My last post “The Truth About the Hiring Process,” generated a lot of attention. I think a lot of people were surprised to have a former Chief Human Capital Officer agreeing that sometimes managers know who they want and sometimes the process is rigged to get them. I promised to offer some suggestions for bringing more transparency and integrity to the hiring process, so here they are:
- Limit applicant questionnaires to initial screening, unless they are proper assessment instruments designed by a qualified Industrial/Organizational Psychologist or similar professional. The questionnaires were a good idea, but they have morphed into something that does not necessarily help the process. It works this way: Applicants answer a lot of questions – some are to determine eligibility to apply and basic qualifications. Others are used to assign scores and decide who among the qualified applicants is referred to the selecting official. If you answer the screening questions the wrong way, you are out. If you answer enough of the rating questions the wrong way, you are out. That leads to some folks stretching a bit (or more) when they answer them. Once they are screened, many agencies have an HR Specialist review the applications of the candidates who receive the top scores. Keep in mind these scores are generally based solely on answers to questions. In effect, the applicants rate themselves. The questionnaires are often recycled from other jobs and are so general that they have little likelihood of predicting how a candidate might be able to perform on the job. Because the entire point of the process is to find the best qualified candidates, that is a big problem.
- Limit resumes to 2 or 3 pages. Virtually everyone in the private sector makes initial screening decisions based upon brief resumes. They are a proven tool. Government applications are no longer the 30 and 40 page monsters they used to be, but many of them are still far too long. They encourage people to write too much and make it more difficult to read them. They also encourage applicants to inflate their qualifications.
- Put real people back in the applicant review process. It is safe to say that in many agencies most applications are never really read by a human being – only a small number who make it through the automated screening process and are going to go on the referral list are read by a person. In some agencies, even those get only a cursory review. HR offices are not adequately staffed to read the numbers of applications they receive and managers in many agencies have checked out of the applicant screening process, thinking it is HR’s job. When hundreds or even thousands of people apply for a single job, agencies have to find ways to sort through the applications. What most have landed on as a solution is the applicant questionnaire. The technology we use for the hiring process has made it possible for HR offices to operate with fewer people and at a lower cost. The systems make it much easier to advertise jobs and certainly have made the application process less burdensome for applicants. All of those are good things. Where we have a problem is that we allow agencies to rely on them too much. We need to have human beings review applications and make judgment calls that the technology cannot make. A few years ago when I was at DHS I had a conversation with Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations for Google. He runs one of the best HR operations in the country. If you Google Google HR, you will find countless stories about their data driven decision-making and people focus that shows what happens when an organization really starts treating people like their most important resource. Google receives tens of thousands of resumes per week. My first question for Laszlo was “How do you process that many resumes?” The answer was surprising. They read them. Human beings read resumes written by other human beings. It doesn’t take long as long as you might think and it helps ensure they do not lose talented candidates. If one of the biggest names in technology can rely on humans to read resumes, the US government can too. I spent years reading resumes and the old SF-171. It is not that hard. Initial screening of a resume to see if someone is qualified takes a few minutes at most. Seriously. Most do not even take that long for the initial qualified/not qualified call. We also have to put managers and subject-matter experts back in the review process. Hiring and promoting the right people is not a process to dump on the HR folks and then blame them when it does not go well. They can help, but people who are experts in the job to be filled are much better qualified to review applicants. I am always amazed by managers who tell me they don’t have time to worry about people issues, then complain about problem employees, not having the right talent, and HR’s inability to find the people they need. If people are the most important resource any agency or company has, managers need to be spending a lot more of their time on people issues.
- Involve rank-and-file employees in the hiring process as subject-matter experts and interviewers. If we want people to trust the process, open it up so more people are involved. We do very little work in isolation. The people we hire work with the people we have already hired and the ones we will hire in the future. Their teamwork is critical to any organization’s success. Let them participate in the process of hiring their teammates and we will see better results, both in the quality of hires and in the trust applicants have in the process.
Restoring confidence in the hiring process is going to take time. These steps will not change it overnight, but they will go a long way toward making the process credible, more manageable, and more likely to result in the government having the talent it needs.