How to optimize your hiring process to find top performers
Hiring processes today are longer, more complex, and more role specific than in previous years. They cost organizations significant investment, taking up to eight months of onboarding for an employee to reach full productivity. Failing to hire the right candidate can eat into budgets and performance for the company.
To strengthen their selections, companies are increasingly relying on long hiring processes. However, those extended processes run the risk of alienating potential candidates and failing to identify suitable candidates.
Optimizing the hiring process to provide both a good hiring experience to candidates and to look for the traits and skills you actually need in your teams is important. Sometimes, that can mean fully overhauling the recruitment process, simplifying steps in how you hire, and switching focus away from hiring for hard skills and towards hiring for competencies.
Steps in an effective hiring process
The ideal hiring process should be reasonably short and tailored to the individual role. The average hiring process has lengthened from 13 days in 2010 to about 24 days globally, which adds expense and complexity for both the company and candidates.
Defining which steps should be in hiring and who’s responsible at each step can help streamline (and shorten) the process. Understanding its stages also allows you to tweak the process and remove steps irrelevant to the role or the team.
1) Phone screening
Most organizations start the recruitment process with phone or video call screening. This lets recruiters have quick one-on-one conversations with prospects, reducing the time commitment for both the candidate and the recruitment team.
For example, Apple screens four times – each 30 minutes, with the chance for candidates to ask their own questions at the end — before inviting someone to the office for an interview. While Apple’s recruitment process has been criticized for being needlessly long and over-involved, making initial contact over the phone cuts down on everyone’s investment; if you realize the candidate is not a good fit, you can tell them on a call. Other phone screening tips include:
- Keep calls short. Screenings are meant to assess general suitability, which can be done by gauging personality, comparing the candidate to their resume/profile, and gauging their general aptitude.
- If the candidate doesn’t seem like a good fit, communicate this as soon as possible.
Calls aren’t always the right solution though. Microsoft’s hiring program, for example, was built around individuals on the autism spectrum. Rather than forcing those candidates into a mainstream process, Microsoft allows them to complete their initial screening via chat or email so they can excel and showcase who they are and what they know. Integrating flexibility into early screening ensures you attract and retain a diverse range of candidates.
2) First interview
Invite candidates who pass the initial screening to an interview, either over the phone, on a video call, or in person. Involve relevant people right away, including team members and managers who know what the role needs and can provide helpful insight to make the final decision:
- For general and entry-level positions, especially if you don’t know where the recruit will end up, start with a general interview.
- Consider asking stakeholders like team leads, managers, or senior personnel in the same role to join the interview.
First interviews are usually about an hour and may involve behavioral interview questions, simple personality assessments, and light, work-related questions. This is your chance to get a feel for who your candidate is at work while giving them the opportunity to ask questions and get to know you as well.
3) Assessments/Skills tests
If hiring stakeholders like the candidate, move them to the next stage. You can invite the candidate to take part in any assessments or personality tests you deem relevant; the more senior the role, the more you can ask the candidate to do to assess their compatibility:
- Discuss key competencies for the role based on the job profile and highlight them for the candidate. Is it more important that they be technically skilled or that they have the right attitude and personality traits? Do you have robust internal training and coaching that can close skills gaps?
Give assessments based on each role’s competencies and priorities. This will prevent candidates from taking unnecessary tests and thus streamline your hiring process. Any other role-specific assessments can be delivered after the hire.
Tests commonly include projects such as building a web browser extension. Work with your team leads to decide relevant tasks that’ll accurately gauge a candidate’s skills.
4) Follow-up interview
Whether you ask candidates to complete a project, conduct personality testing, or give a skills assessment, you should follow up with a final interview before making the hire. This interview provides a deeper discussion about job expectations, what the candidate wants to achieve, how they see themselves fitting into the company, etc.
It’s also a good idea to have someone join the interview who understands the completed project or assessment. They can discuss the technical details of the assignment and gain a better understanding of the candidate’s skills and knowledge.
5) Making the hire
It’s not uncommon for two or even four candidates to make it to the final selection. In some cases, you’ll be able to hire more than one candidate if they’re a good fit. However, when the final selection comes down to several equally suitable candidates, you may need to invite candidates to the office for a trial run.
You could also ask the team that’ll work with the new hire which candidate they like better and why. You might get surprising answers.
Using competency frameworks to optimize hiring
Competency frameworks define hard and soft skills across an organization, either for the organization as a whole, for departments and branches, and for individual teams and roles. They define the skills and traits of successful, high-performing employees in those roles to create an ideal job profile, including the necessary competencies and skills.
However, a competency framework shouldn’t dictate your hiring decision, as there are multiple ways to be successful in a role. Sometimes, desired competencies will conflict, and your candidates will have many but not all desired competencies. Often, a competency framework transforms into a success profile that lays out a candidate’s strengths that can be applied to the role.
