrent assessment of their 'passions' and will-power. 
    Any screening exercise worth its salt should determine not only that the individual knows what to do and how to do it but also defines the desire to actually apply that knowledge. This is not as challenging as it appears particularly if you allow choices from a range of possible implementation strategies. 
    You could thus add yet another adage to your presentation - Hire for head; fire for heart. We rush to admit those who demonstrate the 'way-power' only to discover later that they lack the 'will-power'.