09 July, 2009

More on recruitment

So, what has me musing on recruitment processes again? Well as with most of what I blog about it is personal. You see for family reasons I am going to have to leave my current job and move 3000km north. So I have started looking for work up there (Darwin). Sure I don't have to go until the end of the year but if I find a job now it could be easier for me to head up there early (rather than arrive at the end of the year and then have to start looking for work.)

Well, I put my application in for a senior position. I was interviewed for it and I waited a while, I then got a call. I was told I was the top applicant from those they interviewed but they were looking for a larger pool of applicants. I was assured I was still in the running and did not need to reapply. I asked a few questions about what had let me down and the answers were all quite vague.
Time passed

Not being in a rush to move I didn't worry about following up but eventually I assumed I hadn't got the job and just wondered why I hadn't been notified. But being as I know the director the position reported to (having worked with him before) I figured I would give him a call and remind him I was still in the job market in case anything else came up.

So another nice chat, he apologised things had taken so long. Told me they had now found someone, mentioned another job they had vacant (not as senior, but potentially one I might be interested in).

Well, it took me mere moments to find out who had got the first position and was surprised to discover it was someone I knew. Surprised for a few reasons
  • The successful applicant is someone the director knew I had worked with before and he didn't mention it.
  • The successful applicant has less experience than I do in several areas.
  • Some of the areas I was told had let me down in my application are the same areas I feel I am more experienced than the successful applicant.
I'm angry (right?)

We, actually no. I think they have made a great choice. I think she is a better fit for the position than I would be and (without putting myself down too much) I know from having worked with her that she is more capable than I am at maintaining professionalism up and down the chain of command. Plus she has a much better level of attention to detail and I think she is probably more capable of dealing with conflict than I am. (to name just a few areas)

So, the right person got the job. Why is that worth a blog post?

Well a couple of reasons.

Technically, this being a government position and me meeting all the essential and desirable characteristics for the position I don’t believe they should have advertised it a second time. So, why did they? Well perhaps the director felt my personality wasn’t a fit for the organisation. Sure, that comes down to prior knowledge of me not gleaned from the interview process. Which officially you shouldn’t be using, but lets face it, regardless of what excuses you use it would be stupid not to use that knowledge. Perhaps there really was a limited pool of applicants.
Although in that case I would personally readvertise before doing the first round of interviews. Because, lets face it if I had got the job after such an extended process I would be taking the role with a feeling I wasn’t really what they wanted, which would be a very poor way to start a senior position. But then hey, perhaps I was never in the running and I was being let down gently.

Also, assuming I am accurate in my self assessment, while I am more experienced than the successful applicant in some of the areas I was told let me down. (what a convoluted sentence).
Well, that fact demonstrates the under acknowledged fact that it is impossible to quantify properly what you are looking for in an employee.
Skills, knowledge, qualifications and experience can be quantified and written down. So that is what we use when we are writing the advertisement, job description and interview questions and it is what the people in HR (or at least the untalented, unimaginative ones) focus on.

In private enterprise you can use additional things (like searching for blogs where the applicant admits they have ADHD) but I'm not sure how that fits in government recruiting these days.

But what do you do about your feelings of who will fit in with your current team or your knowledge of someone’s work ethic, personal history or anything else. As I said, theoretically if it isn’t discovered in the interview you shouldn’t be using that. Plus, using some of these unquantifiable aspects can be problematic because it is only a short step from there to using your personal biases and down that path lies discrimination and litigation. Yet in this case it has worked well for them, I don’t feel discriminated against (and lets face it as a white male in my 30s working in a female dominated profession I would have to be delusional to cry discrimination. Oh, and the profession is female dominated but the management positions are still very often filled by the boys).

So, once again I haven’t solved any problems but in a nice change from my regular self aggrandising style I have written a post in which I acknowledge someone else is better than me (well, better suited to a particular position anyway, I don’t want to go too far and leave people thinking I have gone soft).

And to leave you with a few questions:
  • How do you quantify employing for personality?
  • How do you ensure getting someone who fits your team doesn’t become discrimination?
  • Why do we insist on making job descriptions all about qualifications and skills when skills can be taught and qualifications gained?
  • When does talent trump experience?
  • How much does what you tell an unsuccessful applicant reflect the real reasons they weren't employed (and how much is just focusing on their faults in quantifiable areas, faults you would probably overlook if you felt they were the right person for the job)?

You will find some of my previous musings on similar topics: here, here and here oh and here too.

Please also note, when I talk about recruitment I am talking about the Australian context and primarily the government sector.


Andrew said...

To address a few of your questions:

Personality goes a long way. And there are always areas in the selection criteria where you can address this, such a communications and interpersonal skills. And, of course, bringing this out in the interview process.

I think it's a fine line between a vague "better fit" decision, and discrimination. I mean, why wear a suit to an interview (for example) if that's not on the selection criteria. It's probably more about the overall "impression" you make to the panel. Besides, if they really were discriminating at the interview stage, you probably didn't want to work there. ;)

Ah, the good old skills and quals question. I do agree that sometimes it's easier to train somebody from scratch, rather than un-train bad customer service or time management skills. However, I think it's simply a filtering process. That, and, for example, some people just don't have good interpersonal and customer service skills - some people just can't relate well. I'd rather see some basic evidence that they are at least able to fulfil their duties without having to invest in months of training for them.

Talent trumps experience when you value talent over experience. Ideally, these are two mutually exclusive factors, and you should want somebody with both talent *and* experience. However, at the end of the day, it depends on the job. If it's something traditional, like reference or team management, they'd probably go with experience. However, if it's something innovative or creative, like a project or research officer, they'd go with talent.

You can ask for answers, you can ask for advice on how to improve one's applications next time (I always do), but at the end of the day, if you did your best, and they didn't want you, then chances are that you didn't want to work there anyway. You just didn't know it.

John Chisholm said...

You're right Andrew,
And I certainly don't mind being beaten by a better applicant.
I get annoyed at myself when I realise I could have presented myself better, but in this case I was happy with my interview.

Not getting this job was just a catalyst for thinking about the process. And a lot of what I wrote questioning the process of employing the right staff is questioning my own past behaviour when I have chaired interview panels.

that said, I have had a lot of success with the people I have employed. In fact I can't think of a single one I have been unhappy with.
But then (from the opposite side of the process) how much real constructive feedback was I able to give unsuccessful applicants? If there is a glaring omission, a desirable characteristic they lack which the successful candidate has, well that's easy. But if it comes down to less tangible things...