Over the years as a headhunter, I have seen and worked with many types of hiring managers and internal recruiters. Most of them shortlist candidates based on a check list of top desired skills and x number of years doing xyz. The more boxes checked, the higher a candidate's chance of getting an interview. It is a rare hiring manager or internal recruiter who really bother to understand their past performance and context; how they handle situations in past roles and make an assessment if they have overcome similar challenges to be successful in the new role.

This act of checking off boxes eliminates a big group of possible candidates who could be a strong performer for the role even he/she does not have the relevant past experience. We hear “SaaS background, Hunter skills and from a sexy SaaS company aka pedigree” is almost every hiring manager’s ask. If everyone is only looking for these candidates on paper, it means 2 things: 1) be prepared to pay since 500 other hiring managers are also looking at the same thing 2) be prepared to sell the job as the large SaaS candidates rarely joins a small SaaS company - the reason better be good and see point 1.

From experience, a candidate’s experience or skills does not necessarily correspond directly to the ability to perform in the next job. We have come across people who has never done the job before and did very well. We have also seen many candidates who has done many similar jobs and do not have good track records. X number of years doing a certain thing does not equate to mastery. How can we assess if this person is good for this job? 

Unfortunately, in reality, it is easier to screen using candidate’s CV to make their first judgement than to think a little harder beyond the CV. Most hiring managers or TA asked candidates to go through their experience - no doubt this is a good way to start a conversation and at the same time, assess how the candidate describes his career. But we already know all these info in the CV, isn't it? It is a good opener but not a deciding factor.

The 3 most common mistakes the hiring team make are:

  1. Check box the requirements asking surface questions like how many years have you been doing xyz and did not deep dive into each area. Often it is how and what the candidate does differently, over how long they have done it.
  2. Chemistry hiring, getting blown away with the first impression. If a person speaks well, looks good, have somewhat relevant experiences, have common friends and connections to reference during interviews, suddenly they are a “shoe-in” and spend the rest of the time talking about industry gossips. Any effort to delve deeper into problem solving or how the candidate navigates his day to day challenges…went out of the window.
  3. Giving too little time for an accurate assessment in an interview, failing to ask follow up questions to understand the candidate’s initial answer. A 30 mins interview might be fashionable and makes you look efficient but from experience, it is not enough to deep dive.

How do you prevent hiring the wrong person or even move towards increasing your chances of hiring the right person? There are 2 simple ways but certainly not exhaustive:

1. Be clear of the type person who will fit the role

 First of all, hiring managers must be very clear of the kind of person, personality and skills will be suitable for the role. Domain skills can be trained if the person is hardworking enough, soft skills are more ingrained. If the hiring manager is new to the region and unsure of the culture and the talent pool dynamics, it is highly recommended to speak with a few headhunters who specialize in the region and your industry or talk to other successful hiring managers who oversee the same region. With the information gathered, a clearer view what is realistic with regards to budget and the behaviour of the talent pool. For example in China, candidates are usually quite open to hear new opportunities or attend multiple rounds of interviews even when their interest level is low. It is very important to get to know them and qualify them well, in order not to waste your time.

2. Ask useful questions to assess candidates for the role

What to ask beyond what you do and who you know? Other than attending a specialized interviewer course, these are some tips to help you assess candidates beside asking their past experience.

  1. Ask 1-2 scenario and situational questions. These can sometimes go on a bit but be patient. Most candidates do not interview for a living. You get a lot out of these situational questions especially when it is very applicable to the new role.
  2. Go through the candidate’s achievements and ask how it was done, the actual involvement and steps, not the team’s actions.
  3. Ask for the reason of leaving for each role and see if there’s a pattern – push or pull and the “why” is most important.

The purpose is to assess how this candidate will manage or had managed similar situations. The candidate might not have done the same job before. With the similar situation and knowing how he had handled it, we know if this candidate is likely to ace the role you have on hand.

Keep checking your requirements to remind yourself to focus on the fit for the role and not get carried away by chemistry. Be willing to change the requirements if your agency or recruiter gives you feedback on the market. Setting a scoring system based on the top requirements will help to make a more accurate decision to hire too.

Lastly, be open and factor for “wild card” candidates who might be that exceptional hire, that we all hope to make for every role.