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How to make sure you never hire top talent
Something happened to me the other day that illustrates a valuable lesson for any of us who are responsible for hiring.
I was presenting at a local event and afterwards a very nice and energetic guy came up and wanted to talk about how HireFlo and a company he was involved with could work together. He went on to explain that his company had developed a survey that had been making it's way around the local tech companies. The idea was that when a candidate wanted to apply for a job, they would click on a link that they think is going to let them submit their resume, but instead they would get this survey. They would then be forced to fill out the survey before being allowed to submit their resume.
I'm immediately skeptical. Any automated system that functions as an obstacle to applicants is just one more chance for top performers to decide that this opportunity isn't a fit and bail out of the application process. So this isn't something I would do, but I didn't want to be rude so I offered my card and tried to move on.
But he insisted that this survey is an amazing thing that has helped uncounted companies do a better job of hiring. They've spent years perfecting the questions. One example question he shared was "Do you kick ass?". Really. "Do you kick ass?" At this point I'm thinking that this guy is probably not providing a lot of value to the companies he's working with and there is definitely not a fit with HireFlo.
Then he dropped the bomb. The survey they developed, this wondrous document that can revolutionize a company's hiring process takes 2 HOURS TO FILL OUT. That's right, 2 hours! He didn't even blink when he said it. He thought it was great. He told me that his clients who used to get 200 or even 300 applicants from a craigslist ad are now getting a much more manageable 2 or 3 applicants, and that only the most serious applicants make it through!
That was it for me. I couldn't take any more. I asked him how he thought that kind of obstacle to submitting resumes would affect the quality of applicants that his clients received. He insisted that the survey was not an obstacle. I replied "You just told me it takes 2 hours to fill out, to a jobseeker that's an obstacle". Okay, he said it improves the quality of applicants. I told him that it absolutely does not. Nobody with talent is going to subject themselves to a 2 hour questionnaire for the privilege of submitting their resume. Talented people have their choice of opportunities. They are smart. They are productive. They have options. When you're looking at the 99% of applicants who chose to bail out when they hit that survey, I guarantee that the top performers were the first to go. So who made it through? The most desperate and inexperienced applicants, that’s who. People who had no better options.
This is an extreme example, but there's a lesson here for all of us. There's always a lot of interest in optimizing hiring processes. In today's job market where we're buried under an avalanche of resumes, it's common to think that the right way to optimize is to minimize the amount of effort required by employers. That's why this guy thought a 2 hour survey wasn't an obstacle. He was thinking only of the effort required by the employer. The jobseeker wasn't even on his radar. So is this really what we want? A process that helps us to reach the most desperate and average members of the applicant pool in the most efficient way possible?
I say absolutely not. Hiring great employees is incredibly important, especially for a small business. We should make it as frictionless as possible for top talent to submit their resumes and get into our resume pipeline. Yes we're going to get a lot of noise in there but we'll also get the top people who we're looking for. The right way to optimize is to then set up a process to identify and contact top applicants as quickly as possible (these people are interviewing within the first few days and rarely go for more than a week or two before getting an offer). This requires more effort, and often requires the use of tools that allow you to manage the applicant pipeline and share time critical tasks like the initial resume screen. But the end result is that you have a process optimized to hire the best, rather than the best of the worst.
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