Great hiring is as basic as the fundamentals

2 min read

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Hiring used to be so simple. Then the world changed, and remote work was no longer a luxury. Taking on new people switched into the digital sphere. There has been a lot to keep up with.

To that, Sean O’Brien says not so fast. Whether hiring people on site or remotely, there’s one rule: Return to the fundamentals.

O’Brien is senior vice president of education at SAS, which specializes in business analytics software and services, and is the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. He believes the first step is to ask the right questions:

  • What skills does my company need?
  • How often?
  • Which is the most important?

Knowing that, hiring managers have a clear way to assess potential applicants on not just skills, but potential to learn them.

O’Brien talked with Meghan M. Biro, analyst, brand strategist, podcaster and TalentCulture chief executive officer, about essential strategies for hiring right. That means not only knowing the competencies companies need to hire, but having the digital capabilities it takes to hire now.

Some organizations struggle with hiring for the right skills. Leaders might know job titles but not necessarily what skills are embodied in each of them. They might hear a good-sounding title, only to advertise for mismatched talents. After hiring, managers have to make the best out of bad fits. 

“You need to know what the right skills are in order to hire for them,” Biro said. “Surprisingly, many companies don’t. Assessing digital skills also means anticipating how you’ll grow into new innovations.

“How do you get remote interviewees to convey that they have the skills if you can’t bring them into the workplace?” she said. “That’s a challenge.”

Maybe not unicorns

O’Brien sees hiring struggles boiling down to four reasons:

  • Technical skills are often inversely correlated with inter-organizational navigating skills. 
  • An unclear plan on what they are hiring for.
  • Changing nature of work often means hiring managers don’t know skills they are seeking, and therefore have a hard time evaluating.
  • There is an actual shortage of technical and analytic talent and even shorter supply of technical people with communications skills. Hiring unicorns is tough.

“Knowing which behavior traits you need is hard,” O’Brien said. “Measuring behavior traits in an interview is harder. Multiple interviews with multiple interviewees helps. Behavior-based questions are mandatory.”

Trial hires would give managers a good way to assess workers’ actual skills as well as their comfort with corporate culture. The same holds true for workers who might have second thoughts about signing on. 

“We’re going to have to do more hiring remotely,” Biro said. “So, we need to have better ways of assessing skills. One approach: a what-if to a problem, in which interviewees can convey their knowledge and experience.

“Another advantage to asking potential hires to demonstrate their skills: You get to see how they handle things, communicate and problem solve,” she said. “Make job descriptions really count. Make them specific and clear. It’s remarkable how we miss the mark on that and wind up with the wrong hires.”

O’Brien suggests several ways to evaluate potential hires:

  • Performance on real-world cases that apply to your organization.
  • Multiple interviews and repeated exposure with purposeful change in interview structure to see multi-dimensions of candidates.
  • Bring in outside experts, if necessary, to access skills outside your own domain.

“There is lots of literature and help tools available for how to conduct behavior-based interviews,” O’Brien said.

Teach hiring managers

Leaders should take the time to accurately evaluate their wants and needs beforehand. Extra effort early in the hiring process will save loads of time wasted later. 

“Give the hiring teams a crash course in the skills they’re hiring for so they understand them, such as analytics,” Biro said. “Bring in outside consultants who can really evaluate the skills gaps in your company from an objective perspective.

“Commit to developing your existing talent,” she said. “They already understand the organization. They just need to acquire more skills to rise into new positions.”

The race for the right people could take on an athletic approach.

“Act like you are in a competition for talent—because you are,” O’Brien said. “Recruit talent like sports teams recruit athletes. Scout people, get to know them, recruit them. And don’t forget the latent talent already in your organization.

“The people you hired were smart when you hired them,” he said. “They are still smart, but we often fail to give them the time to learn new complex skills. Plus, they already know your company.”

When hiring, remember that teams should be composed of members who complement each other to create one cohesive group.

“Often the perfect person is a team of diverse people,” O’Brien said.

“Work changes,” he said. “Circumstances change, but one’s ability to learn must be exercised continually. Hire for ability to learn, and they will always be the right fit.”

Jim Katzaman Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

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