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Improving Candidate Quality

Kevin Wheeler

Here are four practical things you can do right now to help reduce the number of poor-quality hires that you make.


Most organizations do not have any definition of a "quality employee," nor do they even have a performance management system that is anything better than a popularity contest. While I could write a long column on the pros and cons of performance management philosophies, suffice it to say that before any performance can be assessed, the organization has to have a clear idea of what good or exceptional performance looks like. It needs to have longitudinal studies of its best performers so that a pattern of actions, competencies, and skills can be established that are linked to success. Then these characteristics can be used to select new people.

This is the time to unravel the characteristics of the good performers, and develop profiles by function of top performers' skills and competencies.

There are a host of companies that offer selection tools and services, many of which can be integrated with your applicant/talent management system. I suggest you take a look at Charles Handler's excellent site, Rocket-Hire ( His site contains tons of information on screening and assessment and provides a guide to the many tools available. Charles is also an excellent consultant in this field.

But, while these tools are essential for determining candidate quality, there's still the need for the creative and unorthodox, from time to time, to keep the creative juices flowing and to unseat the status quo that can be damaging to new ideas and growth. What you should be striving for is not perfection, but improvement and the setting of some minimum selection criteria.


Very few hiring managers know much about selection or about what it takes to assess a candidate. Even though you may have put all the managers through some sort of interview training, I'm sure they have forgotten most of it and have used less. Most of us are not disciplined, nor can we expect the typical manager to become expert with these techniques. One area where recruiters can add value is to pre-screen and evaluate candidates against criteria that are objective and job-related. Managers can help you determine what those criteria are, and they should be well aware of the consequences of using the criteria. Using them might mean that their best candidate technically is a poor candidate when it comes to attitude or fit and should not be hired.

You can hold briefing sessions, spend time one-on-one with managers, hire a consultant to work with them, or simply gather and use case studies and examples from your own organization to help managers understand how important it is to select people with the right skills and the right organizational fit and attitude.


It is startlingly obvious that very few firms, before investing a large amount of time in interviews, are taking advantage of the many online tools that are emerging to help screen candidates. By using the Internet and your corporate website, you can ask candidates to engage in a dialogue and mutual assessment process. While you are looking at their skills and fit, they can be looking at your organization and can make decisions about whether or not they like what they see. Many people I have spoken with have seen one side of an organization while interviewing, and another less attractive one after they are hired. Let candidates email other employees for information about the company and work/life.

Recently, blogs have become popular with candidates because they bring authenticity and reality about the organization. And, by simply adding job previews and marketing-oriented job descriptions, you can improve the kinds of candidates who apply.


Take time to gain a new skill, read a book or two on selection or assessment, take a seminar on the topic, or at least have some good conversations with vendors or other recruiters about what they are doing.

Spend a few hours looking at other organizations' recruiting websites and noting what you like and don't like. Try applying for a job and see what you think about the quality of the process.

Recruiters who set aside a period of time every day or week for improving themselves always end up in better jobs and attract better candidates.

Organizations that are using the selection tools that are now available, combined with websites that are written to attract and target the right candidate, are finding that candidate quality has improved. Interviewing is not enough, takes too much time, and yields poor results when measured against objective criteria. It just won't do it anymore.


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