It’s best practice to base competency frameworks on internal benchmarks or industry standards. Many organizations sell generic frameworks that you can customize and update to match your organization. When crafting your framework, it’s crucial to have input from relevant personnel and to assign job responsibilities to the appropriate titles.
Involve internal personnel
For the best representation of your organization, you need to adapt job and success profiles to your company. To do this, you’ll want to interview people in those roles, team leads, and leverage performance management data to understand the current competencies in those roles.
Align job roles and titles
Many organizations hire for the same or similar roles under varying titles, and the same role can differ from team to team. It’s important to have flexible employees who can handle a range of tasks. However, that risks having an entire team with the same title – all with different roles.
Assigning specific work responsibilities to job titles before you build your competency framework can simplify the work and limit the number of roles you have to map.
Once you’ve developed a framework, you can implement it directly into the hiring process, which involves:
- Using success profiles to build job profiles for hiring
- Crafting questions based on the competency framework
- Mapping assessments and tests to the competency framework
This will check how candidates compare to your ideal success profile to help determine if they’re a good fit. Note that you might need several profiles or a broad profile for many roles to measure success accurately.
Types of interview questions to find the best hires
Interview questions should be tailored to the role rather than general recruitment inquiries. That requires mapping interview questions to the hard and soft skills you’re looking for in the role or to your competency framework.
It’s helpful to create a list of questions based on competencies and other information you want to know and pull from them throughout the interview. You can then share those questions with candidates beforehand so they have time to prepare and relax for the meeting.
Interview questions can be divided into three categories:
These are basic questions to see how well the candidate prepared for the interview. You can reuse the same ones in most interviews. Example preparation questions are:
- What do you know about our company?
- How do you feel about X job profile item?
- Tell me a bit about your resume/portfolio/work history
Their generic nature makes them good for initial screenings. However, they can also be used during in-person interviews to follow up on answers given on a call.
Critical thinking/Role aptitude
Having an expert in the field help you design open-ended questions that facilitate richer conversation will better gauge aptitude, critical thinking, and how well the candidate fits the company.
For example, if you’re hiring for customer service, you could ask how they would respond to a disgruntled customer or have them give you a sales pitch.
Unfortunately, this means the questions will largely have to be structured by the team lead or a senior employee in that field on a per-role basis. You may want to ask that stakeholder to prepare questions when inviting them to the interview. Consider providing them with questions you used previously for that role as inspiration to new team leads when hiring in the future.
Listening and communication
It’s easy to discover how candidates listen and communicate through both an interview and personality assessments. Your questions should center around instructions, stimulating discussion, empathy, and ability to direct others.
One of the best prompts you can use here is, “Teach me something you’re passionate about or that you’re an expert in.” This will showcase the candidate’s ability to put together and present information in an educational way and how well they actually prepare.
Hiring remote employees
If you’re hiring for a remote position, it’s important to adjust your prioritization of personality traits. For example, if someone works in the office, their face-to-face interpersonal communication is more important than someone who works from home most of the time. Also look at your company policies to understand where you can be flexible and where you can’t.
With companies like Spotify, Facebook, and Salesforce implementing “Work from anywhere” programs that essentially allow employees to choose when and how to come into work, flexibility is a must when hiring for a role. You also need to prioritize certain soft skills, which we’ve broken down below.
Your remote or virtual hires need to be conscientious of time and deadlines. This is crucial to turn in work on time and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Assessing time management skills can be difficult, however, many recruiters use a combination of personality assessments to check for hard skills and project assignments.
You may ask your candidate to complete work in a team file or document such as a Google Doc or to log their progress through a program like Jira. This will give you significant insight into how that person works and how well they’re able to maintain a healthy schedule.
People who come into work remove the distractions of family, chores, and other responsibilities; at home, they’re inundated with them, so they need to be disciplined and focused. To measure this, you’ll almost exclusively rely on personality testing. That can be difficult, as people often select what they think the right answer is to a question, even if it doesn’t necessarily reflect who they are. To combat this issue, a combination of a personality assessment and a project may be preferable.
Digital communication skills are important for virtual teams. A strong remote worker should be comfortable with video calling, instant messaging and maintaining clear communication and documentation on projects
When switching priorities, assess candidates on not only their job performance, but also how they perform their job in the intended work environment.
Hiring freelance or contract-based
Hiring full-time employees is often a lengthy process that includes recruitment process, multiple stages of interviews, and assessments. For freelance and contract work though, the process is more lax. Like hiring remote employees, you’ll have to change priorities for temporary workers, shifting your focus from hard skills to ensuring team fit.
Freelancers and contractors are a great option when: you’re seeking a full-time employee but have current work that needs to be completed; you’re training another full-time worker to fill a role; you’re running a project that briefly requires technical skill (e.g., an ERP implementation or a server upgrade); or otherwise don’t need to hire full time.
