In my perfect world companies would give candidates a shot.
Hiring people into your company is hard, especially when you are in a small company trying to fill a critical role. Too often we end up rejecting dozens of candidates because they don’t fit one of the many criteria we have defined for the position, because they missed one of the questions we expected them to get, or, more often than we’d like to admit, because they didn’t click with one of the interviewers. We justify this behavior using two distinct arguments – first, the role is critical and a bad hire decision is going to take months if not years to correct; second, we are choosing from a large pool of candidates and the right one might very well be only a few interviews away.
The rationale behind the Meaningless Endless Search Syndrome is very simply false. Correcting a hiring mistake is indeed costly but it can easily be done in 90 days or less. And the choice we are making is not from a pool – it is whether we want to hire a particular candidate or not. The alternative to not hiring is not finding another candidate – it is not having anyone fill the supposedly critical role. This is a classic case of Hobson’s Choice where if you don’t take the horse you are offered, you end up walking.
In my perfect world companies would behave very differently.
Companies can and should give almost-perfect candidates a shot. And in doing so they need to address both concerns – handling hiring mistakes and framing the hiring decision more realistically. The later is very simple – instead of making the hiring question ‘should we hire this candidate for this role’ we pose the question ‘would we rather have this candidate in the role or no-one at all’. This simple change can help interview teams get past minor reservations (both real and imaginary) and steer them into considering the consequences of both possible decisions.
Addressing the hiring mistake problem is important since giving candidates a shot means higher likelihood of bad hires. Solving this problem is fairly straight forward and is, in fact, already being exercised by many companies today in the process of hiring for a very different role – interns. Internships are not just a form of cheap labor, they are actually two or three months long interviews. Its a great win-win arrangement where the intern gets experience and exposure to a professional environment, and the company gets a chance to deeply assess the interns’ skills and pick the ones it wishes to hire once they graduate. The cost of making a bad hiring decision (when picking which students are granted internships) is two or three months of pay (maybe) plus the time it took to train the intern minus the amount of useful work they have done in that period. Costly? A little. Fatal? Absolutely not.
Companies can apply the same approach to almost-perfect candidates. First, clarify to the candidate that their job is not guaranteed – they would have to work hard and be successful to keep it (that should actually apply to all employees, but that’s a different discussion). Second, explicitly state that the role requires the candidate to step up beyond what they have done in the past and prove that the chance they are given is well deserved. Finally, the hiring manager should be accountable for personally and routinely assessing the candidate’s performance and managing them out of the company in less than three months if they do not meet the job expectations and deliverables. Getting to these simple agreements would remove much of the risk involved in hiring, and in fact is likely to scare away some almost-perfects that were in fact less-than-perfects. It would give great candidates the shot they deserve and a chance to astound their new managers.
But that may only work in my perfect world.