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Gareth Jones

The Chemistry Group

Partner And Chief Solutions Architect

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Five reasons the perfect candidate just isn’t so perfect


If you recruit, at any level, chances are you’re overlooking potentially excellent candidates in the mistaken belief that lack of experience makes them unsuitable for the job.

Here’s why the person you think is perfect, probably isn’t.

1. Their experience – it might seem a perfect fit, but previous experience, even significant levels, have absolutely no correlation with future success in a role.

Recruitment is one of the best examples of where the internet has had a huge impact, and not just for the better. It is now so easy to both advertise a job and apply for one that the volumes involved in processing applications are exponentially bigger than they were 10 years ago. Couple that with a poor global economy and its no surprise that recruiters are inundated with applicants.

In these circumstances, what other choice do recruiters have than to stick to some hard and fast measures of suitability when it comes to selecting potential candidates? And what better criteria to apply than previous experience, right? Wrong!

On the face of it, using previous experience as the core selection criteria would seem like a good idea – if they’ve done it before they can do it again. Well, unfortunately research and experience shows that this just isn’t the case. Used alone, previous experience is actually a lousy predictor of future performance in a role and, therefore suitability. Using this criteria alone, the best (and I mean the very best) you can expect in terms of hiring accuracy is around 20 – 25%.

This is because, when it comes to a person’s capability to succeed in the future, there are a number of other criteria that have to be taken into account in order to create the conditions for success for that particular person. We’ll start with….

2. Their motivations – do you know what they are? You might have asked them questions around this in the interview, but without proper in-depth assessment you won’t really have a clue. Only what they want you to think.

Understanding a person’s motivations is one of the other key factors in determining an individual’s potential to succeed in your organisation. Motivations are a key factor in driving behaviour – another key point, discussed below – and taking time out to understand these is fundamental. And no, asking them questions like “are you money motivated?”, or worse, “what motivates you?” is not a good way to understand what motivates a person.

Motivations are complex and rarely obvious. A person’s personal and work motivations are inextricably linked so often the only way you can understand these, particularly in the early stages of an application, is to use a robust tool.

3. Their values – do you understand what their deep-rooted belief system is? Do you care?

You should. Values drive behaviour and are hard to mask in the long-term but dead easy to mask in the short-term – like in an interview!

Your personal values and belief system, like your intellect – another important point below – are set from a very young age. Along with your motivations, these shape the very being that you are. Our values are deep set – which means they rarely change, if ever. Yet it can be very hard to determine an individual’s values even during an extended interview process. Not only are they hard to see, they are easy to mask, which means it won’t be until long past the hiring date that the evidence of a misalignment between the values of the organisation and the individual become apparent, by which time it’s usually too late – or too costly – to do anything about it.

4. Their intellectual horsepower – you don’t need a rocket scientist for every job, but the right level of intellect, or rather the appropriate ability to take in, process and retain information is key.

We hear this a lot: “They need to be bright!”  But how are you assessing this? From their grade sheets? Oh dear. Academic achievement, like experience, has long been a marker of success and therefore a sign of ‘intelligence’. The truth is that intelligence, and how you measure it, is a very complex area. And looking at grade average is a very limiting way of doing so. Different situations require different approaches to problem solving and to fully understand the most appropriate level – and type – of intellect required for a role and whether an individual applicant has what it takes, you need to know what you are measuring and why.

Also, whilst you might want to recruit “the brightest”, often the role in question simply does not require the level of intellectual horsepower that you think it does. The intellectual requirement of the role should be measured properly and the subsequent requirement should be tested properly with the applicant.

5. Their behaviour – a person’s behaviour over the long-term is significantly influenced by their values and motivations (yes, them again!) and unless you are measuring those properly – see above – and also assessing behaviour properly using, for example, a behavioural event interview, all you’re witnessing is an act.

All of the above factors are key, yet it is in the behaviour of the individual that the combination and implications of these factors actually reveal themselves. Behaviour is easy to manipulate, especially in a standard interview. It is also, in the longer term hard to change. Not impossible, but without the right personal intent and incentive to do so, trying to adapt an individual’s behaviour when you realise they are not behaving in the way that is congruent with the culture of the organisation is time consuming and very difficult. And by the time you realise, the damage is already done.