In these circumstances, hiring should focus on candidates who can self-manage, adapt to new responsibilities quickly, and grasp the project and its goals.
In addition to culture fit and culture add, you need to know your freelancer will get along with other members of their team. If interpersonal issues take priority, your project won’t. As such, good communication, collaboration, and socialization skills are imperative here, especially since your freelancer will likely be working on a limited deadline.
Freelancers and contractors can seem separate from your organization, especially if they work off-site, don’t integrate into team Slack or other communication channels, or otherwise aren’t treated like a full employee.
Look for communication, documentation, and other transparency-related skills so you know what your freelancer is doing and why. Although you’ll need to take steps to integrate your freelancer into the teams they’re working with, add them to relevant systems, and create channel accounts for them to communicate directly to relevant teams and stakeholders, they should have the skills to do that themselves.
Skills tests vs. portfolio reviews
While many hiring managers try to use traditional skills tests and assessments for freelancers, they’re often inefficient for short-term contracts. Instead, you can either offer paid trial assignments or use a portfolio review to assess a candidate’s work.
A highly effective tactic is to invite your final candidate pool to the office to participate in a day of work. This will give you a strong indication of how they adapt to your teams, your software and technology, and the work itself (and how quickly). In general, this is a paid assignment, but it’s a great way to finalize your candidate pool based on practical application.
4 Key hiring assessments to reveal the best candidates
Pre-employment assessments and screening tools are an important part of your hiring process. They influence your hiring techniques, the information you collect, and how you store and map it to your profiles, roles, and performance data.
The following five tools are viable options you can consider. However, you’ll likely want to look at your technology’s current capabilities, how you map and manage your competency frameworks, and your data sorting and selection capabilities before making your tool selection.
The EQ-I tests emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication skills in relation to the workplace. This assessment is ideal for leadership recruitment or roles where communication and understanding how people fit together are extremely important.
Profiles Incorporated comprises a robust series of tools designed to assess competency, skills, and aptitude for a range of roles. With customization options, integrated assessments, and role mapping, their assessments enable any business to build success profiles and align hires to them.
Meyers-Briggs assessments are a simple way to gain a basic understanding of a candidate’s personality. Although not perfect, they’re good for teambuilding, determining general aptitude, and learning how people will work together in teams.
eSkill assessments map hard and soft skills to job requirements. They’re designed around specific roles, making them essentially plug-and-play resources. Recruiters can modify tests to suit each role as well as deliver assessments digitally so candidates can complete them at home.
5 Tips for crafting hiring assessments
Assessments are powerful tools that help organizations identify and hire top talent. They delve deeper into a candidate’s background and skills to provide a clearer picture of their capabilities and potential fit for a position. To attract the market’s finest talent, design hiring assessments tailored to your organization and role requirements. The following tips will help you craft reliable tests that collect relevant data.
Tip #1 – Consider physical and mental ability
Ability examinations are extremely important to predict a candidate’s chances of success at a job. The tests should be customized to suit the occupation and need. These are helpful for entry-level roles and when you’re unprepared to train an employee.
Physical ability tests evaluate the candidate’s flexibility and endurance. They’re more relevant to jobs that require significant physical labor as opposed to a desk job.
Meanwhile, mental ability assessments play an integral role in measuring a candidate’s learning capability. These tests involve spatial, quantitative, and verbal skills and often come in the form of a quiz.
Note: Mental ability assessments are treated as authentic and critical predictors of a candidate’s ability to perform. However, the results can negatively influence an employer’s final decision: Various studies revealed mental ability tests have a strong impact on minority groups. Additionally, some people are simply poor test-takers, but this is not indicative of their overall skill level. So, it’s important that hiring teams design mental ability tests that are unbiased and appropriate for the job.
Tip #2 – Test for achievement
Hiring assessments based on achievements are known as proficiency examinations.
Many industries use proficiency tests to evaluate a candidate’s current skills and knowledge. They focus on areas relevant to the job profile and can be categorized into two types: performance tests and knowledge tests.
When you craft performance tests, they should be designed to allow candidates to demonstrate at least two job-oriented tasks, such as diagnosing a problem, debugging code, or fixing a broken machine. As such, this is an expensive test that may need additional resources.
Knowledge exams involve carefully curated questions that test how much a candidate knows about the job’s responsibilities and tasks. They’re a traditional component of the hiring process, most conducted using paper-and-pencil tests. However, more companies are hiring third-party agents to create quizzes for more targeted assessments.
Additionally, many tech giants are using computers to proctor knowledge tests. This creates a calm environment for candidates so they can perform their best.
If you aim to hire the market’s top talent, you should bring them under a single roof. This is when group assessments become useful. For these exams, prepare a common questionnaire or create a quiz. The questions should be strictly job relevant.
