Hiring for high-demand and highly-critical roles is hard for most companies. I mean, how is an Apple going to find the next Steve Jobs to replace the last one? In many ways, they are doomed from the start. You just can’t plan the perfect hire, and sometimes,anything less than the perfect hire feels like you’re selling out your organization. In this post I’ll outline how some innovative companies have come pretty close to a winning formula for finding the perfect candidate for critical roles in their companies, and how you too can follow this blueprint. I’ll explain some of the psychological underpinnings of how this method works, and how your existing social media expertise can be put to great use in carrying out a Tryout Campaign in this mode to land that elusive unicorn.
The Star Employee
With positions hard to fill, and good candidates even harder to come by, bold employers are trying new approaches to the old hiring problem. Some companies have gone as far as devaluing the traditional resume, and instead, giving the prospective recruit a tryout assignment, and seeing what their gut tells them after observing the candidate hard at work on a real-life-like assignment. Companies in technology and new media, like Uber and Automattic, are experimenting with some of these new innovations in recruiting. Automattic, for instance, pays a standard $25/hr hourly wage of participants in a trial assignment, and they get actual work assigned to them for the duration of the trial.
To explore this solution and why it works so well in some depth, we’ll make use of a little thought experiment.
Landing the Star Hire
Suppose you’re Suzy, the CEO of RobotWorks, a Design and Interactive Media Studio. Your hands are full with the day-to-day running of contracts and work for clients, and on top of that, your Head of Graphics just resigned to go join his high-school pal who launched a hot startup. Now your hands are full trying to drum up potential candidates and keep your sanity intact.
Big Shoes to Fill
Which of these following channels are you going to gravitate towards to fill the shoes left behind by your star employee?
A. Throw the position up on CraigsList and get a bunch of resumes
B. Tweet about the opening and get 100 random responses from people you’ve never met
C. Ask the receptionist’s cousin’s details who’s done some consulting work in Graphics and arrange a coffee to sound him out
D. Go through your resume database and ask the 10 most qualified individuals to try a trial assignment and see who stands out
Well, let’s look at A. Getting a stream of resumes from CraigsList is a hit and miss affair. Sometimes you get good responses, and the rest of the time you get spam. Given you’re supposed to be earning your company the equivalent of $1000/hr, you can’t really spend that time reading copy from the spammy posters of the world. You decide to pass.
What about B? Who knows, out of the 100 responses you get, maybe upwards of 90% of them will be highly relevant. That’s the nice thing about specialized forums like Tweeter and Facebook Groups. If people are posting on there, depending on your field, they are likely to be knowledgeable, with the right education and background, otherwise they won’t be getting much mileage on the social networks to begin with. There is an element of feedback and social proof already backed in to an extent. But you won’t necessarily know the people that intimately, even if they are “in your network”.
Now, how about C? If you picked this as the most likely option, you’re right! I bet most people will eventually gravitate to some variation of this. At the end of the day, it just makes sense to go with someone in your network, who is tied to the company in some way or the other, and who already is vetted by people internally. Some extreme cases of this may be negative, for instance you get people hiring on social ties rather than merely on qualifications, but who hasn’t seen this enough to at least grudgingly consider it as a hiring strategy?
Psychologically, people are drawn to people similar to them. I bet if you look through your Facebook feed, you’re going to find a whole lot of people very similar to you. Are you middle-aged, a woman, live in London with two cats and a dog? Guess what the median 50% of your followers and contacts are going to look like? That’s right. People with pets, middle-aged, big-city folks, and a whole slew of characteristics that you couldn’t have specified better yourself. That’s just the way we’re hard-wired.
So when we go into hiring mode, our social instincts kick in. We will check out who our friends know who might be good to consider, then ask them for more leads, then ask whoever they recommend, and so on.
Think about it, this has some good value as a “hiring shortcut”. If there’s any qualified person at all within striking range, you’re most likely to figure them out, and land a candidate without expending too much search time and energy. So kudos for an efficient hiring algorithm.
Expanding Your Recruiting Reach
But what about all the other qualified 99% of candidates who exist n degrees of separation from your social circle? Now you got a whole other problem if you want to optimize your hiring with this consideration.
After all it’s easy, and comforting, to just close your eyes and go with what you got and pray for the best.
Which is one of the reasons why something as radical as part D, as good scientifically as it might sound as a randomized “social experiment”, is unlikely to see much take-up. It’s just not comforting on a psychological level.
"I mean, you’re telling me I have to disregard my qualms and prejudices and social wiring, and consider candidates’ work coldly, rationally and with mathematical precision to see which candidate objectively does the better job?”
Well, not quite! You see, in this option, out of the, say upwards of 400 candidates in your resume database, it’s up to you to define what “best 10 qualified” means. You could define it as “has a last name that rhymes with Bryce”, although I can’t tell what good that would do the company, besides the cognitive comfort. If you truly believe that only people with an M. Sci. can adequately perform the job, even though the best employee who has done that job before only ever graduated high school, then by all means go on and put down the M. Sci. as a gate-keeping barrier for what “best qualified” means. That piece is entirely up to you.
