The issues with making urgent hires

Urgent hire

What do we do when we need to make urgent hires, but the candidate we prefer does not have the right evidence on paper? How much can we rely on (the right) competency questions or our gut instinct when no candidate has the desirable track record or experience? Here’s what other recruiters do.


Consider ‘different’ kinds of evidence

Just because a candidate does not have the right industry knowledge or experience of a role, doesn’t mean you should write them off. Demonstrating aptitude and the necessary skill or attitude in another situation will be the vital clue:

“I was dealing with an investment firm, which wanted to hire an experienced PA to support a director who was known for ‘barking’ at his support staff. After interviewing an individual who worked as a dancer, I was totally impressed with her. Although she had no PA experience, she wanted to break into this discipline and I felt she had the right attributes for the role. On top of this, the director of the dance show she’d been involved in for ten years was known for his aggressive nature, and so the candidate was used to taking lots of knocks and wouldn’t be intimidated by the client. I felt really confident in her abilities and, after a bit of pushing and pulling, they decided to see her and ended up recruiting her and she turned out to be an excellent hire.”

Meeta Sahni, Managing Director at Maine-Tucker.


Listen to your gut instinct

How often have we heard Lord Sugar on The Apprentice say “I am going to go with my gut instinct here because it’s telling me something”? Gut instinct is useful, but only if we know ourselves and our prejudices. Also it’s useful to distinguish between positive and negative gut instinct when recruiting, says this recruiter:

“I put a lot of stock in my gut — if what it’s telling me is negative. Every single time I’ve ignored a negative gut instinct in hiring, I have ended up regretting it.”

There are two important qualifiers I’d add to this:

  • I pay attention to my gut when it says ‘don’t hire.’  But I try to ignore my gut when it’s saying “hire.” I want my decisions to hire to be based 100% on solid, real-world evidence — track records of success and so forth.  If I’m going to make a hiring mistake, I would much rather it be that I mistakenly pass up someone good than that I hire someone bad.
  • I’ve found that positive gut reactions are more likely to be wrong. They’re often based on things that really shouldn’t matter in hiring — such as that the candidate feels like your type of person, or that she reminds you of your sister. It’s also easier for someone to give off “competence” cues that aren’t backed up by the reality, whereas “incompetence” cues or “bad attitude” cues tend to be linked to something real.

Eleanor B, recruiter in retail.


Use competency questions

So, there’s a skills shortage in many sectors right now and that means you’ll have to be canny in your recruitment with a small talent pool. Phil Pavitt, CIO of Aviva says he’d take a generalist any day and just add the IT specialist skills. This is a good steer for recruiters: find the right person with the right attitude and it’s easy to add on the skills with training. Competency questions will help you unearth the right person, when there’s little evidence of necessary skills.

A potential employee is more likely to succeed if they have already demonstrated the required competencies in their previous employment: past performance is the best indicator of future success. If applying for a customer services role, for example, a candidate would need to demonstrate strong interpersonal skills “Provide an example in which you had to diffuse a difficult situation” is a good question to unearth aptitude.

1 Comment

  1. Phil Brown August 20, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Great article Helen – thank you for sharing. I think Eleanor’s qualifiers are definitely on the money. There’s no question that listening to your gut can be useful when you’ve developed that instinct over many years of experience. That intuition becomes a much more powerful tool when combined with competency based interviews that uncover behaviours that you can associate with positive outcomes in the business. In IT where the barrier to entry is often high, I think that there’s undoubted merit in using a skills testing solution that can be finely tuned to mirror the requirements of the role in question and can be distributed then taken quickly – disclosure: I work for Technically Compatible, an IT skills assessment service. It is not unusual for IT candidates to be self-taught in certain technologies making the process of proving that ‘fit’ more difficult in the absence of a portfolio of some sort which for some is simply not an option.

    The key for urgent hires of course is to choose a set of measures that can be implemented quickly and provide enough points of reference to reduce that risk of a bad hire.

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