Monday Mornings with Madison

The Search for the “Right Fit”

Adding 280,000 jobs in May 2015, the U.S. unemployment rate now stands at 5.5% and we are seeing more people return to the workforce.  That’s below the average U.S. unemployment rate between 1948 until 2015 of 5.83%, and it’s about half of the all time highest national unemployment rate of 10.8% recorded in November 1982.  In fact, U.S. companies have hired over 200,000 employees every month in all but one of the last 15 consecutive months, and over four million new positions were filled since the start of 2014.  That’s a lot of hiring!

For most businesses, hiring is serious business.  Perhaps more than ever before, it is imperative for a company to find the “right” person for the job.  Hiring the wrong person can cost a company anywhere from 35% to 65% of the position’s salary plus a lot of time and aggravation to recruit, hire and train another person if the first hire doesn’t work.  That is why managers carefully search for the candidate who is going to best “fit” with the work and staff.  But what exactly does “fit” mean?  Should the leadership look for the individual who has the best skills, training and experience:  someone who is the right fit for the job?  Or should they search for the candidate who best matches the organization’s style:  someone who is the right fit for the company’s culture?  Or should the hiring manager seek the candidate who will get along best with the person in charge:  someone who is the right fit for the boss?   When looking to hire, what or who should the candidate “fit” in order to generate the greatest productivity and results for the company?

The Complex Process of Hiring

The average worker today stays at a company for about 4.4 years, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  However, the expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees – the so-called Millennials — is much less than that.

In fact, 91% of those born between 1977 and 1997 expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Multiple Generations at Work survey of 1,189 employees conducted by the Future Workplace.  So whether it is due to turnover or new positions, companies can expect to continue doing a lot of hiring now and in the foreseeable future.  To keep that number under control, it is vital for a company to hire talented people who will “fit” and stay with the company a long time.

When companies hire, they look at a myriad of factors in search of the ideal person for an open position.  But the truth is that there is no ‘perfect person’.  Because job applicants are human, each candidate has qualities and flaws; positive traits and limitations.  So hiring managers have to decide what is most important to them.  That, of course, varies from company to company, department to department and sometimes even boss to boss.  Some companies value qualifications most and don’t care about personality, character or likeability.  Others insist that new hires must fit in with the company’s culture and vibe.  Still others really just want the new hire to be able to mesh well with the boss.   But which approach is the best indicator of long-term success?

Hiring the Most Skilled and Talented for the Job

Most people think that employers are primarily looking at a candidate’s skills, experience and credentials in considering them for a job.  They do… in part.  After all, the idea is to find the person who is most capable of doing the job, and past experience is the best indicator of future performance.  That is why many jobseekers focus on building the skills and credibility to do the job – getting certifications, becoming active in a related professional association, and diversifying their skills set.   While this is good, it’s just step one in getting hired.  In terms of sheer numbers, there are usually a multitude of people ‘qualified’ to do practically any job.  From an entry level job as a receptionist or clerk to the most demanding positions such as neurosurgeon and rocket scientist, there are almost always multiple candidates who have the skills and experience to do the job.  In most job markets, rarely is there an opening for which there is only one qualified applicant.  In fact, these days there are hundreds of applicants for each opening.  For the employer, the task is to narrow down the pile to those who are not just qualified, but “best qualified.”  That is why employers look at more than what a resume says about a person’s skills and experience to determine whether the candidate can do the job.

Today, employers seek evidence that what the resume says about a candidate is actually true.  (Let’s face it.  A LOT of people embellish their resumes… also known as lying.)  Thus, 80% of employers will Google applicants before inviting them to interview.  If the employer doesn’t find good and solid information that validates or aligns with what the resume says, no invitation for an interview is likely to be extended.   After all, interviewing job candidates is very expensive for an employer, second only to the cost of hiring the wrong candidate.  Employers use Google searches as a way to screen candidates and separate those with substance from those that are fluff.

Once the candidate is invited to interview, it is not just job skills that matter.

Employers will look at how the candidate interviews, networks, and negotiates.  Those are skills most people do not use in their jobs, but that are essential for landing a job.  Applicants should prepare for a job interview just as much as they prepared for doing the job.

Hiring the Best Fit for the Company Culture

Companies have learned the hard way that often a perfectly qualified, skilled and experienced applicant can turn out to be a dud who has to be replaced within months, weeks or even days.  Even though most new hires have the ability to do the job, some simply don’t fit in with the company’s unique culture.  That is why a lot of employers now typically evaluate the person’s soft skills in addition to their job skills.   Employers will look at such attributes as attitude and enthusiasm, dependability, creativity, ability to get along with and work well with others, and likeability.  A lot of the soft skills are evaluated during the interview and reference check processes, which can be subjective.

