Hire Outsiders the Way You Promote Insiders

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s pretty hard to figure out if you’ve found it. 

When it comes to hiring people, knowing what you’re looking for needs to be determined long before you start looking, but the clues are found in every performance review. For example, at the time of a new hire’s first performance review, most managers would give high marks to someone who did the following: 

  • Exceeded expectations
  • Worked well with the team and hiring manager
  • Fit with the culture, value and mission
  • Was highly motivated to do the work required and did it well
  • Dealt with change
  • Took responsibility for meeting his/her objectives and always met them
  • Didn’t make excuses despite the challenges, roadblocks and time pressures

Most managers would tell you most of their new hires don’t meet this standard.  

I contend successfully meeting these objectives or falling short are all predictable before hiring the person. It starts by defining what it takes to be successful doing the actual work required in the actual circumstances.

By defining the expectations, the culture, the team, the manager’s leadership style and the circumstances of the job before you hire someone, predicting on-the-job success is straightforward.  You just need to measure the candidate’s past performance (not behavior) on the seven factors shown in the Performance-based Hiring Job Fit Index graphic. 

This process is no different than the one used for promoting people internally into bigger jobs. With minor modifications the same process can be used for external hires.

The Performance-based Hiring Job Fit Index

The first five factors represent what it takes for a person to be considered performance qualified to do the work. It means the person has demonstrated the ability to meet or exceed the performance requirements of the job. When the same criteria is used for external hires, it opens up the candidate pool to all of those with a different mix of the skills and experiences than listed on the traditional job description.

Possesses the Basic Skill Set. Of course, some skills are required but it’s best to keep these to the bare essentials for initial screening purposes. This maximizes the number of top people being considered. For increasing assessment accuracy it’s more important to understand what a person has accomplished with his or her skills and how quickly he/she learns new ones, not the amount of the skills possessed. 

Has a Track Record of Comparable Results. This is the most important factor. For each of the top 5-6 performance objectives of the job have the candidate describe something comparable. Spend at least 15 minutes on each one to understand the person’s role, the culture, team, manager and actual results achieved. 

Has an Upward Trend of Growth. By plotting the person’s accomplishments over time, you’ll be able to observe an underlying growth path. Successfully handling bigger projects with bigger teams is an important predictor of success.

Possesses the Achiever Pattern. The top people in any field get recognized for doing superior work. Sometimes this is a promotion, special bonus or award or being assigned to a bigger project addressing more important work.

Fits with the Manager, Team and Company Culture.  When digging into the person’s accomplishments find out the role the manager played in the person’s success. The strongest people can deal with a variety of different manager styles. Focus on the pace of the organization, the depth of resources and how decisions are made to get an assessment of cultural fit, since these are the primary determinants.

Even if all of these factors are strongly positive, it’s not enough to predict quality of hire for an external person. These two critical candidate-facing conditions must also be true.

Job Fit: The Person Finds the Work Intrinsically Motivating. If the person isn’t highly motivated to do the actual work required, the person will underperform. During the most significant accomplishment question find multiple instances when the person went the extra mile or proactively took the initiative to accomplish a task. These represents the work the person finds intrinsically motivating. Map these to actual job needs to determine if the person will be self-motivated to do the work necessary. These must align. Do not confuse motivation to get a job with motivation to do the job. 

The Position Represents a True Career Move. A career move needs to offer a minimum 30% non-monetary increase. This is the sum of job stretch (a bigger job), job growth (more learning opportunities and upside growth) and a richer mix of more satisfying work. Regardless of what you pay, without this the candidate will become disengaged very quickly.

Since we promote people we know based on these factors and the predictability of their performance is high, it makes sense we should use the same process for hiring people we don't know. However, for people we don't know it takes extra time for the company and candidate alike to assess these factors. As important, you need consensus on all seven factors to make an accurate hiring decision. If they’re all true you will hire a great person. And a year from now when the candidate gets his or her first performance review you’ll agree the person is a top performer.

By Lou Adler