A hiring manager posts an opening, describes the ideal candidate, and resumes come flooding in. After doing some interviews, the manager has to decide who the best person is for the job. Research shows that more often than not, managers pick someone whose qualifications most closely match the exact criteria for the job or whose background is similar to theirs. Using this process, frequently poor hires are made, and competent and qualified people don't get the job - or sometimes even an interview - because they do not fit the preconceived notion of the right fit. This reality presents a great opportunity for companies to reconsider and potentially improve how they view, screen, interview and engage with talent.
“People with responsibility for hiring have a tendency to see what they’re looking for, especially when they are primed and ready to look for specific things,” says Nancy Halverson, vice president of global operations for MRINetwork. “Focusing too much on set criteria for the ideal candidate or being blind to red flags can lead to serious hiring mistakes, especially when everybody on the hiring team is looking at applicants through the same lens.”
Cultivating the ability to identify and recognize the right people for the job, even individuals with non-traditional backgrounds or with skills outside the exact criteria, can be a tremendous advantage for a business. “You get multiple perspectives for problems or challenges, and fresh perspectives in your day-to-day operations,” Halverson observes. “Although there are instances when hiring candidates who don’t fit the exact profile isn’t feasible, that is less of an issue than many hiring managers may think.”
However, there’s a reason many companies don’t take risks when hiring new talent. Employees with traditional backgrounds and similar skill sets yield predictable results. The tricky part about expanding the hiring horizon is finding the right fit even if the candidate’s background falls outside the range of the safe, defined criteria.
Halverson suggests several ways to avoid mistakes while widening the candidate pool:
Focus on the candidate's potential. Pay close attention to the personality of the prospective new hire. While having the right skill set may seem essential, skills can be acquired, but personalities cannot. Social intelligence - being able to navigate social situations and work well with others - should be under scrutiny during the interview. Don't become pigeonholed into thinking the person with the exact necessary experience is the right person for the role. Give equal consideration to communication skills, thought processes and emotional intelligence.
Ask the right kinds of questions. While your interview format should retain some standard questions, you can uncover good candidates by adding non-traditional questions into the mix. Asking candidates what they see as the most effective approaches for managing them, for example, can provide insight on both cultural fit and working style - whether they’re low-maintenance and function best with minimal guidance, or perform well under detailed direction and support. Depending on the existing managerial style at your organization, the response may signal an ideal fit or a potential problem aligning with your leadership.
Provide personal insight about the company culture. To help both the organization and prospective candidates determine if they are right for your company and the particular position, it's important to discuss the company's work environment. Be open and honest about what it's like to work at the organization, and talk about the positive aspects or even perks that have personally made your job more enjoyable. Replacing canned corporate responses with insight about your individual experience allows you to connect better with candidates, and both parties can more clearly ascertain if the applicant will thrive in the company culture.
Cover all the bases. Probably the most important step in deciding to extend an offer to a candidate who has a different type of experience or education from the set criteria, is making sure the company has covered all its bases. This includes determining the business rationale behind the hire, what skills and qualifications the candidate has to offer the company, and if the decision will ultimately produce the desired result.
“In today’s competitive world of business, no organization can risk the expense and productivity drain that a bad hire brings, and yet bad hires are surprisingly common,” adds Halverson. “Being open-minded to looking outside of your defined criteria or even your industry can yield a more diverse but equally qualified short list, and may result in a better fit between the successful candidate and your organization.”