For example, if you’re hiring for a designer role, ask the candidates about design skills or have them produce something. Then, evaluate the performance of each candidate to identify the best and fastest.
Note: During group assessments, completion time should be one of several considerations. The candidate who finishes the fastest may not produce the best work, so also look at the quality of the results.
Tip #4 – Unstructure your interviews
It’s easier to find top talent through unstructured interviews. Professionals in the role run them, using unprepared questions, and the time is unrestricted to allow for spontaneous conversation with the candidate.
Although the interviewer is advised to ask job-oriented questions, they have the freedom to probe the candidate on any job-related responsibilities and tasks.
Note: Unstructured interviews are not completely unrestricted; there are regulations and laws to govern how unstructured they can be. For instance, the Disabilities Act prevents interviewers from asking details about disabilities and medical conditions. The interviewer should abide by all these laws during both unstructured and structured interviews.
Tip #5 – Incorporate personality checks
Also known as personality inventories, personality checks analyze a candidate’s knowledge and skills in terms of their personal traits. Common metrics include conscientiousness, self-esteem, motivation, and future goals. Personality tests will help you make accurate predictions about how the candidate will integrate into the role, the team, and the organization.
Note: Conduct all hiring assessments in a controlled environment, including any unstructured interviews.
Key soft skills to look for
Soft skills are generally considered more important than hard skills because they’re difficult to train and often have an equal impact on performance. You can always train someone to use a software platform, but it’s harder to train a person to be conscientious and self-disciplined.
With this in mind, we’ve listed the top soft skills to look for during your hiring process.
Most employees are content to follow procedure or search for tried-and-true solutions to problems. However, some issues will require creative thinking to produce innovative answers. So, test candidates for creative problem-solving to find someone who can bring an out-of-the-box approach to your company.
Good communication skills range from being able to express oneself clearly to timely replies and respectful written communication. Your specific priorities for this skill set may vary depending on whether someone works in the office or remotely, but communication in general should always rank highly.
For example, strong active listening can make the difference between a team member who makes their colleagues feel seen and heard and one who constantly sparks debate and interpersonal conflict.
Emotional intelligence is an umbrella term comprising several critical skills. It’s possible to train many emotional intelligence skills, but having candidates who can empathize, look at another person’s perspectives, and show an ability to understand, gauge, and respond to their own emotions in a healthy way is a good indication the candidate will be a good fit for the team.
People who indicate they’re good team players are extremely valuable to an organization. This includes the ability to compromise, collaborate, and encourage team building.
Investment in personal development
People who show an interest in personal development are often strong candidates. It indicates they’re likely to continue to invest in relevant job skills, learn new technology, and adapt to changing industries and organizations. In the long term, they’ll be able to grow with the organization and are more likely to stay in their role despite changes.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail is a soft skill you can test for during hiring, often by asking people to add small details, perform tasks in a certain way, or even to complete projects. You can also find it indirectly in resume and cover letter typos, punctuality, whether the individual remembers questions and topics between interviews, etc.
Best practices for your hiring process
To build an efficient and successful hiring process, start with industry standards, then optimize them over time and make tweaks to your organization as you learn what does and doesn’t work.
Start with industry standards
It’s a bit of a cliché, but you don’t need to reinvent the wheel: There are many ready-made tools and processes for hiring and recruitment. Research a few options, select one to adopt, and then adjust it to your organization to cut costs and investment while improving results.
Communicate clearly with candidates
Integrate steps to keep candidates involved in the process and informed of what’s going on. For example, making it a policy to share projects, interview questions, and what assessments candidates will have to take up front can benefit both the candidates and your company.
For example, if you let them know during screening that the interview process will be three to four weeks and consist of two interviews, a phone screening, a technical project, and a 90-minute personality assessment, they can decide if they’re willing to invest that much time. If not, your investment ends at the phone screening.
Additionally, sharing this information reduces candidate anxiety so you can gain a clearer idea of each one during the interview.
Conduct only relevant assessments
It’s understandable to want as much data as possible before making a hire, but trying to measure too much can be detrimental. Instead, tailor pre-employment assessments to collect the information you need for a specific role. Then, you can deliver DISC, EQ, or other assessments for team-fit and development after the hire. This will shorten the hiring process and reduce frustration in candidates.
Update your tech stack
If you don’t already have a strong recruitment tech stack, build one. Good role and profile management software can significantly improve how you manage recruitment, collect data, and what information you collect. Keep in mind, it often makes sense to source all of your technology from a single provider or to find a platform that meets your needs.
Wrapping up – Optimize your hiring process to invest in the right people from the start
Optimizing your recruitment process involves centralizing data, implementing profile management and competencies, and integrating assessments to better understand what to look for when hiring. Once you’ve accomplished that, you can focus on creating a structured hiring process that collects the data you need while keeping costs low and maintaining a positive candidate experience.
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