Adopting a more structured approach to your selection, for example a behavioural event interview, significantly helps identify those candidates that have the right behaviours required for the role. It also helps to have an accurate idea before you start the hiring process of the actual behaviours required!

Whilst a job role might look and sound the same from organisation to organisation, the fact is that culture, focus and environment are all very different and as such it is vital that there is alignment between these and those of the candidates.

Understanding all these different elements – both individually and as a combined piece of insight – will vastly improve your understanding of the individual concerned. Ultimately, it’ll improve your hiring accuracy too.

3 Responses

  1. Experience vs compliance?

    Hey Lizard-man,

    I'm sorry to say that you're adding fuel to the fire, where we burn older workers. I've only served on one selection panel, chaired by a young and inexperienced project manager. Unashamedly naive, she sought an officer with specific skills, and I scrutinised the applications. My recommendations for experienced personnel were ignored, she chose someone even younger and with less knowledge of the subject matter than herself. Nonetheless, a game player who could be moulded to conform to her style. I watched on as he took 12months of wheel-spinning before a positive contribution could be made. Fortunately it was Defence, so money was no object.

    Now in the disenfranchised camp of the longterm unemployed despite decades in IT, postgrad quals – which were never scrutinised in interview, and worthy volunteering (including Red Cross) it appears that my experience is something to hide away alongside my cynicism, lest it prove daunting to the kids in HR ?

  2. Re Recruiting has never been trickier

    Hi Mr Lizard

    Many thanks for commenting. People are indeed very complex and with all the tools available today, it is quite easy to become very 'interview ready' as you say. 

    The issues you describe here are exactly the ones that i elude to in the article – behaviours. Behaviours are driven by deep rooted things such as values and motivations which as you point out, are hard to see or can be. they are also hard to change.

    The vast majority of selection processes do not look at these, nor do they look at behaviours. And when i say behaviours, i don't mean observing how someone responds to banal interview questions like "Tell me about your greatest achievement"!

    The Behavioural Event Interview i describe in the article is specifically designed to unearth these behaviours and does so in a way that is difficult to mask. But alone its not enough. Thats why you should also look at motivations, values and intellect. And test these properly.

    Your example is a good one. I recently presented to a product management community on the importance of these things and a guy in the audience felt that technical assessments were essential but these others that i speak of were not. I wish I had your story to hand as its a perfect example of technical competence but a complete behavioural mismatch.

    I sure hope your recruitment team have learned from the experience and now dig much deeper into these other areas!

    Thanks once again for commenting.



  3. Recruiting has never been trickier

    People are insanely complex creatures.  No interview or recruitment process will tell you all there is to know about an individual.  There are dozens of websites devoted to helping people prepare for interviews, and the sort of people you'll probably want to recruit will have had a reasonable amount of practice at interviews.  Many of them will have a fairly solid interview 'persona', and will know off by heart the set responses to the standard questions.

    Add to this the fact that many jobs now demand multiple skills, just to function in a modern company, and recruitment becomes no longer separating the wheat from the chaff, but the very best wheat from a lot of near-identical grains.

    And some people can be too good for the job.  Not just over-qualified, but so highly skilled that ego becomes an issue.

    In one of our teams, we hired a programmer.  On paper he was perfect, qualifications a-plenty, and he interviewed well.  But his code was always uncommented, he refused to use our best practices as he felt they constrained his creativity, and he never attended team meetings as he felt they were a waste of valuable coding time.  Initially management cut him enormous amounts of slack, as he had actually produced some good programs that had solved some serious problems we'd had.  His code was so full of cutting-edge techniques that it was very difficult for other programmers to work on.  If he was ever asked to share his knowledge, he'd rattle off a string of instructions and then go back to what he was doing.  When he moved on, there was a collective sigh of relief, and even now, if someone has to work on one of his programs, they routinely double the time estimate for the work.

    Guy was a genius, no doubt about it, but I think we'd have been better served by someone with a few less IQ points and a few more social skills.

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Gareth Jones

Partner And Chief Solutions Architect

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