Assumptions that hurt hiring practices

Posted February 24, 2017 by


Hiring assumptions are everywhere. They often reduce the effectiveness of the hiring process. Admittedly, it’s impossible to remove all potential subjectivity and bias from a hiring process. Even as we’ve introduced more technology into recruiting (for example, Applicant Tracking Systems), a human being–a flawed human being–makes the final decision after some person-to-person meetings. A candidate’s dress, speech, overall manner, specific responses to questions, and more can potentially trigger biases and assumptions in even the most level-headed hiring manager. Confirmation bias is hugely powerful psychologically, and we can’t ignore that.

However, let’s call out some of the biggest hiring assumptions. Perhaps increased awareness can help us to be more vigilant, and minimize the impact of our biases on recruiting and hiring. Some of the most common hiring assumptions include:

Assumption #1: “The perfect candidate is always out there somewhere!” This is an ideal, but often not the reality. To find the best candidate for a given job, a hiring manager/HR professional needs to understand three different concepts: (1) the work itself, (2) the current composition of the job market for that type of role, and (3) what other jobs in that geography (or remote) are offering. Internally at companies, HR and hiring managers tend to understand (1), but less so (2) and (3). If you need an “agile scrum manager,” and your local market just hired dozens of that role, then when you go to hire, it’s a depleted market. The perfect candidate may not be out there, and it may be better to delay the posting instead of hiring someone short of your needs because of this hiring assumption.

Assumption #2: Complicated hiring processes weed out less passionate candidates: Many times, companies will create intense early-stage (top of funnel) hiring processes. For example, their candidates must take written tests, complete projects, etc. The theory is logical: having these as mandatory will weed out less-passionate “passive” candidates. Unfortunately, though, this is also a hiring assumption that can backfires. Intensive, jump-through-hoops hiring demands can end up just being barriers, and weed out highly-qualified people, who may simply choose not to apply. Additionally: if your hiring process is very demanding, that might be fine. But please make sure it correlates with competitive compensation at the end. No one wants to prove a skill set 17 times over to then be offered an under-market salary.

Assumption #3: “It won’t take long!” It will — and very much so. Time-to-hire and time-to-fill statistics vary widely by industry, but per Glassdoor research presented in The New York Times, an average white-collar time-to-hire doubled between 2009 and 2014. (Roughly 12 days to 24 days.) Those are business days, too, so 24 is about five full weeks. If you’ve been a candidate in the last few years, it often feels like longer than five weeks.

Assumption #4: Hire for competence matters most: We’ve hired on measures of competence — i.e. GPA, name of school you attended, etc. — for generations. Now some are arguing that’s a flawed approach, largely because of the VUCA concept mentioned above. Companies are pivoting their core strategy and revenue model more than ever before. It would stand to reason, then, that you need adaptive, curious employees–as opposed to employees who meet every competence bullet point on your job description. Now, curiosity and adaptability are much harder to measure for, and hiring processes are supposed to be about elements that can be effectively measured and not subject to deep biases. But if the business world is changing, shouldn’t hiring — and the hiring assumptions we root ourselves in — change as well?

Assumption #5: A-Players can hit the ground running: “Hit the ground running” has been proven by research repeatedly to not exist. Almost all employees require a few weeks, if not a number of months, to get up to speed on a job and the various relationships and reporting structures around it. High potential employees (i.e. “A-Players”) do exist, but Zenger Folkman has it as about five percent of a given company. So if you open 100 jobs, 5 of those hires may be A-Players. Coming from a hiring assumption of “only wanting A-Players” will lead to frustrations on the search side.

Assumption #6: This expensive Applicant Tracking System must be helping to find the best person: This is perhaps the most galling of all hiring assumptions. Applicant Tracking Systems can greatly increase efficiency and time management in the hiring process, yes. But they are technology. Sometimes technology doesn’t work the way we intend it to — that’s one small reason why “Texting Fails” is so popular. ATS will find you great people some of the time, and find you absolutely horrible fits sometimes as well. It’s a flawed assumption to believe that expenditure on technology can or will solve what’s inherently a people-driven process.


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