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Why qualifications don’t count

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Jan Hills, managing director of The Hills Consultancy, explains why values are more important than qualifications when recruiting.



Understanding the difference that makes a difference

When it comes to recruiting HR business partners, how can you be sure that you’ve got it right?

Most HR departments have well defined competencies and a clear idea of what experience and qualifications they require of their staff. Yet they tell us they still find it difficult to differentiate good candidates from the best candidates.

Qualifications don’t always tell you what you need to know. A candidate with near perfect qualifications doesn’t always do the job well. While someone with unremarkable qualifications could turn out to be the highly effective person you’re looking for.

Our research found that the difference that makes a difference can be attributed to the candidates’ values and beliefs not their qualifications and experience.

I believe that the way to find a candidate with potential is to look beyond their competencies, to their personal values and this belief is backed up by our research at HR With Guts, which identifies a common set of values among the best HR Business Partners. These values drive their success, whatever environment they work in.

We are beginning to see a pattern in the values of the best HR people. We also have evidence that these values are common across the best HR people but may be independent of the values of their function or the company in which they work e.g. HR people holding values that are not shared especially by a Transactional HR function

So, if there is a set of core values that you should look for at interview which can define a great HR person, regardless of qualifications and to a greater extent, regardless of working environment, what are they and once you know what they are, how do you recognise them?

Understanding the core values

The first is to be commercial. We found, that regardless of the company, the most successful HRs saw their role as a fully commercial role and this meant that they took a far more strategic approach to their work. It also means they only do what they can see adds recognisable value to the Business Goals.

A strategic approach also means taking a “longer” term, “big picture” approach to HR and you need to look for people who can prove they can think beyond the day-to-day. The ethos of your new employee must match the company to a degree, but it must also match what you are looking to add to the HR team and these aren’t necessarily the same thing –Think about your company’s corporate goals and objectives and consider how they fit into your HR department’s goals and objectives and then consider how your employees should fit into both.

The best HR Business Partners are also results oriented. This means not just following HR best practice. Some HRs can be more concerned with process than with results, and this isn’t always going to produce benefits for the business.

Candidates should be able to demonstrate personable credibility. Strong people are usually recognised for the times they make a difference. The more this happens, the more others will seek out their opinion when decisions need making. This vitally results in those people with personable credibility having courage in their convictions, meaning they stand up for their views and push back when they know something is not the right thing to do

Linking to personable credibility is that they are driven to making a difference. The more that people are seen as credible, the more they will be able to make a commercial, results driven difference.

And finally, they have a desire to learn. Wanting to constantly improve what they offer is the best way a person can ensure that their methods and tactics are kept fresh; if they are never quite satisfied (in a positive way!) then they keep pushing to know more and improve their performance.

Identifying these qualities and values when recruiting

So, now you know what the values look like, how do you identify them? Someone can tell you their beliefs, but can they actually prove them during interviews? How do they actually articulate those beliefs? Interviewers can structure the selection to seek evidence of the drivers that determine how the HR person performs their role. They need to demonstrate their motivation through use of examples that show their beliefs in action. In this way, interviewers are able to identify the values behind those motivations

You also need to determine what those beliefs and values means to you and how you expect someone to translate that into behaviour. If someone says “I would like to make a tangible difference in a business” this might be music to your ears, but does this mean the same thing to you as it does to them? How do they want to make a difference? How do they make judgements and decisions? Ask them to give explanations or examples of their beliefs so you can make sure you understand how that belief translates into behaviour.

You probably also want to discover what they consider acceptable and unacceptable when working with the clients. Internal clients can be challenging, especially when dealing with issues such as confidentiality and ethical issues – how does your potential employee deal with them? Again real examples tell the story not hypothetical responses.

Tactics and practicalities

The final thing you need when recruiting for qualities and values are the practical methods of achieving this. Methods can include standard ones such as using structured interviews that simply have a stronger focus on identifying beliefs and requesting presentations that focus on qualities and values.

You may also consider using a belief questionnaire, a system developed especially for this situation by HR With Guts and you may wish to provide your interviewee with case studies of interesting or difficult situations and ask how they would deal with them.

If you look for these qualities and values, your HR people will naturally become more commercial and therefore, more productive.

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