Indeed, the hiring process involves human interaction so it is inherently subjective. Ten hiring managers will have ten different opinions about who is the best person for a job at a particular company.  That said, most managers agree that they would rather hire a lesser-but-still-qualified and enthusiastic candidate instead of the most-qualified-but-lukewarm candidate.  Employers will always pick the enthusiastic though less-qualified candidate because attitude matters.  They want to work with energetic, positive people who want to work with them.

Most of all, employers especially want people whose personality meshes well with the company’s culture.  Across cultures and industries, managers strongly believe that the best employees for a company will be like-minded. One recent survey found that more than 80% of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top hiring priority.  Attitude and fit are so important that some employers literally screen for it above all else.  Southwest Airlines is one company that spends a lot of time and money recruiting and screening applicants to find those that fit Southwest’s zany, fun culture.  Those that don’t fit, don’t get hired.  It’s as simple as that.

Hiring the Person the Boss Likes Most

That said, a deeper look at hiring practices actually finds that people who are doing the hiring – the recruiters, department managers and HR staff – may not necessarily be hiring those who fit the company’s culture as much as they are hiring people who are most like them.  In the so-called search for those who fit in with the company, a subtle shift has occurred away from systematic analysis to one of snap judgments by managers about whom they like most.  In fact, fit has become the euphemism for managers hiring people that are just like them, and people that they know and want.  Connections influence which applicants make it to the interview stage, and the interviewers’ perceptions of fit dictates who walks out with a job offer.

In such organizations, fit is not about a match with the organization’s values as much as a fit with the gatekeeper’s personality.  In fact, studies indicate that professionals at all levels of seniority report wanting to hire people with whom they enjoy hanging out and could foresee developing a close relationship.  Their desire is to hire people whom they like personally, not necessarily people who were most able to get along with clients and other coworkers.  For example, managers indicated that discovering shared experiences was one of the most powerful sources of “fit”.  Hiring managers were primarily interested in new hires who shared the same hobbies or backgrounds.  Having attended the same school, knowing the same people, or golfing at the same country club was often considered evidence of “fit.”  But the “fit” was personal.  A passion for pleasing clients or a love of collaboration and creativity were not considered elements of “fit” even if those qualities were highly valued by the organization.

There are three major drawbacks in hiring managers recruiting and selecting candidates based on ‘personal fit.’  First, selection based on personal fit keeps demographic and cultural diversity low. The shared experiences associated with fit are typically expensive, which excludes middle and low income candidates from consideration.  This means top leadership positions are often filled by people from the highest socioeconomic backgrounds.  Second, because most decision makers in top slots still tend to be white males, hiring people who fit with them personally tends to exclude high-performing females, low-income applicants and minority candidates.  The third and most important drawback has to do with productivity.   While hiring practices based on personal fit would probably ensure lower turnover and higher employee loyalty by new hires, it would not necessarily ensure that the best candidate was doing the job.  In essence, a company would find itself with a stable but marginally productive staff.  For jobs involving complex decisions and creativity, diverse teams consistently outperform less diverse ones. Too much similarity results in teams that are overly-confident, ignore vital information and make poor decisions.  This level of uniformity in thinking also contributes to a “yes” mentality by subordinates and opens the door to possible unethical and illegal behavior.

For all of those reasons, it is important for hiring managers to avoid hiring people that they like ‘personally’ and hire those who really are most qualified to do the job and will perform best for the organization.  Recruiters and hiring managers should keep in mind that it is easy to mistake rapport for skill and that employers often overestimate their ability to spot talent. Thus, unstructured interviews are notoriously poor predictors of job performance.  Blind reviews of resumes combined with structured interview processes with point-system for qualifications help reduce the initial push for candidates who mirror the boss.

Ultimately, when looking for new hires, businesses need its management staff to keep bias and personal preferences out of the hiring process.   Organizations that want to thrive and stay ahead of the competition need to put safeguards in place that ensure that top talent isn’t overlooked in favor of similar, likeable, but ultimately weaker candidates.

Quote of the Week

“When I’m hiring someone I look for magic and a spark. Little things that intuitively give me a gut feeling that this person will go to the ends of the earth to accomplish the task at hand.” Tommy Mottola


© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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