But Here is What Else Might Happen:
By filtering out the candidates on paper who don’t look up to snuff, perhaps without ever talking to them, you’re reaping huge savings in amount of time expended. That’s right, you’re saving lots of time, yours, and the candidate’s. Now, I would not recommend doing this step with a resume filtering tool. You can miss out on the right people if your only point of contact with them is only ever going to be at the resume level before you decisively toss them out.
Then, you’re allowing some objective and some subjective criteria to determine for you what “most qualified 10 candidates” means, out of maybe 500 potential candidates. This should be at least psychologically comforting. You’re not recruiting “qualified” people at random without some sort of filter and safety valve in place. After all, that’d be absolutely reckless! Instead, you’re allowing all your acquired human and professional judgement some input into the process, and you can define that as strictly as you want. I dare not look into the exact criteria some companies’ hiring decisions are based on. But in companies’ I’ve seen, sometimes it gets as funny as “Jimmy drove a Lexus, so someone who drives a Lexus is going to perform most like Jimmy”, or some version of the above. It might be a bit funny, but, you best know what you’re dealing with.
Now here’s the pseudo-scientific part, and the part that a lot of other organizations and researchers have latched onto as the potential solution to thousands of mis-hires and mix ups everywhere in HR and recruiting:
With your shortlist in hand, you give each of them a trial assignment, preferably the exact same thing, but some variations can be tried. This could be some version of:
“Run a mile in the old boss's shoes, and let’s see who gets back here first!” Get set, go!
And then all you do is play the job of the referee, and make sure people are completing the trial assignment with as much truthfulness, honesty and rules-abiding as possible. At the end, examine the output of each candidate, as objectively, as ruthlessly as possible, then, mark up each attempt and see which one holds up the best, and voila, you’ve landed an outstanding employee.
Well, not quite. That goes a long way towards landing the absolute best replacement for your star employee, but you want to be sure.
So How About?
You get to observe the candidate live, performing the exact same work that you’d want him or her doing on a daily basis?
That’s worth its weight in gold.
You also get to see how the candidate communicates, with you, with other team members, and with a potential supervisor on the job!
And you get to see how responsive the candidate is, right off the bat!
Is the candidate running into a storm? High-pressure situation? Are they able to keep their cool, and to focus on the task at hand? Can they ask for help or do they fold like a painting, cute to look at but utterly unsuited to real-world operating conditions?
What more? You don’t say!
I mean, such a scenario is teeming with objective (and subjective) information about your pool of TryOut Candidates.
Who is the best leader among them?
Before, you couldn’t conceive asking this question, much less be able to answer it objectively in any measure, but now, thanks to our trademark recruiting optimization, Yes You Can!
Who completes work on time and ahead of time? Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!
What can’t you answer now about your candidates?
Okay, so what about, you take this to the social media circles where you’ve made so much progress in the last couple of years?
You could ask for your community members to submit their credentials, and mention that you are implementing an Open TryOut policy, for instance. What would this mean?
This means, if you like their credentials, they are welcome to take on a trial assignment, week-long, and based solely on the result of that trial experiment, you’ll either make a Hire decision or a No Hire decision, with all the benefits we listed above.
If you take some time to explain to candidates on your Facebook page about how exactly this will help you, and them, try out the right fit, your profile will likely generate a lot of shares and Tweet attention, and you’ll soon have a steady stream of qualified candidates beating the path to your door, to take a crack at the TryOut and prove their worth.
So much better than mining your resume database. You’re now engaging people you (hopefully) interact with at least on a weekly basis, and who are keeping a close interest in the same topics and values that interest you.
And the resumes and interest of the candidates you’re getting is current. The problem with your resume database is that it’s pretty hard to recruit Candidate X if he’s now the Head of Social Media for Donald Trump’s political campaign, and there’s no way for your resume database to tell you not to waste your time. Social media gives you current interest, and current participants.
With a TryOut campaign conducted on social media, you get qualified candidates and so much more. To recap, you get to see the candidates live in a real-world situation. You get to interact with them in a professional setting, and gauge their exact strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis your open job. By communicating with them as they carry out the trial assignment, you get a much better picture of which of the seemingly well-qualified candidates is in fact the best one for the critical role that you have to fill. And you get proof of their mettle in their trial performance. On the way to getting there, of course, you were able to specify all the cognitive and social elements that set a great candidate apart from all others according to your own unique set of values and preferences as an organization. Now, with your star candidate in pocket, you’re ready to go on and take on the world!
About the Author
Tomahawk Tindois an Entrepreneur and Founder/CEO of The Space Launcher and HackishWord. He has a background in web design, development and internet marketing. With HackishWord, he's making recruiting committed designers and developers faster and easier than before. http://www.leanstartup.space