Hiring Myth: Ability versus Suitability

Hiring Myth: Ability versus Suitability
By Adam Chan

If you ask any Human Resources (HR) Department why they are hiring people to join the organization, you will receive common responses like, to fill up the vacancies, as part of expansion plan, new functions creation, etc. These are indeed corporate jargons; they presented the obvious reasons for hiring but did not address the crux of the matter. It is liken to the notion of “Live to Eat”. The notion has relegated the need for eating to one which takes a secondary status. We all know that eating to stay alive is a primary need. However, few would prefer to spend time and effort to discern the roots of the matter. Perhaps it is not obvious to our conventional intuitive thinking.

So what are the real reasons for hiring? The obvious reasons are the causal factors or triggers for the hiring process to take place but hardly the real reasons. Locating the right focus will result in the right approach. Instead of seeking for the real reasons, HR practitioners should seek for the right focus and approaches. It is like the saying, perfect practice makes perfect. In the past, hiring is usually the conventional process in sifting through resumes, interviewing the applicants and eventually concludes the hiring process with the “selected applicant”. Below are some hiring approaches being used widely.

- Individual interviews
- Group interviews
- Administering Psychometric tools (not as determinant factor)
- Topics Presentation
- Scenario play
- Residential selection camp
- Trial attachment

However the buck doesn’t stop here. So where does the buck stop? To address this question, it can be as easy as ABC or it can be as complicated as the theory of relativity. Some say when the position is being filled. Some would argue that results or productivity within a fixed timeframe of the new hire as indicators for a success hire.

Staying with one company to materialize one’s career aspiration is in the past. In today’s volatile society, the presence of head hunters created a new trend. A trend that alarms many HR practitioners; i.e. protecting their talented workforce from these head hunters has never been more critical.

It is common to rely on the impression generated by the resumes as the initial filter. With a few rounds of interviews, it will seal the process. Like in the West, ability of the applicant is everything that is needed as selection criteria. It doesn’t matter if the person is difficult work with, as long as he or she delivers. It was the proven way to go, therefore ability should receive prime standing as the right focus and evaluation will be right approach.

Sifting ability alone; is it adequate to determine if the hiring decision is right? It was probably true a decade ago especially in Singapore but in today’s volatile job market and the presence of head hunters, the former hardly holds truth anymore. This notion has been augmented by the emphasis on finding the “perfect fit” echoed by many recruitment firms. It is all too obvious that ability alone doesn’t give a perfect fit.

What is the mysterious criterion other than the evaluating ability?

In the book authored by three HR gurus, namely Ulrich, Meisinger and Losey, titled The Future of Human Resources Management suggested that a shift in hiring trend in recent years where the “West Meets East” is emerging evidently. It emphasizes on the how well the person “fits” with the corporate and company values and how well the person gets along with others. The shift can be seen in the methods of hiring are being employed in recent years. This shift is not a local trend but a global one.

When one quits, usually he or she usually doesn’t quit the job but the boss or the colleagues. What is the implication to hiring from this aspect? It could very well point to the relationship between the boss and direct reports. The value trust, is the bedrock value that binds everyone to a common vision, impel employees to commit and stay engage at work. In the absence of trust, disengagement from work sets in. It will lead to low productivity, sub-standard results, prone to making errors, distrusting among co-workers, eventually to resignation or termination.

Absenteeism, a by-product of disengagement, in a 2004 survey (HRM magazine, issue 4.11) conducted by Robert Walters, Singapore topped the survey over other countries like NZ, Australia, UK, etc by an astounding 23.8% of the respondents admitted that they will take sick leave but none of them are really sick. Is it ability or suitability? Is it due to relationship issues at work or competency in performing the assigned work? This is a telling indicator to any HR practitioners that the hiring process deserves a second look.

Another global survey in 2004 released by the Conference Board (HRM magazine, issue 4.9) posted to 539 CEOs around the globe, asking for their top ten concerns. Employee loyalty/commitment/job satisfaction was cited as of greatest concern by 32% of the CEO in Asia. Sufficiently telling, the concern is hardly about competency.

Disengagement, absenteeism and CEO’s greatest concerns; what have these factors got to do with the right focus and approaches to hiring? Although they are not the sole determinant for wrong hiring decisions, surely the discussed factors tell us about the implications of wrong hiring and also the need for tighter hiring filters. As echoed by many recruitment firms, finding the “perfect fit” is both art and science. It is obvious assume that “art” refers to soft facts like getting long with one another, one’s value system, etc.

Multi-national corporations (MNC) are investing enormous amount of resources in their hiring process. Knowing too well that a wrong hire will result in considerable loss of time and money, the effort was focused in revamping the hiring process to focus beyond their past work achievements. The applicants are subject to other challenges that demand for their interpersonal skills and surfacing their value systems thus the hiring process captures valuable observable evidence beyond one’s ability. Some companies went to great length in the selection process by staging selection camp that last for days, compacting multi-disciplines challenges in order to observe the applicants’ in different critical dimensions. Group interview processes can be effective in observing interpersonal attributes that are desired by the hiring parties and it is widely used too.

Companies with niche business focus like adventure learning have unique selection processes to capture the right candidates. Major airlines have been known to include character development as part of pilots’ new entry training. Gains from such training are intangible to the organization which is difficult to measure. However it still being recognize as essential.

While there isn’t one water tight hiring process that would fit all companies and the applicants they seek, it would be unwise to rely only on the conventional interviewing process to determine the human capital investment. The hiring process should be equipped with means to surface interpersonal attributes for the hiring managers to observe. Some companies even make efforts to quantify such attributes to create consistency in observing such intangibles. By introducing mechanics to identify the desired interpersonal attributes, it serves as an additional layer of hiring filter thus making the overall hiring process a tighter one. With tighter hiring filters it will likely lead increase the chances of getting the right fit. In the sense, suitability is the right focus and identifying the desired attributes is the right approach.

Is it “ability versus suitability” or “ability and suitability”? With the right focus, with the right approaches for hiring, finding that impetus to make the hiring process worthwhile will never be easier.

Finally, hiring it is not just evaluating ability alone, suitability of each applicant is as critical if not more. While having a sound selection process to evaluate ability is liken to the saying of practice makes perfect, making sure that there are mechanics to identify the suitability would be like perfect practice makes perfect.