What is a Good Candidate?
by Dr. Steven Hunt, Chief Scientist, Unicru
Hiring managers often complain of the inability to find “good” candidates. Reasons given for this include talent shortages in the marketplace, ineffectiveness of recruiters or staffing departments, or failure of companies to offer attractive compensation packages that will entice high quality individuals. While all of these reasons are potentially valid, they overlook one of the most common reasons why hiring managers struggle to find good candidates: they never actually define what they mean by “good”.
There are no good candidates, there are only candidates who are good for something
It does not make sense to refer to candidates as being good or bad in a general sense. Candidates are not simply good or bad, they are good or bad for certain jobs. Determining whether a candidate is good for a job requires creating a “success profile” that details the key candidate characteristics that influence successful job performance. Without a clear candidate success profile recruiters don’t know what candidates to look for and hiring managers don’t know how to evaluate candidates once they’ve been found. This can result in recruiting becoming a costly process of trial and error, with high levels of new candidate turnover caused by the company repeatedly sourcing and hiring the wrong people.
The following are general tips recruiters can use to help hiring managers more effectively define candidate success profiles. The use of success profiles will increase the ability of recruiters to rapidly identify high potential candidates while reducing the likelihood of hiring managers making incorrect selection decisions.
Different types of "good"
One reason hiring managers have difficulty creating candidates success profiles is that they do not have effective language for describing candidate characteristics. Recruiters can add significant value to the hiring process by providing hiring managers with a structured process and vocabulary for defining the characteristics candidates need to effectively fulfill a position. Getting hiring managers to systematically talk through the following things will provide a wealth of detailed information that can be used to create candidate success profiles to guide recruiting and selection efforts.
A. What minimum qualifications are required? Minimum qualifications are specific requirements candidates must meet in order to fill a position. Candidates who do not meet the minimum qualifications cannot be hired no matter how strong their other skills and abilities may be. Minimum qualifications usually include things such as legally required certifications (e.g., CPA, citizenship) or willingness to accept certain working conditions (e.g., location, salary, travel, work schedules). Having well defined minimum qualifications makes it much easier to screen candidates using automated pre-screening questions such as those provided by many job boards and applicant tracking systems.
B. What technical skills and experience are needed?Technical skills & experience reflect specific things a candidate must know or be able to do in order to carry out core functions of the job. These are things one typically acquires through specific kinds of training, education, or job experience. The focus here is on what a person knows, and not so much on how they use it. For example, a list of technical skills and experience for a financial manager position might include things like P&L experience and knowledge of tax law, but would not include “soft skills” like interpersonal style or action orientation.
When defining technical skills and experience, try to avoid using time to define level of expertise (e.g. “at least ten years of management experience”). Just because someone has been doing something for a long time is no guarantee that they are good at it. In addition, high potential candidates often have a history of rapidly mastering new jobs and quickly moving on to higher level positions. This rapid progress limits their total experience in any one position. In sum, using time in a job as the main criteria for screening candidates puts you at risk of screening in candidates who have had one year of experience ten years in a row, while screening out high performing candidates who can gain more experience in five years than others can gain over their entire careers. Instead of focusing on the time candidates have spent in different jobs, list the specific experiences they are expected to have gained in these jobs.
For example, instead of searching for an HR manager with 10 years of experience, you might search for an HR manager who has conducted union negotiations, implemented training programs, overseen recruiting teams, supported line managers in two or more different functional areas, etc.
C. What competencies drive exceptional job performance?
Competencies describe workstyles, behaviors, and capabilities that distinguish between exceptional as opposed to merely qualified candidates. Technical skills and experience focus on what candidates know; competencies focus on how they use it. Listed below are examples of some of the competencies Unicru uses when designing assessment solutions. When preparing to staff a position, ask the hiring manager to list the competencies that will have the greatest impact in terms of distinguishing between average and exceptional candidates. These can then be used to guide strategies for assessing candidates.
Keeping Things on Track
Focusing on Customer Needs
Setting Challenging Goals
Showing Competitive Drive
Decision Making Competencies
Consulting with Others
Analyzing Complex Information
Judging and Deciding
Interpreting Written Information
Thinking at a System Level
Working with Numerical Data
Monitoring and Diagnosing
Adapting to Different Audiences
Making a Strong First Impression
Making Formal Presentations
Providing Effective Criticism
By talking with hiring managers about a position’s minimum qualifications, technical skills and experience, and competencies, recruiters can create success profiles that will be of tremendous value for sourcing and screening in “good” candidates. The success profile can also assist hiring managers with recognizing good candidates once they have been found.
Using a well structured approach, recruiters can cover all the topics required to define a success profile during a one to two hour conversation. Holding this two hour conversation can lead to hiring better candidates in a shorter amount of time.
Dr. Hunt is a Chief Scientist at Unicru. He has over 12 years of consulting and research experience in strategic human resources, and has developed and deployed staffing assessment systems for jobs ranging from front-line associates to senior executive leaders.
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