Tiffany Sauder: Break your hiring process to make it better

You start to pay attention to things when they break. We hired four people in as many months, and none of them lasted a year. It wasn’t them. It was us. Our hiring process was broken—and we had to rebuild it from the ground up.

Confession: I wasn’t the one who rebuilt it—and I interviewed our vice president of talent for this column. But what I know is that, if we don’t get talent right, we don’t stand a chance at winning this great game of business.

Here are our beliefs on what makes a great hiring process:

 Make it easy for talent to apply. Step one cannot be hard. The most talented people will not tolerate a complicated application process, because they don’t have to. The application process is to get people into your funnel to widen your selection set.

 The process should feel personal. Make sure the candidate feels seen and not just another body in the process. If you hire a lot of people and can’t customize the communication, let the candidate know. “Hey, this is an automated response. We know it feels cold, but we want to keep you updated as quickly as possible on where you are in the process.” Don’t pretend it’s personal if it’s not.

 Screen resumes for non-negotiable skills, interview for values alignment and key talents (things that cannot be taught; they are inherent). Teach the rest. Obsess over the perfect cultural and talent fit; don’t obsess over the perfect “they know how to do the job” fit.

 Communicate often and authentically. If someone asks for feedback or advice after the process has ended for them, give it to them.

What goes wrong when it goes wrong?

When we’re in tight talent markets, there can be insane pressure to move too quickly and “go with your gut.” When pain is high because someone has left the organization, a “warm body” can feel helpful but creates problems down the road. If you’re the hiring manager and don’t have adequate time for the process, it can be easy to get fooled by perception bias, hearing what you want to hear just to get the hire checked off your list.

It’s easy for urgency to overpower the realization that hiring is one of the most important things we do as leaders. Going fast and on your gut serves no one.

What broke in our hiring process?

It became a habit for us to hire on instinct. Honestly, this served us for a time, but as the bar continued to rise, our hiring process did not keep pace. We started making mistakes with our instinct—important aspects of what makes someone successful here were missed. They were missed because they are things that are hard to measure. Grit and critical thinking.

How did we know it was breaking?

People were failing, and that was 100% on us. We would hire people, and 90 days in, it was clear they did not have the grit or critical thinking skills to be successful; where did we go wrong?

How did we fix it?

 Take responsibility for a broken process—leave the ego at the door. We went scorched earth and started over from the beginning.

 Identify the root cause for the failure to know what to fix; don’t just assume changing the process makes it better. We identified where the failure points were and fixed those areas intentionally.

 Use a multiple hurdle approach, scoring at every step with decision points based on thresholds.

 Train everyone involved in the process every time they participate in it. A hiring manager might participate in the process only a couple of times a year. We train everyone every time they go through the process. We know they don’t do this every day, and we don’t rely on their memory. We teach interview skills. What questions to ask. How to ask them and when to shut up and let the candidate talk.

 Add a reasonable, real-time exercise that demonstrates the ability to do critical aspects of the role.

 Use assessments to provide direction for your next interview, not as knock-out tools.

So, where now?

Don’t get so stuck in your ways and keep doing what you have always done. Have the guts to throw a process out the window and make it better. Find a team to test it with you and iterate.

Don’t let hiring managers fall in love and shortcut the process because they fall in love with a candidate. That never, ever ends well.

Don’t rebuild your hiring process through a myopic lens. Do your research, understand the market and the tools, apply a data-forward approach to building your framework, and be sure to measure for success and adapt as needed.•


Sauder is CEO of Element Three, an Indianapolis-based marketing consultancy, and host of the podcast “Scared Confident.” She is also owner of Share Your Genius.

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