Two Things Recruiters Can Do to Consistently Identify the Top Candidates

Three weeks ago, I met with a bunch of CEOs who are members of Vistage, an organization helping small and mid-size companies grow and manage their businesses. One of their biggest challenges is finding and hiring the right people. At the meeting, they all complained that the recruiters they were using were inadequate. They said few understood the job requirements or the company and all presented too many average candidates.
Then, two weeks ago, I met with the CEO of a charitable foundation looking to hire a COO. At the request of one of the board members who was a former client, I joined the selection committee. During our first meeting, she mentioned she had used a number of search firms over the years and there was not one she would ever use again. Her big complaint: They never fully understood her organization and only presented active candidates who met the minimum requirements.
Finally, last week, a partner at a major search firm called and asked if I could help his recruiters do a better job of phone screening candidates. The problem, he said, was that too many candidates were being screened and those being presented to their clients weren’t strong enough.
Sadly, this was not an unusual three weeks.
Complaints like these are common whenever I talk with hiring managers, business executives or talent leaders. They all put the bulk of their hiring problems on the backs of their recruiters.
But, I tell them the problem is not the recruiters, it’s the lack of an effective hiring process for hiring top talent. At the core is letting recruiters and hiring managers find candidates to fill poorly defined jobs using any mishmash of assessment tools they want to use. Worse, they’re targeting the wrong candidates. Instead of finding and recruiting the best people available, they focus largely on the best people who apply to a job posting or respond to an email.
The best available and those who apply are rarely the same people. Regardless, recruiters filter those who apply or respond on the criteria listed in the job description and only present those who agree to some salary range prior to fully understanding the job. This puts a lid on quality of hire and on-the-job performance is problematic.

What recruiters can do to improve the process –– and avoid a bad rap

To get started on a better path, I offered the following bits of advice during each call. Every recruiter should follow these steps in order to find the top candidates.

1. Fully understand the job performance requirements

Before starting the sourcing process, recruiters need to ask this question: What does the person in this role need to do to be successful?
Hiring managers and recruiters need to fully understand these performance requirements for screening and interviewing candidates. And they need to be on the same page about what they are looking for. To figure this out, and rather than asking trick questions during the interview, I suggested it was better to get detailed examples of when the candidate handled similar projects. (This podcast summarizes the idea.)
Two weeks ago, I told the CEO of the charitable foundation pretty much the same thing. As a result, the entire selection committee will be meeting next week to define successful performance as a series of KPOs (key performance objectives).

2. Conduct phone screens which reveal if candidate is in the top half of their peer group

Last week, I suggested to the search firm partner that the best way for his recruitersto improve assessment skills was to first take this super short course on how to conduct an exploratory phone screen on how to identify the Achiever Pattern. This reveals if the candidates are in the top-half of their peer group. But I added the point that all it would do is highlight the fact that unless they know the actual performance requirements of the job, it won’t have much impact, since few of these candidates will be good enough to present to the hiring managers.  
While understanding real job needs and conducting a proper phone screen are the core skills every recruiter and hiring manager must master, once mastered, they’ll quickly understand that they’re wasting their time sourcing and screening the wrong candidates.
It’s important for recruiters and hiring managers to appreciate the fact that while the best people are typically open to exploring better career opportunities, they are not willing to invest time in considering poorly defined jobs that are nothing more than lateral transfers. And, as far as I’m concerned, recruiters who hustle these jobs and hiring managers who let them, are doing their companies, themselves and their new hires a disservice and merit whatever reputation is assigned.